As I looked through my many half-written posts and jotted-down notes about ideas I should flesh out, I decided I was too damn tired after all to form good thoughts. I want to write something brilliant about raising my boys in this digital age or during a time of civil upheaval (which seems to be swelling); or something inspirational about never giving up even when life is smacking you upside the head consistently or how incredibly lucky I am to have amazingly strong, smart, resourceful friends who are always helping me out; but after spending a day stranded at home with a kid who seemed pretty sick in the morning only to rebound rather suspiciously in the afternoon, while trying to be productive at work, and waiting to hear the verdict about what was causing the horrible metal-on-metal grinding sound from my car and how much it was going to cost me 17 days before Christmas…I’m fresh out of brilliant insights and inspiring wisdom.
Instead, I’m wondering why the hell little boys’ pajamas seem to stop being sold in sets and only “lounge pants” become available. We’ve got roughly a bazillion pairs of pajama pants stuffed into our drawers–this is only slight hyperbole, G changes into them immediately when he gets home from school and never seems to run out, but I dare you to find more than two pajama shirts in our house.
I was distressed when footsies stopped being available for boys of a certain age, although I have recently been given some as hand me downs that look like they could fit a teenager which is disturbing in a different way. I guess you can really only pull off this look for so long:
Do boys of a certain age stop wearing shirts to bed and I have only just now learned of this? Is it a conspiracy with the t-shirt people? Because lord knows we have no shortage of t-shirts, and sadly, my little boys can just about wear some of my old shirts.
I am sure if I searched high and low (or did a google search for pajama sets), I’d find something that would fit the bill. However, it would be nice if I could easily pick up a pair of PJs during a casual shopping trip or, for instance, while I am online trying to finish my Christmas shopping during Kohl’s friends and family sale.
But no. I’ve got choice after choice for lounge pants, and only Darth Vader with a Santa hat or Scooby Doo with a wreath around his neck for Christmas PJs? Really?
I chose Darth Vader. Welcome to the dark side.
December is a hustle-bustle month. Aside from the obvious holiday preparations, it also seems to be the month where we try to squeeze in everything we have put off the months preceding it. This seems especially true at work as people are trying to meet their end of the year goals and budgets and suddenly everyone has a renewed interest in getting work done before things more or less shut down around Christmas and New Year’s Day. And on a personal side, people are planning visits and outings, trying to meet their own goals for fitness, love, new jobs, school exams…the clock is ticking down to a new year and everyone gives that last push to make the most of the current one. It’s exciting and exhausting.
I gave myself permission to take a week off from writing, from thinking, from planning, from stressing about Christmas preparations and to ease into this month. We bought the Christmas tree last weekend and took all the ornaments down from the attic. We did a little home decorating and called it done. I knew this week at work was going to be a hectic one, so I gave myself permission to go to bed early each night. Midway through the week, after a particularly stressful day and the mind-boggling realization that my son seems to have lost his brand-new winter coat, I gave myself permission to drink more than one glass of wine, stay up late, and watch my guilty pleasure show (Nashville, don’t judge) on television. I gave myself permission to let the laundry pile up, to eat all the leftovers and meals made from staples in the cabinets, to play Words with Friends and scroll through Facebook at night and not do anything remotely productive. I gave myself permission to be a total slacker.
The thing is that being a total slacker is a lot like binge eating or drinking or shopping or anything else people do in excess. It feels good in the moment, but the next day(s) you feel dirty and gross. And while I do feel that I earned a week to concentrate only on my day job and completely unplug and disconnect from everything else in my life, I have definitely reached the point where now I feel a little, well, disconnected.
So now it is time to jump back in. Even though this season can be taxing, especially for single mommies, I feel that I’ve reached a new place in my adventure where I am actually prepared. My expectations are in the right place. I’m giving myself permission to make this holiday as low-key as possible. We’ll do only what feels right for us as a family and not try to force any Christmas cheer where it doesn’t belong. We don’t have to follow some predetermined path for what constitutes a “Merry Christmas”.
It seems to me that there is a lot of pressure to make Christmas this magical time when families are perfect and homes are perfect and our hearts are perfect and we have pictures with Santa and elves on the shelves and Santa breakfasts and holiday boutiques and Christmas tree lightings in our towns and the cities and school concerts and church plays and parties and ice skating and caroling (wait, no one does that anymore…a shame, really). And while all of that is perfectly lovely, we shouldn’t feel the need to do it all. In fact, we shouldn’t feel the need to do any of it if we don’t want to. Giving yourself permission to be a bit of a holiday slacker can go a long way.
Don’t get me wrong. I am no grinch or scrooge. I’m not suggesting slacking to the point where one feels lazy and dirty. I’m just talking about being selective. Discriminating. Picky. Following traditions is a wonderful thing for a family, but if each and every year you are trying to top the year before, pretty soon you are in manic holiday mode and that never ends well.
Traditions have definitely formed in our little family, but they are the ones that we’ve chosen over time together and therefore aren’t stressful to uphold: making paper snowflakes to hang in the window, choosing the Christmas tree, picking out special ornaments each year and then finding just the right place on the new tree for all of them, making cookies for our neighbors and delivering them along with dog biscuits for our doggie friends, watching Christmas movies and snuggling with hot chocolate. These are the holiday preparations that have emerged as important to us as a family, so these will be the ones that continue. And I am sure in time, new traditions will develop and maybe some of the former ones will fall away, and that’s OK too.
Last year, I told my mom that I just couldn’t do a big thing for Christmas dinner. So, she said she would cook a meal at my house and we would just have a quiet dinner. I felt a little guilty at first, but it turned out to be the best decision I ever made. My brother and C played chess, while my mom and I read and G played with his own new toys until we were ready for dinner. We had a simple meal and everyone was happy and content. It was peaceful, pleasant, and perfect really. I just had to give myself permission to see where my limit was and stick to it.
Give yourself permission to make your holidays as simple or extravagant as you wish. Know your limits. Know yourself. Know what you are doing with love and joy, rather than obligation and only do those things. You’ll be so happy you did.
There is a new M&M commercial on TV that has the talking M&M characters discussing whether Santa will like the red and green M&Ms they are going to leave him. They run into Santa and red M&M says, “He does exist!” and promptly faints while Santa does the same. It’s cute. Except for the insinuation that red M&M may not have believed that Santa existed before he saw him with his own eyes.
These types of wink, wink commercials are everywhere and it amazes me that kids go as long as some of them do believing. I think it is despite what some evidence may point to, despite the looks adults give one another, despite the kids on the bus declaring there is no Santa; kids believe because they want to believe.
C saw the commercial last night and promptly asked,
“Is Santa real? Or is it you that puts the gifts under the tree? Besides the ones you give us, I mean…like, Santa’s gifts? Are you Santa?”
“What do you think?”
“I think he’s real.”
I nodded and smiled and said no more. I’ve struggled a little with the Santa myth and in general try to downplay his role in Christmas. Mostly because I think kids get way too focused on Santa and forget the Jesus part of Christmas and the peace on Earth and goodwill toward man part; I’d rather they focus on the giving, rather than the receiving. Which, naturally, is pretty nearly impossible for most kids.
But, I had a former colleague who staunchly believed that letting kids believe in Santa was simply lying to them and teaching them that lying was OK and that people who let their children believe in Santa were doing them a huge disservice. I am so glad that his kids don’t go to school with mine.
I want my kids to believe in magic, and kindness, and giving. I want them to know that sometimes you just have to put faith in things you can’t see or know for sure. Like God. And Love. And Goodness. I read this lovely article which reprints a letter which appeared in the New York Times which expresses these very sentiments. Perhaps, when they really start to doubt, I will use this letter or one similar to give to my boys.
For now, I think we are safe. If the boys have an inkling that I am Santa, I am pretty sure they will blissfully look the other way. I’ve been telling them for years that you just don’t ask questions around the holidays. This has allowed me to carry in giant boxes from the mail and keep them in plain sight in my room, stating “Nope, not for you!”
I do hope it won’t be a let down for them when they learn the truth. I hope the season will continue to hold fascination and excitement for them. In some ways, I hope they believe forever. After all, believing in magic is the only way to experience it.
Ugh. 4:30 and both the sky and my mood have grown dark.
Autumn got short-changed this year. I took my tree photos and tried to enjoy each crisp and colorful day, but a recent cold snap and the end of daylight savings seems to have accelerated winter’s arrival and once again I feel like I am being steamrolled by time.
Thanksgiving, which used to be my favorite holiday, is around the corner and instead of being excited, I want to stick my head in the nearest hole in the ground. And it seems half the world wants to just skip Thanksgiving and go straight to Christmas; decorations and music and TV specials and catalogs full of toys are everywhere. This means that my boys will soon be amping up daily in anticipation of Santa’s arrival and that I will need to stock up on wine. Or Xanax. Or both.
I’m no Grinch, but frankly this is how I’ve been starting to feel:
There are only 7 weeks left in the year. 46 days. 22 workdays to complete two major projects–and with the holidays and people’s vacation and the general speed at which things get done at the end of the year, let’s just say that will be a challenge. I also need to find time in those 46 days to decorate, bake, get presents, send cards; all while keeping up with the boys’ many activities and schoolwork and attempting to enjoy myself.
Ho ho ho.
I know I can’t be the only mom who feels completely overwhelmed by it all and yet I also know that in a couple of weeks my Facebook feed is going to be flooded with Elf on the Shelf pictures and cookie recipes and people who are “feeling blessed” and decking the halls and I am going to wonder how everyone else seems to be reveling in holiday spirit when I am bursting into tears if I hear Auld Lang Syne or Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas on the radio.
Part of my problem is my feeling that I need to do even more at this time of year to make up for the boys not having two parents. I wonder if I will ever get over that. I wonder if I will ever be able to give up on my own dream of having someone to share all the preparations with, someone to help us decorate, someone to dance with in front of the tree, someone who will stay up with me on Christmas Eve and eat Santa’s cookies and survey the scene created out of love.
But trying to do more isn’t going to help matters. I need to be doing less, so that I can be a happier mom. Happier mom = happier boys.
Time is my nemesis. One I have to face unarmed, except for my sheer desire to slow everything down and make our moments count. I don’t have any great plan on how to accomplish this although I think it will have something to do with scaling back on expectations. Deciding on what (and who) is really important and only focusing attention on those things; hint: it is not the elf on the shelf.
I can’t change the weather or the fallen leaves or the number of tasks I have to complete at work, but I can wake up earlier and enjoy each daylight moment. I can set a schedule for the next few weeks and stick to it. And when the time comes, I can focus on the true meaning of Christmas and make sure that everything we are doing in preparation is done with love.