Do you remember this commercial?
This Folgers commercial came out in 1986. I was nearly 14, and it kind of wrecked me every season. Thanks to the Sweet Valley High book series and a number of 1950s teenage romance novels I read and reread in junior high school, I was quite certain that my life would be much closer to perfect if I only had an older brother.
And then this commercial came out later with a similar effect:
So these commercials often felt like salt in the wound of the unfairness of my life. Instead of these handsome, thoughtful (did you notice in the second one, he’s just come from West Africa–likely a volunteer trip of some sort–and he did bring his little sister a gift) and kind older brothers, I had two much younger brothers who were pretty much mostly a pain. Believe me, at no point would I have plopped a bow on either of them and said, “You’re my present.”
I haven’t seen these commercials for years. Truthfully, in my mind, they were one commercial because they’ve just mashed together. In finding them both this morning, I now clearly remember them as separate commercials.
But I’ve been thinking about the mashed up version recently. In my version, the sister and brother are from the second commercial and the mom is from the first one. She smells the coffee (which I don’t drink, btw, Folgers or any other kind) and wakes up not entirely certain what is happening.
While these commercials used to evoke my intense longing to be the little sister, today, they speak to my role as Mom. I’ve been playing my mashed up version of these commercials over and over in my head because my beloved boy won’t be coming home for Christmas this year.
Thanks to the utter lack of leadership in a timely fashion for our state and nation around COVID, and in particular mask wearing, Quinn felt it was too dangerous to come home to North Dakota.
Are you reading what I just wrote?
My child lives in Los Angeles, California. In “normal” times, a city riddled with plenty of crime, violence and danger. And he has decided coming home to North Dakota is not safe.
And he’s not incorrect.
End of Political aside
So I’ve been thinking endlessly about that mom, coming down the stairs of their perfectly American colonial-style home, Christmas decorations galore, to find her boy actually has made it home in time to celebrate Christmas with the family. And it chokes me up every time I think about it.
I’m not really much of a Christmas person. I like it, but it’s not the be all and end all of holidays to me. I suppose I have some messed up feelings about it because my parents told me early in December of my 8th grade year that they were getting a divorce. They actually got divorced in December of my 9th grade year. And then the holiday splitting began. Christmas Eve with my mom, Christmas Day with my dad. Those pesky brothers always in tow.
But this year, I’m feeling truly sad that Quinn won’t be home. I’ve been looking forward to seeing him for months. I’d been anticipating making all his favorite foods and going for walks. We wanted to take him to see how pretty downtown looks at night and go out to Blackboard for drinks around the fire. I was eagerly anticipating having him across the hall, asleep in his bed.
I know that for so many families, this Christmas will be filled with true sadness at those who are gone far too soon from their lives. I know that the financial uncertainty has pushed millions of people into economic crisis. I know addiction and domestic abuse is way up, which means there are families terrified of these days off. Food insecurity is incredibly real for families, even in my own little community. Those are real problems–lasting problems that many people will never recover from. My sadness pales in comparison.
I’m not here claiming that my loss is comparable to that of many. It’s absolutely not. It’s simply my loss, and I’m owning it because of something a friend recently wrote to me. She said, in reference to a conversation on Daily Dose about Dr Marry’s addiction being bad but not nearly as bad as so many people’s, “A tip…you don’t need to minimize the experience you & your husband had with alcoholism compared to what others experience. Each story is different & all are equally important. Many times I will catch myself minimizing my experiences compared to those of others. My therapist advised me many times to try not to do that. All of our experiences are powerful & by minimizing ours, others may minimize theirs as well.”
I’m so grateful she wrote to me with this advice because it has really helped me. I can keep my disappointment in perspective AND still acknowledge that it’s real for me.
As my dad has said many times this season, “Let’s all stay home and miss this Thanksgiving and Christmas so that we can celebrate many more together in the future.”
Of course he’s right, but that doesn’t negate my sadness at knowing my boy is far away from home. I think it even feels worse because there’s so little else going on. No holiday parties, little eating out, no impromptu gatherings for happy hour–just these short, cold days and long, dark nights. This would have been the perfect Christmas for gathering around the fire and talking, my favorite thing to do with Quinn.
Alas, that is not to be. I won’t be the mom who gets woken up by the inexplicable smell of coffee on Christmas morning. I won’t wrap my robe tightly around me as I make my way downstairs only to discover that my beloved boy has flown all night to arrive in time.
Instead, we will FaceTime, which is a poor alternative but remarkable all the same. We will look to future Christmases and other times of the year where we can safely be together. And I will spend time both feeling sad about what has not happened and filled with gratitude that we are all safe, healthy, employed and alive.
This holiday will, no doubt, look and feel different for all of us. I hope you can still find some of the magic and beauty that fills this season. Merry Christmas to you and yours.
Photo caption: Thanksgiving 2017, Quinn surprised us by driving from college in Rapid City, SD, to my mom’s in Minneapolis. This picture was taken right after I recovered from the shock. It was a true Folgers commercial moment and one that I treasure.
Christmas or any other holiday is never the same after you lose someone or can’t be with someone you love so deeply. I know for me after losing my parents Christmas is an extremely difficult time of year. I know that new traditions can be started but when someone you love can’t be with you to share those it is difficult.
Dayna Del Val
I‘m sending all my best thoughts for a peaceful and joyful holiday season, Renee. Thank you for sharing.