Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy for the Holidays

So this year I didn't get ornaments on the Christmas tree until yesterday. That's right. Oh, the tree had been up for a couple of weeks, but first we had to let the not-really-a-kitten-but-still-acts-like-one get her ya-yas out by trying to climb the thing a few times, and then wrap up the last week of school and school parties and baking and gifts for teachers and random things like a long-overdue toilet repair and excavating Son #1's room and...
 Our cat wishes she could do this.

Is it any wonder that people hate the holidays? I saw the first encroaching signs of the approaching holidays when the back wall of the seasonal section of our local Target filled up with Christmas lights a week before Halloween. I admit it made me cranky, because instead of a wall of lights I saw a long unspooling to-do list, full of Hanukkah parties and Christmas events (yes, our family celebrates both). I saw high expectations and disappointed hopes in my future, because those things always seem to go hand in hand. The pressure to make things magical for the holidays, especially when you have kids, seems overwhelming. But life doesn't stop for you to suddenly become Betty Crocker and churn out twelve dozen perfectly decorated sugar cookies to give to the neighbors, or to spend hours untangling strings of lights to find enough that work to decorate the tree. Hell, for me it's an accomplishment to have enough Hanukkah candles in the house.

This year a couple we're friends with stopped by and dropped off a container of cookies, along with their holiday card. I experienced a moment of panic, even as I smiled, thanked the husband, and waved to the wife, who was sitting in their car at the curb. I hadn't thought of baking for any of our friends, even though a week previously I had made roughly five squintillion sugar cookies and pizzelles for Son #2 and Son #3's holiday class parties, to give to the school office, and to send to Son #1's teachers. I mentally started calculating the time it would take to make some more sugar cookie dough, and whether or not I had enough colored sugar to decorate another several dozen cookies, and then...I let it go. This is not going to be the year that I am the Woman Who Does Everything More Beautifully Than You (and who likes that b*tch anyway?). Next year probably won't be it either.

There are no lights on the outside of our house. I haven't sent out our cards yet because they are New Year's cards (much easier than sending Hanukkah cards to some family and Christmas cards to the rest), and the best present we got from my husband's family was the moratorium on gifts between adults. Last year I spent the Saturday before Christmas in the mall, in a weird mental zen state of completely embracing the suck, knowing that I was elbowing my way through crowds to shop (two of my least favorite things combined, yay) because I had not managed to get it together to complete my shopping earlier online. This year the patron saint of our holidays has been And my husband and I severely restricted our budgets for each other's gifts in favor of the much more practical gift of finally having our living room and dining room painted (a task that will take place AFTER the holidays are a memory).

I don't think the kids will notice that there are no elves on our shelves. We didn't spend three hours in stop-and-go traffic to drive past someone else's Christmas lights, and we didn't stand in a line of grumpy adults and fidgety children so that they could tell a man in costume their wish list. Sorry if that seems "bah humbug"y, but I look back at my own childhood and these things don't stand out to me. Tellingly, my kids haven't asked to do either. Maybe they are wise enough to know that either outing would come with a heaping helping of cranky mama.

This would be me after two hours in line.

The boys seem plenty happy with the endless supply of cookies and the lazy days of winter break when they can be in pajamas an hour past when they would normally be in school. Son #2 will spend this evening, I know, glued to the Santa Tracker app on my iPhone, and Son #1 will probably be the lone voice of reason among the boys as we alternately threaten and cajole them into bed at a halfway decent hour. (The tradition at my parents' house is that no presents whatsoever are put under the tree until after the kids are in bed, which means that we adults have a vested interest in getting them to bed so we don't have to stay up until two a.m. ourselves.)

This year I'm listening to that voice of reason myself. The breakable ornaments are staying put away for their own good, to survive to a year when adolescent feline curiosity has ebbed. The hours I spent coaching Son #1 to recycle most of the mountain of papers covering his desk were much better spent than if I had taken that time putting out myriad holiday decorations that would just have to be taken down again. Tonight I will enjoy a glass of wine with my family, and tomorrow I will enjoy being pried out of bed by my boys, who will not have any idea how I can possibly still be asleep when there are presents under the tree at Grandma and Granddad's! (Okay, maybe enjoy is a strong word on that last one, but I'll be good to go once you get some coffee in me.)

I hope that you have spent your holiday season doing what brings you and your loved ones joy. I hope that you have let go of unrealistic expectations for making the season perfect and that instead you can enjoy what is put before you. (I, for one, am looking forward to another exciting edition of "Seriously, People Really Think That's Okay to Wear to Church on Christmas Eve?" later today.) Laughter, hugs, family, friends, love, good food...and gratitude for everything I have. There. I'm happy already and I haven't opened a single present.

Happy holidays to everyone.