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December 16, 2014

Happy Holler Days

TN--Rebecca Townsend“Like all the best families, we have our share of eccentricities, of impetuous and wayward youngsters, and of family disagreements.” (Queen Elizabeth II)

The sidewalks are lit with bright candy canes, sparkling snowflakes, and big, red bows. You see petite, red berries under a blanket of frost, and there seem to be smells of the season everywhere. Gingerbread, pine, cinnamon — all tickling your nose and prompting memories to dance through your mind.

As magical as the holidays can be, they can also feel tumultuous, chaotic, and draining. Emotionally. Physically. Financially.

So, why we chose to remodel our kitchen and family room between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year may forever remain a mystery. Perhaps, my core has been missing the delight of my childhood dysfunction. I grew up in a very loving, caring, and screaming home. One to six of us would communicate…loudly…simultaneously…with either cheer or complaint…all day…every day.

The yelling wasn’t abusive — though it probably wasn’t necessary in most cases. But, it was the norm in my family…and so, it become comfortable and expected.

At the age of 22, I came home from graduate school for Christmas break. It had been the first time I lived completely alone. Not in a dorm. Not with a roommate. Alone. I had been surprised by how much I enjoyed the solitude. The peace and quiet.

However, it didn’t take me long — 15 minutes would be a generous estimate — to revert to the pattern that seemingly ran so deeply in my family of origin.

I suddenly stopped myself between deep breaths (to gather more oxygen for an even more boisterous response). The thought hit me and I spoke it aloud: “We don’t have Happy Holidays here; we celebrate Happy Holler-Days!” My chuckle quickly gave way to a veil of guilt. There was an immediate silence. I was certain it would be followed by the biggest holiday hollering yet.

But the stillness did not become censorship. Instead, a snicker verified the lone observation I had made. It was my dad’s giggle and grin confirming my hunch. We were probably not the only family to celebrate the Holler-Days, but, from then on, we were one of the few to embrace the Holler-Days. Since we’ve “come clean” as a family and our “secret communication style” is discussed openly now, it’s allowed us to become aware of the pattern we have.

Once I identified my default mode of communication during stressful times (hollering), I was able to make some conscious and deliberate changes. I may not be successful 100% of the time…and I’ve found other unhealthy means of “hollering” (sarcasm, passive-aggression, the silent treatment). However, I know my triggers and my patterns, so I have the ability to pause and reframe the situation. When I step out of the deeply-rooted habits, it encourages others to challenge their own patterns.

Although, I’ll admit a major remodel during the holidays has pushed me closer to a rendition of my childhood Holler-Days than I’ve been in 20 years, I’m delighted to say that’s not really my core’s default anymore. I’ve almost spent as much time mastering a new means of communicating as I had invested in the old ways.

These days I’m taking in deep breaths (of construction dust) and exhaling lots of love and gratitude…and sending holiday happiness to everyone!

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