Holiday Craziness

Many of us get anxious at holidays. It’s hard for the holidays ever to live up to our expectations. And of course we carry with us all the old hurts and patterns.

Kids absorb the family’s craziness that comes out with special intensity at holidays. My father was snarly and temperamental at Christmas and we would tiptoe around his anger. Fifty years later, my mother told me some background. Father always put off buying presents until the last minute, a typical pattern of his. Then he never could find all the things he wanted to buy to make us happy. Because of that, he was angry at himself, so he grumped around the house and made everyone miserable!

As a kid, all I knew was the thickness of the tension. I tried to made it all right by being extra good. That’s still the temptation at Christmas, to try to make everyone happy.

This year I’m giving my poems as presents, along with donations to local charities. I’m trying to relax into the realities of life, family, and friends—loving and imperfect.

Miss America By Day, a memoir of sexual abuse and healing

Miss America By Day is a gutsy, revealing memoir by Marilyn van Derbur, the former Miss America. She begins with a description of a family that, from the outside, looked incredibly privileged and wonderful, but from the inside was hell. Marilyn divided herself into the day child and the night child, in order to survive. The day child wished desperately to please Daddy, while the night child was Daddy's sexual victim. Her mother refused to hear her cries for help.

We follow her through high school, college, marriage. The book's compendious view of the author's life is both a strength and a weakness. While giving us a sweeping view, it also means we don't stay in once place for long.

With incredible bravery, van Derber shows how very dysfunctional she was made by the aftermath of the abuse, at the same time that she managed to have a very public, very successful career. She was fortunate to marry a terrifically supportive man, and some of the scenes in which he responds to her odd behaviors with understanding and love moved me to tears. She goes on to show the ways in which she healed and how much hard work was involved. Finally she rounds out this hefty book with sections on how to prevent child abuse and how to talk with children.

It's an intense, gripping read and an important service van Derbur has done.