Surviving High School: The Real Christmas Miracle
My best friend from high school teaches high school sophomore english, and this past week she invited me to come speak to her class about mental illness, high school, New York City, and writing.
For me, high school was a precarious time, so I have a special place in my heart for high school kids. They were so lovely and moody and loud and quiet and sweet and poorly behaved all at once. They were both everything I expected and nothing I expected, which I’ve decided is the most succinct way to describe teenagers.
They wanted to know if I’d been to Times Square, if my parents were strict growing up, what I do when I can’t think of anything to write, and, perhaps most endearing, if I’d ever been in a taxi.
The holidays are tedious and fraught with anxiety for a lot of people, and the feelings of high school kids are often discounted, chalked up to immaturity or hormones. But, what they’re feeling about a rough home life, experiencing or being in close proximity to mental illness, or having a hard time socially in school – it’s all real, valid, and further expounded by social media. I told them about being so sad in high school that my personality lost its effervescence. I told them about turning inward, crying, sleeping a lot, and feeling alone and misunderstood. I told them about my brother Alex and discussed the unconventional ways family tragedy can manifest. Slowly, questions like whether I dyed my hair and which celebrities I’d met faded out and ones like how I knew I had anxiety and what I do when I’m depressed trickled in. The snickering ceased when I told them that, despite whatever they’re going through at home or in their brain chemistry, I knew they each had the ability to survive it and be better people for it. I’m only able to assert that because I survived, myself, and am able to look back on my teenage self with clarity and tenderness.
In the final piece I wrote this semester I discussed a particularly painful high school experience. It concluded with me sitting inside my black bedroom, limbs sprawled out, tears plopping onto the scratchy carpet in front of me. I felt extremely isolated, empty. What I didn’t know, though, is that I was always with me. My adult self looks at my teenage self with mercy and sadness and hope, urging her to move forward and to keep faith that things would get better. I looked at all those high school kids and saw me.
So now that I’ve sufficiently bummed you all out, welcome to my world! Just kidding, sort of!
Onto the GINGERBREAD HOUSES.
copious amounts of graham crackers (at least 1/2 box per person) OR one pre-made gingerbread house per person
1 can or piping bag of white icing per person
colorful, classic candies sorted into bowls*
1 bag each of pretzel minis, sticks, rods, and snaps**
1 group of people you like
*great vegan options
**consider getting GF pretzels so you don’t blindside a gluten-sensi loved one, which would not be a #christmasmiracle
- Wrap a cardboard base in foil or, if using a gingerbread house kit, use the base provided.
- Connect either the graham crackers (for your bespoke, Frank Gehry-inspired design) or gingerbread house pieces with giant dollops of icing.
- Decorate, be merry, have a cocktail, ditch your gingerbread house when it falls apart, watch football, come back to gingerbread house with renewed patience, try adhering it together again, get aggressive with sprinkle application, eat too much of the candy meant for decorations, get a stomach ache, spill a bunch of round sprinkles all over your mother’s brand new kitchen floor, panic and enlist your husband and dad to help you clean it before she sees it, get caught mid-clean up anyway, have another cocktail, then go to sleep early due to sugar crash.
- But first, take pics and make some lovely memories.
Approximately one house turned out attractive (my sister in-law Amy’s) and in my experience one success story… is about right. But it’s not about these edible shacks that grow stale, harden, and get tossed in the trash! It’s about the process.
Enjoy, and happy holidays to you and yours.
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