Being the ONLY person left in the US who had not read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I picked up the book a few weeks ago. The first 70 pages or so went slowly, but friends assured me "keep reading, it picks up." I kept reading. Then I got to the forced BJ scene, then past the weird rape/dead animals section, the decapitated cat and finally the S & M torture chamber. WOW. This is what America wants to read and put into film. Yes I read the whole thing. I wanted to find out what happened, even if I felt like I'd been born into the wrong century.

Don't get me wrong, I liked the story line. The plot took interesting twists and turns and the characters intrigued me. The writing was okay for a page-turner book, but no luscious sentences to record in my quotable quotes file.  The experience left me with that hollow bait and switch feeling of an over-hyped product. I'd heard so many good things about this book there was no way I'd be impressed. My expectations made this read a predestined disappointment.

I'm trying to take this lesson of expectation into the holidays. I love Christmas, the lights, the songs, stockings, the tree, the nativity story and that personal rush of giving a perfect gift to an unsuspecting stranger or a family member. Being a good marketing person I hype the holiday to myself, remembering only the good parts. I forget that the perfect gift is the rare exception - that's why it feels so good when a perfect gift scores. I forget that a throng of people crushed into the same place because they are related by blood doesn't always make a good party. I forget that as much as I love my mother, she will very likely piss me off.  

Mom's never been sweet or understood the value of a filter between her thoughts and her mouth. At 85, there's NO filter. My kids love when grandma comes to visit, because she says things they never hear an adult say. Mom vocalizes with positive intention, but delivers with a machete. For example, to one relative, "I'm so glad you got married because I always thought you were a homosexual." Or to my Jewish-raised kids, "I love you just as much as my Christian grandchildren." Or to my nephew "You're really nice looking NOW." She repeated the NOW several times for emphasis. Or to me, when we are having a cocktail at sunset after a great day, "Do you EVER use a moisturizer? You really should. Lots. I mean slather it on. Twice a day. .  ."

Mom's coming to my house again this Christmas. Like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I'm determined to enjoy my Christmas plot twists and turns and revel in the complex characters. I plan to avoid the sarcasm torture chamber with a sense of humor, a thick skin and well-planned escape route. But here's the strange part. As much as my mother drives me nuts, I'm still looking forward to her visit.

Why do I keep turning the page on my experience with my mother, even when I know I'm likely to be burned? My mother's words are my soul food, laden with spice. She's funny, outspoken, outrageous, always honest, but often hurtful. Not everyone has a taste for living with dragons, but apparently I do. Mom keeps her flames up front, where I can see them. In a world where deception and falsity often appear to be new normal, her candor resonates.

Along with the jabs, Mom serves up gems that last for decades. Sixteen years ago, she stood at my side, gazing at her newborn grandson. "It's a miracle, isn't it?" she whispered. "The wonder of life stored in that tiny little body." I remember the bassinette, my sons' pink skin against a white flowered backdrop, his fingers clenched in a tight fist. I felt close, so loved by my mother in that moment. The contrast reminds me that deep relationships don't come in a solitary, prepackaged flavor.

As I think about the wonder of a birth in a manger, the threat of the dragon seems real, but manageable. The key for me avoiding the holiday blues is to remember that miracles come packaged in a heavy dose of real life. Get caught in the spirit, but be ready for the inevitable snags.

Will I risk familial discord and turn the page with my mother again this year at Christmas?

Of course. I want to see what happens.

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate and a healthy and happy new year to all -

Julie K. Hersh

Author of Struck by Living

About the Author

Julie Hersh

Julie Hersh is the author of Struck By Living: From Depression to Hope.

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