I’m not usually a Bah Humbug kind of girl, but this year I’m in a bit of a funk.
Maybe it’s a year of politics that has me wishing for a third party. Or no party.
Maybe it’s a year of “#metoo” and realizing that I think life is more like “who hasn’t?”
Maybe as I’ve gotten older and realized that what I actually want to do when I grow up is become a (real/paid/famous) writer and that means I am trying to reorganize and prioritize my life and activities so there is time every day for writing (breathing out) and reading (breathing in), and adding in a few dozen extra tasks between Thanksgiving (which we hosted for 37 people) and Christmas Eve (when we host 19 people) is making me stressed and anxious and feeling selfish and guilty all at the same time.
Maybe it’s because trying to be a real writer means that for the last six months I’ve actually approached agents, publishers, writing residency and fellowship programs and started getting my first rejection letters, which I am told is the badge of every successful writer. Just for the record, these badges feel crappy. And totally do NOT go with my outfit.
Maybe it’s because my pants are too tight and I’ve finally joined a gym and have been going religiously for a month and I’m not skinny yet.
Maybe I’m trying to do too much after recovering from post concussion syndrome after I got hit in the head with a sailing boom in August (first world concussion problems).
Maybe, just maybe, it’s all of those things.
So as a purposeful and attempting to be self-actualized human, I decided to make a list of Christmas things that I will and won’t do. No one ever said everything needs to happen to make Christmas. Except Pinterest, and she’s a made-up Queen of Nonsense, so there.
I don’t need to bake Christmas Cookies or do a cookie exchange. I only like my mom’s cookies anyway and since she is a saint I can just look at her with my pitiful puppy dog eyes and ask her to make me my favorite cookies and then I will eat them and continue to wonder why my pants are so tight.
I don’t need to go to every luncheon, shopping event, or cocktail party. When I was younger I used to think that I wasn’t successful or popular enough unless we were invited to something every weekend of December. Now I am grateful that we are invited to many things, but I’ve realized I actually prefer to be in my (loose) pajama pants near the fireplace in my own family room on the weekend. And every night of the week for that matter. I have fabulous cozy slippers and fuzzy blankets and a stack of magazines and books and I can look at my Christmas decorations and feel all is right in the world. I’m told this makes me an introvert. I prefer the term “socially particular”. I like people. Just certain ones at certain times.
However, there’s lots of stuff on the Christmas list of To Do items that I can’t get rid of. I mean, I could refuse to make sure that Katie has a “holiday concert outfit” that fits the requirements for school and fits her properly, but forcing her to be the only kid without black pants / appropriate length skirt and white shirt and black flat shoes (not boots or heels) isn’t really going to help cut down on time, as she would need to then attend therapy since I’d be ruining her life. And I could decide my kids don’t need any presents, or anyone else in my family, but I think that would be bucking the capitalist society of our country and I might get deported. Or reported to DYFS by my children, who can sometimes sway towards the entitled bratty end of the spectrum on occasion.
So when I mentioned to Brian that I had “a lot going on this year” and I didn’t want to do a Christmas card, I thought this was a good balance in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I love other people’s Christmas cards. I really do. I love getting mail that isn’t going directly to the recycling bin, like the fourteen pounds of catalogs that arrive daily beginning in October. I open each card and put them all together in a little wooden display box, and we enjoy seeing how kids have grown and friends have aged and the whole cycle of life thing. When our kids were really young, and our friends were really young, we had a “cutest baby” contest that was really fun and most likely inappropriate. But making our own holiday card is not my favorite thing. And since I was trying to make Christmas this year all about my actual favorite things, like eating my mom’s cookies in my yoga pants and not adding additional tasks that are not necessary, I didn’t think anyone would even miss our card anyway.
But Brian thought this was a travesty. “How could we not send a card?” he asked me, incredulous, like I had just suggested I attempt to trap and torture Santa himself. I explained myself and my precarious mental state. I didn’t want to spend the time searching for a photo of all of us where everyone was smiling, where my fat was either hidden by a child in front of me or easy to photo shop, where the backdrop of the photo was a scene that was pretty or interesting but not pretentious. I didn’t want to look online for cards that were holiday generic so we could send to our Christian, Jewish, Pagan, Atheist and Humanist friends and family without making someone feel excluded. I didn’t want to spend money on something that would be recycled. I didn’t want to update addresses. I didn’t want to review who stays on the mailing list and who gets dropped and who added them and who were those people anyway? I did not want to do any of that – or eat green eggs and ham. “Fine – I’ll do it,” said Brian. “You won’t have to do a thing – I’ve got this.” And I knew that this was going to be a great story. Maybe not a good plan, but a great story.
First, Brian asked me what photo we should use. I explained the criteria, refusing to look at a single photo. He then researched every photo we had online for approximately seven thousand hours and asked me what I thought of three thousand of them. I explained that this was still his job. And then he researched again and showed me a dozen. A dozen I could look at – this is the executive summary that I need in life. I nixed some. I praised others. I reminded him about cropping out my fatter bottom half. We settled on a few that we both sort-of kind-of liked but didn’t love, and then he went back and looked at the original three thousand again, as if he had missed the perfect photo. He hadn’t. He came up with the same photos again. I smirked. He had now spent more time on the holiday card project this year than in all of our other years as a family combined. Perhaps more hours than any Christmas Related Items combined. Except for maybe the year he put together Katie’s Playmobil dollhouse, which took approximately 12 hours, and an entire bottle of scotch. And then Christmas morning he had to pretend that Santa’s elves had put the whole thing together and he couldn’t take an ounce of credit. He kept telling my three-year-old Katie “Those elves must have worked REALLY hard on this!” and finally my feminist Katie said “I bet Mrs. Claus worked even harder.” Out of the mouths of babes. There’s a reason Katie is often my favorite child.
So as Brian became more sucked into the Christmas Card Chaos, I realized I enjoyed his misery. He was getting a small taste of what it is like to be me, or any wife, for that matter. I decided that since I had done the Christmas card for the first 16 years of marriage, he could do the next 16. And then when he went online to pick the actual card to go with the actual picture, he completely and utterly melted down. “There are over a THOUSAND CARDS on this website!” he screamed, thoroughly freaking out with the abundance of choice. In past years, I had given him the executive summary, having gone through everything and shown him two or three options for finalists. Or just the one I thought he’d like. He’d never known the plethora of choices I saved him from. Now the cards were streaming at him like an angry mob with pitchforks. I loved his torture. And I realized I was a little bit evil, enjoying his Christmas pain.
What is Christmas, and marriage for that matter, if not sharing the joy and chaos and crap together?
There was a great article not too long ago about the mental taxation of being a woman. How the emotional part of keeping track of everything is exhausting. Just in regular life. Not Christmastime. Christmastime elevates it all to a totally different level. I organize the house, the kids, the lists, the calendar and the things we do and the things we don’t. I plan, research and purchase the gifts for the kids and our families, the gifts for teachers and coaches, and tips for the garbage guys. I make sure we have something for the various and important causes and donation drives for the people who are less fortunate, I get the Secret Santa gifts, the white elephant gift exchanges, the extra gifts for hostesses and the people I will forget to get a gift for. I decorate inside and outside of the house (and try to take down the outside decorations before July, which actually happened one year). I kept track when the kids were little of what presents were from mom and dad versus Santa, how and where to hide them, when to wrap them with what paper, how much tape we needed (just, more, more tape). I psych myself up to visit the post office and try to figure out if there is a time of day when it is possible to spend less than 45 minutes on line. I figure out travel plans and plane fares (really we should do this in July as well as take down the decorations) and remind myself to be thankful every day for my first-world problems and abundance of good problems to have. But god forbid anything else actually happens in the month of December, like a family birthday, or sick kid, or sick pet, or man flu, or a broken garbage disposal or even just the endless broken Christmas decorations that require me to invest in gallons of super glue. I really do try to put my super powers to good use, but somehow this many things starts to suck the joy and fun out of it and instead of feeling like I’m party of a Merry Team, I feel like I’m the cruise ship director making sure everyone else is having fun.
And then, on top of it all, there’s the freaking elf.
Tune in for the next blog where I discuss the freaking elf. Because we all need to take a breath, and have a glass of something merry, before we get to that.
And did I forget something for this Christmastime list? Feel free to let me know. We’re all in this together after all.