‘Tis the Season to be Jealous

Gird your loins, dear ones. The holidays are officially upon us. Prepare yourself for Facebook's floodgates to open wide and release a tidal wave of idyllic photos and descriptions of the most well-adjusted, intact, loving families; the most gorgeous, healthy human specimens imaginable; the most adorable (and naturally, adoring) children, and the most totally smitten couples who are each other's very best friends forever and ever. And ever! Hallelujah!

Yes, my friends, it's going to get rough.

Steel yourself for more than a month of Facebook posts, holiday cards and year-end letters filled with glorious details about your enviable family, friends and even mere acquaintances enjoying expensive dream vacations in snowy mountain chalets or money's-no-object family reunions on tropical beaches. Expect images of abundant, Norman Rockwellian tables covered with decadent food and high-brow beverages surrounded by smiling folks who are clearly the happiest people on earth; people who have not a worry or care.

Sometimes it's enough to make me want to poke my eyes out with a turkey carving knife.

Last night I'd planned the ubiquitous Thanksgiving column, the one where I demonstrate my plucky attitude of gratitude.

Then I looked on Facebook (as I often do when I'm supposed to be writing). A post by friend Mark Calkins made me laugh. 

He's right. Even so, expect to see scores of photos showing Thanksgiving bounties galore and images of people having the time of their lives while they partake of the most delicious feasts imaginable.

No matter how fantastic a meal you have today, I guarantee there will be at least one post that makes you feel as if your Thanksgiving was supremely shitty by comparison.

I confess. I've been as guilty of posting envy-inducing posts as the next person. My European and Hawaiian vacations. My culinary creations that I prepared with my very own gifted hands. My weight-loss success. My painstakingly remodeled home(s). My perfect grandchildren. My supportive children. My supremely fun adventures. My clever solutions. And I've not even mentioned selfies.

Why did I post those? I mean, were they for me? No. I was there. Were the posts to keep people who love me up to speed with my life? Yes, in part, because I really do have loved ones who live far away who enjoy seeing what I'm up to, just as it makes me feel genuinely happy to see their posts. But I probably have 100 people who fall in that category. The remainder might not give two squirts about me and my life.

As long as I'm being radically honest, the truth is that sometimes I post those photos when I'm feeling crappy, unloved, sad, depressed, unappreciated, lonely, insecure, hungry, fat, terminally single, scared, frustrated and needy. Sometimes all at the same time.

In those moments, rather than deal with whatever's ailing me, I become a  social-media-craving little lab rat who repeatedly smacks my Facebook happy-lever in hopes of getting a quick dopamine fix. If I post something positive (or pathetic), I'll get a positive (or uplifting) response. And because I have so many "friends" (nearly 5,000 - no brag, just fact), I can guarantee almost instant results 24/7.

You're awesome! You're a great Noni! Your kids are so lucky you're their mother! You're an amazing cook! You're so strong! You look great! How do you do it all? Gosh, when do you sleep? You have a great smile! Your grandchildren are so cute - and by the way, they look just like you!

The rush is fleeting, because in my heart of hearts I know I manipulated those responses. Because it's all artificial sweetener, the elation deflates quickly, often leaving me feeling worse than before.

This topic is on my mind after a conversation I had with a dear friend, someone who doesn't have grandchildren, but wants them so badly that her lack of grandchildren literally brings her pain. It's torture for her to hear others speak of their grandchildren, because it only reminds her that she has none, and may never have any.

Despite that, yesterday she said how much she loved the recent photos I posted on Facebook of me with my grandchildren. I know she was sincere, because she loves me, and she's happy for me. But she admitted that it sometimes hurts to see these photos.

I reminded her of my favorite quote: Comparison is the thief of joy.  I listed a few areas of her life that I envy (like having a husband, for starters). We ended up laughing about it. But still, I knew what she meant.

The thing is, a picture may be worth a thousand words, but there are a million unspoken words behind that seemingly perfect photo only known to the subjects, or the photographer.

Noni Doni and her most brilliant, adorable grandchildren.

For example, this delightful photo of me with my grandchildren taken on the river trail Saturday doesn't even hint at some of the more stressful parts of our weekend together. You'd never guess the degree of sibling rivalry that led to complex negotiations about everything from who got to sleep with which stuffed animal, to whose turn it was to pull the wagon, to who got to sit in the blue chair, and whose plate got the first waffle and which book we read first.

Calgon, take me away!

Also, I found myself feeling frustrated with the kids as they rushed from toy to toy and activity to activity, sometimes spending less time playing with the latest thing than I'd spent getting the thing out and setting it up. Sad to say, the one thing that held their attention the longest was a Smurf movie. (I must say, it was pretty good.)

Chalk drawing: 15 minutes. (Note the line drawn to keep a sibling's rogue art from contaminating the other's drawings)

Tea party: 20 minutes.

Drawing: 10 minutes.

Snacks on the porch: 20 minutes (in all fairness, their parents arrived to take them home).

At bedtime, the kids were excited (first time for a joint sleepover in my new house) so they had difficulty settling down and going to sleep. It was not my finest Noni hour when I actually resorted to promising a prize the next day to whichever child fell asleep first. Of course, the next night you can bet the child who "lost" the previous night was first asleep the second night.  I may be onto something ...

OK, so I'm not proud about how I handled bedtime, or the fact that I sharply expressed my displeasure when the 4-year-old treated the new couches like trampolines, and then later made a black Sharpie mark on the new bamboo floor. I said something that caused the 6-year-old to scold, "I don't think you're supposed to say that word, Noni."

You can call me Noni Dearest.

Don't get me wrong. They're wonderful little kids. The best! But my point is that I certainly don't post photos of them, or me, at our very worst. Consequently, people like my friend -- someone who longs for grandchildren -- all she can imagine is she's missing out on those picture-perfect grandparenting moments depicted in my picture-perfect photos. My sins of omission gives her a warped view of grandparenting that's heavily skewed in the direction of whitewashed perfectionism.

I feel my own kinds of holiday pain, mainly, for the last eight years, related to being single with grown kids, and never knowing where I fit into their lives and holidays.

It's no accident that I've spent one Christmas and one Thanksgiving in the Czech Republic. I literally left the country to avoid the uncertainty and potential pain. It's the pits being alone on a holiday.

That's partly why I, someone who did not plan on being single for the rest of my days, look longingly at photos of contended couples and my heart aches. Of course, being married twice myself, I know that marriage is not always a bed of roses. What nobody shows on Facebook (nor should they - for the love of God, please no) are those thorny marital moments; bickering, disinterest, impatience, relaxed hygiene, boredom, or even outright dislike and dissatisfaction.

Although it's a day-to-day struggle to keep life's disappointments, pain, loss and sadness at bay during the best of times, it's an especially difficult feat during the holidays. Forgive me for being a Doni downer, but sometimes, holidays' timing really sucks. Right in the middle of what's supposed to be the hap - happiest time of the year, some people are undergoing chemo, or divorce, or bankruptcy, or hospice, or suffering the loss or a job, a home or a loved one.

The holidays can be an emotional land mine, and triggers are everywhere, sometimes in the most seemingly innocent places.

Nobody knows this more acutely than my twin, Shelly, for whom Christmas used to be her favorite holiday. Now, she's haunted each year by a particular Christmas tree lot. Just seeing it sets off an avalanche of memories of her with her son Matt, who died of leukemia at 20. Matt, like his mother, loved the holidays, too. And he was such a good sport about indulging his mother at that same Christmas tree lot each year to find, cut down, bring home and set up the biggest tree for her, because her former house had massive vaulted ceilings.

Now, when it comes to Christmas, Shelly goes as simplistic and small as possible. For her to "go big" would remind her too much of Matt, which would hurt even more than the daily unrelenting pain she already endures over the loss of her youngest child.

Shelly put her creativity to work with this year's tiny tree display.

For Shelly, and anyone unable to share the holidays with someone they love, whether because of death, illness, addictions, divorce, deployment or estrangement, it's impossible to think of that loved one and simultaneously have an unabashed holly, jolly Christmas.

The thing is, I don't care what the song says, this really isn't the most wonderful time of the year. In fact, it can feel like quite the contrary. So many dashed expectations. So many painful memories. So many comparisons to others' lives that leave us feeling diminished and disappointed.

With that in mind, I wish you the best Thanksgiving and holiday season possible. Be easy on yourself. And if you're really struggling, you might give social media -- and the malls, for that matter -- a rest. Just until after New Year's, when it's mostly safe to venture back again. Wait, I take that back. Make it March, because you'll want to avoid February, and Valentine's Day. Shoot. I forgot about Easter. And Mother's Day and Father's Day.  Then there's the Fourth of July, which reminds me that for that matter, that you'll need to get through the whole happy summer that's bursting with weddings and everyone's exotic vacations. Sorry.

At any rate, if you do go on Facebook today, take Mark's advice, and consider skipping the food pictures this year. Unless they're really unusual, or funny, or they involve a crazed cat, or if your dinner was a total disaster. Those, you can post all day long. Bring them on!

We could all use a little levity. And you'll get lots of likes.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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56 Responses

  1. Barbara Rice Barbara Rice says:

    The Thanksgiving after my brother died (and every year after) there was (and is) a big vacancy at the table. But my SIL brought this poem to dinner, written by D. Sims.

    For That, I am Thankful

    It doesn’t seem to get any better, but it doesn’t get any worse either.
    For that, I am thankful.
    There are no more pictures to be taken, but there are memories to be
    For that, I am thankful.
    There is a missing chair at the table, but the circle of family gathers
    For that, I am thankful.
    The turkey is smaller, but there is still stuffing.
    For that, I am thankful.
    The days are shorter, but the nights are softer.
    For that, I am thankful.
    The pain is still there, but it lasts only moments.
    For that, I am thankful.
    The calendar still turns, the holidays still appear and they still cost too
    much. And I am still here.
    For that, I am thankful.
    The room is still empty, the soul still aches, but the heart remembers.
    For that, I am thankful.
    The guests still come, the dishes pile up, but the dishwasher works.
    For that, I am thankful.
    The name is still missing, the words still unspoken, but the silence is
    For that, I am thankful.
    The snow still falls, the sled still waits and the spirit still wants to.
    For that, I am thankful.
    The stillness remains, but the sadness is smaller.
    For that, I am thankful.
    The moment is gone, but the love is forever.
    For that, I am blessed.
    For that, I am grateful…
    Love was once (and still is) a part of my being… For that, I am living.

  2. Barbara, thank you for the teardrop that just ran down my cheek.

  3. Beverly Stafford says:

    Great column, Noni Doni, and touching poem, Barbara. For you two and all of the A News Cafe “diners,” I am thankful.

  4. Deb says:

    Aw, shucks… I am a person who loves holiday-meal-photos. Having a dinner party? Show me the table, groaning under the weight of the food! Friends and family over for no particular reason? Let me see the ‘aftermath’, too, a table with empty wine bottles and scattered crumbs and people stil lingering over their last half-glass. But that’s just me – we don’t ever host dinner parties, so I like to live vicariously through others 🙂

    As to the rest, though, I understand fully, and agree. Thanks to Facebook filters I do post some of the rotten along with some of the good, but the all-friends-view does paint a sunnier picture than is often merited, and yep, it’s down to putting a good face on it and – dare I say – even getting some attaboys in the bargain. Right or wrong, social media allows us all to write our own script, and generally we want to be seen in our best light – literally, in the instance of selfies!

    Thank you for this thoughtful article, Doni. I wish you peaceful holidays, and a lovely Thanksgiving, even if none of it is ever ‘perfect’. xoxo

    • Hey, I didn’t say I didn’t LIKE the food photos. Personally, I like to see what’s cooking in others’ homes. And I’m with you, there’s something about the after-table that I really love.
      I’m grateful for YOU for your wonderful columns and beautiful photography. I’m so glad you’re part of A News Cafe.com.
      I wish you and your sweet Sem a holiday season filled with true comfort and joy.

  5. Rita Panike says:

    Great article Doni! Although I love the holidays, it is incredibly stressful to think about where we will “land” every year. You would think that with 6 children between the two of us that our holidays would be abundantly full, but that is not the case. None of them live close and only 2 of them live close to each other, so we travel now at Christmas, every year. Each year I go about meticulously decorating every room in my house for Christmas all the while thinking “what’s the point, my family will never see it anyway”.
    All of these changes made me come to the realization a few years back that the holidays are not the way I picture them in my mind or the way people post them on Facebook, the holidays are different for everyone. Only I can decide what will bring me joy during that time, and although I try as hard as possible, I don’t always succeed in not comparing myself to others. Always a work in progress!!
    Happy Thanksgiving Doni!

    • I used to say I loved the holidays, but it’s taken me a while to realize that I’m reframing the holidays, and that it’s OK if I don’t necessarily love them any more.

      There some things I probably will always love about them, like cooking traditional foods, and getting together with people when all the schedules line up.

      Regarding your situation, I hear you, and can relate. I say that if you enjoy decorating rooms for the holidays, and if it brings you joy to walk by and look at them, then go for it! Do it for you!

      We are all works in progress, and all we can do is keep moving and keep growing, and not try to compare ourselves to others. (Unless it’s trying to beat your 2-mile treadmill time … THEN it’s all OK! 😉

  6. Melody says:

    The holidays are a tough time for most due to loss, unmet expectations, keeping up with the Jone’s, and the like. I have lost both parents, a step father, and a brother in law all during the holidays in various years. My daughter has had extensive health issues for several years and now avoids facebook like the plague because she is reminded of all that she has lost each time she sees The “fun” others are having. This year things are so different for us, living in a 5th wheel after selling our home, kids are scattered and for the first time we will be eating the thanksgiving meal with strangers. I try not to let the changes bother me, but let’s be real, they do! This is our season of change.

    • I’m so sorry for all those losses during the holidays, and it’s no wonder it’s a tough time for you!
      Your daughter is smart to pull away from Facebook to shield herself.

      Your changes are inspirational to me. You’re brave! I hope you end up eating with some interesting strangers, and that you have a good day.

  7. Ginny says:

    May your day be wonderful Doni, however you spend it! Sometimes alone is good. Some times it gives us a chance to enjoy past years’ memories. I love thinking about the glorious Christmas Eves I had at my Grandparents home. There are only three of us left from those days, but still, I can enjoy how wonderful it was then. In other words, don’t give up the wonderfulness of the good times to dwell on the less and empty things life has happened along its way to today! Always, Love & Blessings, Doni…………

    • Ginny, you’re an example of someone who can derive joy from your happy memories, rather than focusing on mourning the loss of those good times with your grandparents. That’s a gift.

      You’re right. Sometimes alone IS good! I’m OK with being alone, but I confess the few holidays I did spend alone were pretty painful, probably because I was alone with my thoughts, and really, that can be a helpful thing, if I allow myself to go there.

      Blessings to you, dear Ginny. I’m grateful for you!

  8. Darcie says:

    Great article Doni. I am going to ‘share’ it and Barbara’a poem on Facebook as I know so many of my friends and neighbors will take away “Comparison is the thief of joy”.
    Happy Thanksgiving dear friend!

  9. Cathy says:

    Thank you Doni for sharing your feelings today. I can identify with much of what you wrote including your persistence of a hopeful attitude.
    And thank you Barbara for the beautiful and deeply meaningful poem.

  10. Tom O'Mara says:

    Favorite line: “Calgon, take me away!”

    Still the son of an ad-man . .

    Happy Thanksgiving, Doni!

    • Beverly Stafford says:

      I had to Google the line. Back when the ad was running, we didn’t watch commercial TV at all; so the line – but not the product – was lost on me. As the son of an ad man, you probably relish the commercials. I always mute them. In fact my very favorite thing on television is the mute button. Enjoy this Thanksgiving Day.

      • Tom O'Mara says:

        One of my Dad’s jobs every year was to go to a screening room with other ad-guys (and ad-gals?) and watch and rate the new commercials for the coming year. I guess now we might call it a focus group. He would come home and rave about the new VW Bug commercials, and we would eagerly await them. This part of his job would undoubtedly be come people’s idea of hell on earth.

        BTW, I share you affection for the mute button!

    • LOL, I almost deleted that line because I knew it’s such an old ad that some younger folks wouldn’t get it. So thanks! (I didn’t know you were the son of an ad man. Interesting.)
      Happy Thanksgiving to you and Alice, and thank you, Tom, for your written contributions to A News Cafe.com. I appreciate you!

  11. R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

    I think you’ve got a pretty good Facebook style Doni. I know exactly the kinds of irritating posts you’re talking about, and yours don’t generally fall into that category.

    And this column reminded me that I’m very fortunate to have lost very few people who were close to me.

    • Well, thanks, R.V., high praise for my Facebook style, but still, I slip occasionally.

      You ARE so fortunate to have lost very few people who are close to you. I remember when my mom died when I was 12, I wrote a poem called “Consolation” with a line that said that the only consolation to losing my mother was the idea that I’d never have to face the pain of losing her later. I was kind of practical, I guess.

  12. Tim says:

    I love photographs like the one of the grandkids separated by a (very offset) chalk line. It manages to hint at the day’s prior exasperations & resignations, yet still conveys abundant love (after everything, the kids are still just inches apart). Photos like that make social media fun.

    On the other hand, while dining out the other night I had the discomfort to witness a young couple angrily whispering nearby, engaged in the sort of bitter argument that decreases in volume the more serious it becomes. Yet when their elaborate entrées arrived, the young woman wiped away her tears, checked her makeup, and then proceeded to take a smiling selfie depicting a happy couple enjoying a fancy meal together. She then checked the photo, showed it to her companion (he nodded & grunted), and tap tap tapped in silence, presumably sharing her joyful photo with thousands of her closest friends…

    • You’re right, Tim. The kids DO love each other, and are mostly very sweet to each other. (And look at all the lessons they’re learning about getting along with others throughout their lives.)

      Your story is really chilling. Seriously. Well written, too. But your observation is EXACTLY what I’m talking about! What their friends will see on FB is a photo of a young, smiling couple sharing a romantic meal.

      It’s good to keep that in mind when we see those seemingly perfect photos; that things are not always as they seem.

      Happy Thanksgiving, Tim. I’m glad you’re here.

  13. OK, I’m signing off for the day. I wish you and yours a fantastic, peaceful day filled with contentment and joy. I appreciate you so much!


  14. Karen C says:

    Love the holidays? Nope! Did once, when the kids were little, after all, that is what makes it so grand…those little ones. When I had all the energy in the world, and so did my hubby! Now, it is work, lots of it, lots of decisions on gifts, how much do we dare spend? So, I made it easier, we give the grandkids checks, so they can get what they want, plus money each year for the college funds (wonderful gift, we think!)
    We keep it simple, please no gifts for us… a gift card to places we love to shop, Amazon, Thymes, Land’s End and so on.
    One year we took the whole family to a large cabin up near Mt. Shasta. Everyone skied to their hearts content. One person was in charge of dinner each night…great idea. For us, it is about family, being thankful for what we all have and the most important stuff being a good roof over our heads, health, food on the table, and clothes on our backs, with lots of love mixed in. After all, what else is there!
    Look out for your neighbors, invite a lonely person to share the holiday with you….it will make your day.

    • I signed off and never came back to check comments. Sorry!

      I like your holiday simplicity, and your family holiday in a cabin sounds lovely.

      I like your holiday attitude, too, Karen. 🙂

  15. Barbara N says:

    Favorite line…Sometimes it’s enough to make me want to poke my eyes out with a turkey carving knife.
    Loved this article!

  16. conservative says:

    It seems to me this is an essay about happiness and unhappiness. My experience is that friends are a better source of happiness. Kids who seemed wonderful may go through adolescent rebellion and pick the wrong friends.

    My two sons turned out very differently because of choices they made. I can’t take the blame or the credit.
    I did my best. There is very little I would change.
    If a friend has toxic qualities, you can find other friends. For example, one of my friends is a horrible gossip. He is too old to change and has no insight into his behavior. No doubt he gossips about me.

    • Yes, I suppose you’re correct that this is a happy/unhappy column. But that’s the kind of mixed bag the holidays can be.

      Good advice about toxic people. And I’ve known people like your friend. We can count on the fact that if they’re talking like that about others, they’re probably doing the same about us. I’ve learned to just watch what I say around people like that.

  17. george says:

    Doni this is so well written. As I was reading this I was sad, happy, laughing and enlightened by you speaking the truth of how the holidays effect you. Not everyone can put on paper our innermost feelings/thoughts about the holidays like you have here. Speaking for myself, I can say I have many of the same thoughts/feelings that you have mentioned over the holidays. Thank you for your writings.

  18. Eleanor says:

    Doni, as always, you nailed it……as did many of the commenters. Thank you for your reality, and your courage and openness in sharing it with us. Brilliantly and beautifully written, and oh, so true. Also, I agree with R.V., your FB is one of the very few I want to read.

  19. Steve DuBois Steve DuBois says:

    Doni, my life has changed a great deal as I’ve gotten older. The holidays are not what they use to be. I like something you said about ‘reframing’ the holidays. Thank you for that thought. That’s how I’m going to look at it from now on. Your article touched on so many aspects of life. Our lives are very different, so I related from an opposite perspective. Still gave me insight. No matter what my life is, I always try to be grateful for what I have. I look at the homeless situation and I’m grateful I have a place to call home. I’m not able to do a lot, but I’m grateful I can do anything. When I think about all the flooding, hurricanes, earthquakes, mass murder shootings, terrorism, destroyed lives, I feel grateful to have what I have. I’m sixty-eight and this morning I awoke and opened my eyes again. When I think of all the people younger than me who lost their lives, who haven’t had the chance to experience the beauty in life for at least as long as I have, I am saddened for them. So I am grateful for my life. I’ve never heard: Comparison is the thief of Joy. I am guilty of that. But I always try to quickly reflect on feeling gratitude for my life. Thank you for you’re emotionally deep and inspiring article. I love the photo of you and the grandkids, even if there were rough moments in the day. I’m wishing us all the best through the holiday season.

  20. gmonteri says:

    Good work. Worthwhile. Recommended to anyone who needs the truth about this time of year. Thank you.

  21. This is gold: “social-media-craving little lab rat who repeatedly smacks my Facebook happy-lever in hopes of getting a quick dopamine fix.” And that’s what Facebook is all about, Charlie Brown. 🙂 Add to that all the nefarious things that FB does with our data — and we have a pretty fearsome beast. Thanks for the terrific piece. Wishing you and yours joy this holiday season. (I briefly considered posting a FB pic of the swarm of ants on my kitchen counter this morning – you know – just to keep it real. Nah.)

  22. Caroler says:

    I liked your article. I very much like the way you write, you manage to say things more creatively than I think them, so thanks! Concerning FB posts, I prefer to post the positive not because I’m trying to put a false impression out there but because I also prefer to see other people’s triumphs and those who know me already know the worst so when things are good I like to share. I do lay the blame for those ridiculously high expectations of the perfect Thanksgiving feast surrounded by the perfect family on Norman Rockwell. We had scallops & broccoli salad (& yes I did post on FB) because the turkey lover is no longer with us. Someone I know slightly said (also on FB) “remembering those who are not with us & embracing those who are”. I’ll be working on that. Thanks for all you write, I’m hoping you have a book planned. I enjoy your use of words and the sudden twists in thought. Kudos.

    • Oh, I believe you about why you post positive things on FB.

      Scallops and broccoli salad sounds delicious!

      And I like the sentence about remembering those who aren’t here, and embracing those who are.” Beautiful sentiment.

  23. Doug Mudford says:


    “…plucky…” ? You make me smile. It’s too difficult to chuckle with a lump in my throat.

    Doug Mudford

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