Category Archives: Christmas

10 Tips For A Low-Stress Holiday

Christmas is ONE WEEK from today, which is… weird.  It’s just really weird.  This was a strange year for me, and the holidays came up quickly.  I had finals for the first time in 20 something years, and Tegan’s play was wrapping up.  When those two things were over (the first week of December), life suddenly exhaled and went “whoosh”, and things got quiet again.

And now it’s one week before Christmas.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have REALLY stressed out during some Christmases past.  Like, truly, severely stressed out.  I held myself to this ridiculous expectation of having to have everything perfect… from the (of course, homemade) advent calendar, to the paper snowflakes, to the photos, to the parties and the light displays and the hot chocolate and the cookie baking and the shopping and the wrapping and the Christmas cards and the new pajamas and the Christmas Eve church services and the big Christmas day spread of food,

and and and and….

And we were going to be happy about it, dammit!  It was exhausting.  I’m exhausted right now just thinking about it.

A few years ago, I decided that that really wasn’t too fun, and I wasn’t going to stress about it anymore.  The first thing that went were the Christmas cards.  And you know what?  Life went on even though we stopped sending Christmas cards.  (The sad thing though is that since we stopped sending cards, we almost completely stopped receiving cards as well… which makes us appreciate the ones we do get all the more).

But we didn’t stop doing everything.   In fact, we still actually do a lot of things on the above list. It’s just that we now do them because we want to do them, not because we feel like we have to do them.  And it has made all the difference.

Here’s a partial list of some of the things I keep in mind every year to keep the holidays (much) less stressful.  I can’t rightly say stress-free, because… well, because life comes with stress sometimes.   But the following surely helps.

1. Adjust your expectations.  Your house doesn’t really need to be cleaned in every corner to have company over.  If it’s stressing you out, skip it!  NO ONE WILL JUDGE YOU IF YOU DON’T DUST YOUR CEILING FANS (and if they do, honestly, are they the kind of people you want to be inviting over in the first place?)  They came to see you.  You don’t HAVE to send Christmas cards.  You don’t HAVE to make 87 kinds of cookies.  You don’t HAVE to read “Twas The Night Before Christmas” just because it’s Christmas Eve.  It’s not going to be perfect.  It never is.  That’s okay.  Let go of whatever’s not serving you. Let yourself off the hook, rid yourself of the need to be perfect, and just enjoy the holiday.  If you’re expecting a perfect holiday, with perfectly coiffed children, and perfectly well-behaved pets, and chestnuts happily roasting in an open fire… you’re likely going to be disappointed.  Instead, enjoy it for all its beautiful, messy imperfections, no matter how they may unfold.

2. Keep your kids a top priority.  This is perhaps the most important thing of all, especially during a time when many parents are finding themselves reacting to stress and/or unusually high energy by controlling, punishing, etc.  This is a time when kids need parents who are patient, calm, and looking out for their best interest.  Are they getting enough rest?  Are they eating nourishing foods?  Do they WANT to go to another holiday party?  Do they WANT to sit on Santa’s lap?  Getting tuned in, staying super connected, and respecting their needs and desires will not only be a great thing for your relationship, but it will also alleviate a lot of the collective holiday related stress.

3. Go with the flow of changing needs and preferences. This was one I had to learn over time, to be sure.  At the time of this writing, my kids are 20, 17, 13, and 9.  Christmas is different than it was when they were little … and that’s okay too.  They’re not interested in the same activities.  They’ve outgrown certain traditions.  Not taking it personally when they say, “No thanks” to driving around the neighborhood to look at the Christmas lights goes a long way towards lessening your holiday stress.  Kids grow, things change, holidays are different.  The upside?  Kids grow, things change, holidays are different.  A new thing for us this year is that the 17 year old offered to cook Christmas dinner (he’s making lasagnas), and the 13 year old offered to bake some of the treats and cookies.  Which just means that we get to enjoy them in a whole new way.  And that’s really, really cool.

4. Focus on the little things.  In a practice that really should continue all year long, enjoy all the fun little things of the holiday!  Making the paper snowflakes, decorating the gingerbread house, picking up the special drink from Starbucks, watching the favorite Christmas movie for the 87th time, enjoying hot cocoa made from scratch (or from a canister, if that’s more your style!), just being together.  This is the 21st Christmas we’ve had since we’ve had kids, and while we’ve done some pretty cool and big and interesting things during the holidays…. it’s the little moments that I remember the most.  Because in reality, they’re really not so little.  They’re the important stuff.

5. Simplify your gift-giving.  It has taken us a little trial and error, but streamlining our gift-giving has helped a lot in terms of keeping our focus less on just getting a whole bunch of “stuff” and more on picking out the few things that we know someone else will love.  Mike and I stopped getting gifts for each other several years ago (though he does break the rule sometimes :)), mainly because we get what we need throughout the year, and we’d rather spend our Christmas money on the kids and/or other people who may need it more than we do.  For the kids, we generally do “Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.”  We’re not super rigid about sticking to it exactly, but it is a great place to start, and it’s made us really think about what we’re getting them.  It also feels like it makes each present more meaningful than when we’d get piles and piles of gifts, just to…. get piles and piles of gifts.  We do buy for all the nieces and nephews, but for the adults, we do a name drawing for each side of the family, so we only buy for whatever sibling, parent, or inlaw that we’re paired with.  Which makes it fun, and easy, and lets us think about something that will be meaningful and enjoyable for that one specific person.  Your mileage may vary of course (you do you), but this way has worked well for us, and made gift giving fun again, instead of stressful.

6. Keep only the traditions that are important to you.  When Spencer was born, I went a little crazy with the new traditions we “needed” to follow.  From the books we’d read, to the movies we’d watch, to the activities we’d do.  And because life happens, and things change, and kids grow, I’ve had to accept and realize that not all traditions have to be kept.  We did hang on to a couple though.  Christmas Eve is always sacred, and has been for the past 20 years.  It’s just for our own core little family.  We’ve gone to church some years, we’ve stayed in and watched movies some years, we’ve hung out and had carpet picnics some years…. but we’ve always spent it with just us, and if I have to, I pull out full mama bear protection over that Christmas Eve bubble.  The kids all exchange presents on Christmas Eve too – they do a name drawing among the siblings, and all really enjoy it.  I really, really appreciate Christmas Eve with all six of us, and I know that it’s not something we’ll have forever. We also watch the same movies every year, though not everyone chooses to watch anymore.  There are still a couple of cookies that I HAVE to make too (black and whites and Oreo balls are my specialties.) But other than that, we’re …. fluid, and we let the kids lead.  

7. Don’t be afraid to say no.  Just like with point number 1, there should never be any “have-tos” during the holiday season.  You don’t have to go to that party just because you were invited.  You don’t have to go caroling.  You don’t have to go to that cookie swap or that White Elephant gift exchange.  If you and/or your kids are feeling stressed, burnt out, or like you’ve taken on too much, it’s perfectly acceptable (preferable, even!) to politely decline.

8. REST – I PROMISE you that the world won’t come to a standstill if you take an hour or an afternoon or a whole day to drink tea and watch Christmas movies.  I promise you that the holidays will still come and go and be perfectly fine and lovely and joyful if you ignore the chores one day.  I’d even argue that taking care of yourself and making sure that you rest is every bit as important – if not more so – than anything else on your holiday to-do list. Unless literal LIVES hang in the balance, it’s okay and good and vital to rest, recharge, and take some regular time for yourself…. even during the hustle and bustle of the holidays.

9. Live in the present.  One of the lessons I find myself needing to learn over and over again (and have written about several times on my blog) is the importance of living in the present.  This is never more applicable than during the busy and stressful seasons of life.  I took a Buddhism class this past semester, not because I want to convert to Buddhism, but because I needed a religion credit and I always found it interesting.  Lo and behold, I learned some hugely meaningful things in this class, one of them being…. the importance of presence.  There is only right now.  Truly getting this, and LIVING this, is life-changing.  For real.  My therapist, who is not Buddhist, and does not resemble Buddha in any way, has stressed this same point to me many many times.  In fact, one of my biggest take-aways, over 18 long months of therapy, is this:  “Right now, there is no problem to solve.” Problems come when we’re focused on the past, or worrying about the future.  When you’re really and truly in THIS MOMENT, there are no problems.  Including the shopping, the wrapping, the cleaning, the baking, the decorating…. right now, there are no problems, and therefore, no stress.

10. Remember your reason for the season. I deliberately said, “your” instead of “the” because my reason for the season might not be the same as yours.  Christians like to say that Christ is the reason for the season, but I think that it’s important to remember that 1) most of what we do at Christmas time has been adapted from Pagan traditions, not the other way around, and 2) that there are many many more holidays than Christmas, and that they’re all celebrating something different.  I know it’s a cliche.  It is.  But whatever the season means to you, focus on that rather than on the busy, the crazy, the chaos, the stress that the holidays can sometimes bring.  And the rest of the extraneous “noise” tends to fade away.

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Just because you’re invited to the stress of the holidays, it doesn’t mean you have to accept.

Wishing you all a calm, peaceful, and stress-free holiday, no matter what it is you celebrate.

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Filed under Christmas, holidays

Can We Stop Being Jerks At Christmas?

Why do the holidays seem to bring out the worst in people?  Don’t answer that yet.

And why, WHY, do people insist on treating their kids like they’re not even people?  Don’t answer that yet either.

Christmas depresses me.  I mean, don’t get me wrong.  I love Christmas.  I love making it special for my kids, love giving presents, love making cookies, love the food, love the festivities.  This year is a mellow year for us.  We just came off the nine-year-old’s play, which was taking a lot of time, especially during that final tech week.  And my semester just ended, the same week as her play.  So right now, I’m exhaling.  Exhaling and getting ready to enjoy the holidays, but not freaking out about getting anything in particular done in time.  What will be will be, and it’ll be nice.

But it still depresses me.

Mainstream parents tend to go a little crazy this time of year.  I’ve never made any secret about the fact that I disagree with mainstream parenting in general… but never do I disagree with more fervor than at Christmas time.

I don’t have the vocabulary to express how much I hate some of what goes on during Christmas.  (And by the way:  Like they say in the movie Stepmom, hate isn’t a word I use often.  I think it’s a “perfectly acceptable word, but only to be used when I truly detest something”)  I truly detest what some parents do this time of year.

I wrote about the Santa Cams a few weeks back, but the latest thing that’s been brought to my attention is the idea of “present jail.”  In a public post that is getting praised up and down on Facebook, one mom posted a picture of a cardboard box with some presents in it, and writes:

So….we started this yesterday because one little girl refuses to listen and behave. Any present still in the box at Christmas goes put up and can only be EARNED back by good behavior. If they can follow the rules and be good for an entire day, they can return a jailed present back to the tree. Sometimes having a visual helps a lot more than just telling them. And they have to put the present in there themselves. Presents are a privilege not a right, naughty children do not get gifts for misbehaving. #meanmom

The first time a friend showed it to me, I said, “I should write about that.  But how many times, and how many ways can I say, “BE NICE TO YOUR KIDS?”  I’ve said essentially the same thing dozens, if not hundreds, of times.

And I’m saying it again, I think in the hopes that someone, somewhere will read my words, and say, “Oh.  I hadn’t thought of it that way.”  One person.  That’s all.  And maybe it’s you.  Maybe you’re the one I’m talking to.

This whole idea of earning gifts is archaic and cruel and the exact antithesis of what gift giving should be.  Gift-giving should be unconditional.  That’s the whole point.  Gifts should be something that come from the heart of the giver, with no strings, and no expectations.  Buying a gift, and then taking it away as punishment?  It ceases to be a gift … even if they “earn” it back.  You took something that should have been an expression of love and turned it into an ugly and void commodity.  Congratulations.

And why just the kids?  Why do kids need to earn their presents?  If you buy your husband a new watch, and he comes home from work grumpy one day, do you hold it ransom?  Do you tell him you bought him a present, but he doesn’t get it unless he “behaves.”?  That is not a way to treat someone you love, no matter their age.  It seems kind of ludicrous to think about doing it to a spouse or a friend or another adult loved one, so why, WHY would anyone think it’s okay to do to kids?  As horrible as I think it’d be to do to an adult (and I do indeed think it’s pretty darn horrible), I think it’s a million times worse to do it to your kids.  Your kids are still learning.  Still figuring things out.  Still working out how to deal with their feelings, and how to to navigate a world that is nuanced and tricky and at times extremely complicated.  They need parents who are going to love them through it, to be by their side, to model appropriate behavior.  And at this time of year, they need parents to show them what giving really means.  Can you imagine the sad and confusing message it sends to them about generosity to be told that they have to earn their gifts?   That their gifts can be taken away at a moment’s notice if they’re “naughty?” Naughty, by the way, is a word that should never be used for a child, or anyone, especially one who is just trying to deal with something difficult the best way they know how.  They need our HELP, not our punishment and our shame.

I’ve had a few moments over the past month or so that I’m not proud of.  I’m a human, and I’m not perfect.

Guess what?  Your kids are humans and are not perfect either.

They deserve your love, your compassion, and yes, they deserve your generosity!  Whether it’s in the form of your time, of an experience, of something handmade, of something they’ve been wanting from a store.  It feels good to give to people we love.  At least it’s supposed to!  I can’t imagine it feels good to hold presents hostage, unless it honestly makes you feel good to do something unkind, which…. isn’t right.  It’s just not.  We’re not designed that way.  We’re designed to love unconditionally, to give without expectation, to show our kids (through our words, through our actions, through our time) that they matter.  That we love them.  That we are, in fact, their biggest fans.  Their biggest supporters.  Their biggest role models.  The ones they can count on when life gets squidgy, and the ones who will stand beside them when they’re scared, telling them, without a moment’s hesitation, “Don’t worry, I’ve got your back.”

It feels good to love with that kind of love, because IT IS GOOD.

Nothing about buying and withholding gifts (and being so dang proud of it) fits into this model of true, unconditional love.  In fact, it downright perverts it.

Kids need and deserve our love and compassion all year round, but especially during the holidays.  Schedules are messed up, sleep is spotty, there’s extra excitement and stimulation and fancy foods, and it’s no wonder a child – or an adult – would be out-of-sorts.  LOVE THEM THROUGH IT.  Help them.  Don’t punish them.  Don’t turn gifts, something that should be fun and loving and happy, into a gross display of power and intimidation.  Don’t teach your kids that gifts should come with strings attached.  Don’t teach your kids that other people are theirs to control and manipulate.  Don’t teach your kids that the way to solve a problem is through shaming and scare tactics.

Please, please don’t.

This Christmas, be nice to your kids.  Please.  Treat them like people.  Treat them the way YOU would like to be treated.

And I’m pretty dang sure you wouldn’t want your new iPhone taken away because you were a little snippy one day.

Be nice to your kids.

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This post was also syndicated and appeared on Scary Mommy, and was mentioned on The View!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5Qo_jcZ260&t=102s

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Filed under Christmas, gentle parenting, mindful parenting, parenting

Silly Christians, Cups Are For Coffee

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Take a good, deep cleansing breath.  (In through your nose, out through the mouth for the uninitiated.)

Let me just start there.

People can get a little… is there a polite way to say tightly wound?… this time of year, and taking a good step back, a good stock on our priorities, and essentially getting a grip is always an appropriate first line of defense.  It seems like this sort of thing used to happen around Thanksgiving, but it appears to be coming earlier and earlier every year.  Pretty soon we’ll be having this conversation the day after Easter.   In any case, it’s November 8th, and the time to address it is now.

So, let’s talk about those Starbucks cups.

Apparently every year Starbucks unveils a new holiday-themed cup.  A cup:  A disposable, cardboard conduit for your hot beverage that’s going to end up in the landfill later, just to keep this in perspective.  Anyway, past cups have featured things like snowflakes, ice skates, Santas, and what looks to me like some sort of spaceship that maybe was supposed to be a modern version of a sleigh?

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All fun and festive stuff.  This year, they decided to go with something simpler, do away with the illustrations altogether, and chose a streamlined red design in an Ombre style.  Cool.  As cool as a cup can be I guess.  We’re still talking about a cup.

And a select group of Christians collectively lost their ever-loving minds.

The best I can tell, snowflakes represent Christmas, and Christmas represents Jesus … so a plain red cup obviously signifies the removal of Jesus and is thus really, really offensive.  Hide your kids, and hide your wives, it’s the (invented-by-Christians) WAR ON CHRISTMAS!!

When I first heard that people were freaking out about the cups, I honestly thought it was a big joke.  I assumed that the early rumblings were either from a satire site or a super creative marketing job from Starbucks themselves.  (As a side note, how completely sad is it that our society is such that one can’t even tell the difference between real life and satire anymore?   The real-life shenanigans of the I’m-offended-by-everything folks are often more ridiculous than anything even the Onion can imagine).  And yes, I called them ridiculous.  My choice of that word in a past post – also aimed at my fellow Christians – earned me a snotty comment calling me rude and judgmental.  But you know what?  Sometimes people are ridiculous. Whining about everyone “taking the Christ out of Christmas” when the only one who can take your Christ out of your Christmas is you, is ridiculous. Flipping out over a red cup is ridiculous.  SO ridiculous in fact, that it couldn’t possibly be real.  Except it is.  There are real, live people out there losing it over a cup.

I’m just wondering, when did “peace on Earth and goodwill to men” turn into spending the entire holiday season – which as I already stated, is starting earlier and earlier every year – pissed off and competing to see who can carry the biggest chip on their shoulder?

A quick Twitter search of the hashtag #MerryChristmasStarbucks will give you a vast sampling of people’s collective ire, but my favorite one is this, by a user who describes herself as a Christian Conservative American Constitutionalist:

Starbucks can take ur plain red cups & shove them up ur #liberal asses! I’ll never step foot in a #starbucks again

Isn’t that sweet?  Nothing says Christmas spirit like telling people to shove things up their asses. Nothing shows the love of Christ like telling people to shove things up their asses.

You guys, this is embarrassing.

Christmas  was never supposed to be a battle for the title of the biggest, loudest bully, but that’s exactly what it has become.  How inspiring.  How Christ-like.

And you know what?  Forget Christmas for a minute.  Can we bring Christ back into Christianity?  Let’s bring back gentleness.  Let’s bring back kindness.  Let’s bring back grace. Let’s bring back loving our neighbors.  Can you imagine the change that could happen – the GOOD that could happen – if we replaced the outrage over holiday greetings and cup choices with compassion?  With a little old-fashioned generosity?  With actually LIVING what we claim to believe in?  Let’s show people what it means to be Christ-like.

If there’s not enough Jesus on your Starbucks cup (and, psst, snowflakes and ice skates and space-ship sleighs are not specific to Jesus either) bring Jesus with you!  Be kind to the people around you.  Offer the barista a genuine smile.  Pick up the tab for the next person in line. Don’t be a grumpy asshat.

Our faith should be a little bit bigger than a disposable coffee cup.  

Don’t want to go to Starbucks, for whatever reason?  That’s cool too.  I actually don’t go all that often myself, for the simple reason that I spent a lot of past years broke,  so it pains me a little to spend $5 on something I can make for pennies at home.  Use your could-be-Starbucks-money on something else!  Share it with the guy on the corner.  Give to a cause you believe in.   Heck, surprise your kids with a new toy.   But stop using a company’s marketing decision as an excuse to turn your “faith” into something ugly and off-putting.   Believe it or not, God’s not giving out prizes to the people who can throw the biggest irrational tantrums.

Let’s get a grip here, and save being offended for the things that are actually offensive.

And to you dear Starbucks, I apologize on behalf of the small – but loud – group of Christians obnoxiously ushering in the holiday season in the only way they know how.  I assure you they don’t represent all of us.  I will be in soon for a grande caramel macchiato, and to spread some actual holiday cheer (with zero requests that you shove anything up your ass)

Sincerely,

The girl who couldn’t care less what your cups look like

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Filed under Christmas, faith

Saying No to Say Yes

unnamed It’s a week and a half before Christmas, which is always…. tricky.

I adore Christmas.  Love it.  Love the spirit. Love giving presents. Love the lights. Love the food. Love the Christmas cookies. Love hanging out with my family.

But it can be so BUSY, which, if left unchecked, can lead to stressful.  Exhausting. The exact opposite of what you’d want a holiday season to be.

This year I was well on my way to the latter.  I haven’t been sleeping, I’m still smack in the middle of my recovery and rehab, I’m still in daily pain, the house has once again gotten away from me.

And there are gifts to wrap!  Plans to make! Events to attend!

There’s a six year old, looking to her mom with love and expectation and wonderment, trusting that I’ll make the season magical and fun and exciting.

I literally couldn’t “do Christmas” at the speed I was going, and take care of all my other responsibilities, and focus on my recovery, and make things nice for the kids, and maintain any level of sanity.  

So, I started saying no.

The first thing I said no to was Christmas cards, even though we do them every year.  The pictures, the designing, the addressing, the stamping.  And you know what?  The earth is going to keep spinning even if all my relatives and friends don’t get a smiley picture of the McGrails to hang on their wall for two weeks before they recycle it.

Then I said no to a writing project, one I’d actually really wanted to do, but that carried a deadline of ten days before Christmas.

I said no to adding 237 new cookies to my repertoire this year.

I said no to causing myself physical pain by making the house reach some magical level of cleanliness before we have guests.  They’ll deal.

I said no to feeling like I needed to answer all my emails, or respond to everyone’s questions, or to fulfill anyone else’s expectations.  Yesterday morning, I got up and cleaned out my email box with one big (what I’d like to think was polite) response along the lines of, “I’ll get to this after the new year.”

I said no to doing, deciding, or thinking about anything that isn’t a priority right now.

And those “no”s freed me.

Those “no”s mean that I can say YES to my girl, and to my family, who shouldn’t have to pay the price for me not being able to say no when it’s needed.

YES to a lazy day at the zoo.

YES to paper snowflakes.

YES to a movie and popcorn first thing in the morning.

YES to playing with new dolls.

YES to gingerbread houses.

YES to playdates.

YES to driving around at night just to look at Christmas lights.

YES to Christmas parties with friends.

YES to spending hours reconnecting over Pay Day or Minecraft or Little Big Planet.

YES to hot chocolate and whipped cream.

YES to carpet picnics.

YES to quiet moments, and loud moments, and silly moments.

The “yes”s come quickly and easily, or at least they do when I’m not bogged down with Very Important To-Dos (ie: things I probably need to say no to).  I often find it strange and frustrating how hard it is to say no sometimes. Why should it be hard?  Why shouldn’t we be able to say no at any time, for any reason, and not give it a single moment of regret?

I can’t be all things to all people at all times.  I said those words on my FB page just a couple of weeks ago, and I know I’ll say them again.  I seem to need the constant reminder.

I can’t be all things to all people at all times.

Because the thing is, there is nothing more important than my family, especially right now.  So when the moment comes and I have to make a choice…. when I feel that little tug of “But, but… you need to do this!  You have to do that!”  I’ll answer, “You know what, as a matter of fact I DON’T.”

This year I’m giving myself the gift of NO, and what a gift it is.

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Filed under about me, Christmas, family, parenting, perspective

Hands

You know how sometimes you can hear or read or see something a million times, and it doesn’t really affect you until you hear or read or see it exactly at the right time? That happened to me yesterday. I put on some Christmas music after I posted my “Keeping it Real” post, and the first song that played was the song Hands, by Jewel. I think I heard the words for the first time in my life. What an absolutely beautiful song. Exactly what I needed to hear, exactly when I needed to hear it.

 

If I could tell the world just one thing
It would be that we’re all OK
And not to worry ’cause worry is wasteful
And useless in times like these
I won’t be made useless
I won’t be idle with despair
I will gather myself around my faith
For light does the darkness most fear
My hands are small, I know
But they’re not yours, they are my own
But they’re not yours, they are my own
And I am never broken
Poverty stole your golden shoes
It didn’t steal your laughter
And heartache came to visit me
But I knew it wasn’t ever after
We’ll fight, not out of spite
For someone must stand up for what’s right
‘Cause where there’s a man who has no voice
There ours shall go singing
My hands are small I know
But they’re not yours, they are my own
But they’re not yours, they are my own
I am never broken
In the end only kindness matters
In the end only kindness matters
I will get down on my knees, and I will pray
I will get down on my knees, and I will pray
I will get down on my knees, and I will pray
My hands are small I know
But they’re not yours, they are my own
But they’re not yours, they are my own
And I am never broken
My hands are small I know
But they’re not yours, they are my own
But they’re not yours, they are my own
And I am never broken
We are never broken
We are God’s eyes
God’s hands
God’s mind
We are God’s eyes
God’s hands
God’s heart
We are God’s eyes
God’s hands
God’s eyes
We are God’s hands
We are God’s hands

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Filed under Christmas

Christmas, Giving, and The Year I Became a Grownup

Photo Credit:  Stephen Jones

Photo Credit: Stephen Jones

 

I have a few long-ago memories of being struck with a distinct feeling of, “Whoa, I’m like a grownup!”

The first was the first time I used the word, “husband” in a sentence.  I was all of 19 years old, still a baby, and I had to tell a cashier at a supermarket that I’d accidentally left my wallet with my (brand-new) husband.  It felt ridiculous to say it, and I wanted to giggle at the words.  My husband.

The second time was when I began paying our household bills as a married couple.  I remember thinking it was fun… writing the checks, stamping the envelopes, sending them off. I shared my feeling with my mom, and she laughed at me, saying, “Oh you’ll get over it!” Except I didn’t.  Twenty years later, and as long as we have the money in the bank to pay said bills, I still really enjoy paying them (although I pay them online now).  I have this whole gratitude thing that I do, and I really don’t take for granted the blessing of being able to pay our debts each month.

But the one that will forever stand out is the year that as I looked forward to the Christmas season, I realized that I was more excited about giving gifts than I was about receiving them.

I adore Christmas.  I always have.  I remember as a kid, Christmas day would mean presents at home, followed by traveling to one of set of grandparents and then another.  I loved the visiting.  Loved the energy.  Loved running around with my relatives.  Loved the music.  Loved the food.

And I loved the presents.

Then somewhere along the way, something shifted.  And it’s not that I no longer enjoy presents.  I do. It feels good to be on the receiving end of a thoughtful gift.  There’s just something… powerful… about giving to others, whether it’s through giving your time, your service, or in some tangible way.  That’s the magic of Christmas that I want to pass on to my kids.

The best thing about giving is that it’s not discriminatory.  Some of the most generous people I know have very little money to call their own.  But oh, how they give!   Those people inspire me, and make me want to be a better person.

Mike and I stopped doing Christmas presents for each other several years ago, both because we tend to save up and get whatever it is we want/need throughout the year, but also because we just find more meaning in spending that money on someone else.  At first we donated money to various charities, and/or bought gifts through those giving trees that they have at places like Target and grocery stores.  One year though, we had some friends who had a need that we were able to fill, so we did so, anonymously.  And that year changed how we did Christmas.

Deciding as a family who we want to gift is far and away my favorite part of the holiday now. Yes, I still adore spending it with my family.  Love watching my kids open presents.  Love the visiting.  Love the energy.  Love running around with my relatives.  Love the music.  Love the food.

But all of that is just a beautiful added bonus.

And now when December hits, and I get caught up in the stress and the hubbub and the craziness of the season (which, if you read my blog, you know I’ve struggled with year after year) … I think of giving, in whatever way I can.  I think of ways I can bless someone else.  I think of the Grinch.

 

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.

 

And suddenly the hubbub isn’t so important anymore.

 

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Learning to Relax (Or, Why I Love My Husband)

“Do you think we’ll get everything done in time?”

I was supposed to be relaxing, leaning back on the recliner, wrapped up in my favorite afghan lovingly knit by my late grandma, ice on my shoulder.

“Get what done in time?”  He barely looked up as he answered me… partly because he was engrossed in what he was doing, and partly because he knows me…. knows that I was stressing out, and knows that there’s a specific way to handle to it.

“All of it.  The rest of the shopping, all of the advent stuff with the kids, getting the house in shape…”  Our house, which on the best of days is half a notch above “lived-in”, has been relegated to new levels of disorder over the past month while I’ve been incapacitated.  There’s stuff all over all the flat surfaces – including the floor – dishes are piling, laundry is piling, and I can barely get to the 8 year old’s bed to kiss him goodnight.  Last week, a friend stopped by and I was actually embarrassed.

I knew this season would be different than last, and I thought I’d made peace with it.  We got our tree, we did most of our shopping, we stamped and mailed 50 Christmas cards, and I finally got the advent calendar up for the kids.  We made it to a Christmas light parade;  they’ve been playing with friends.  We’ve been baking, and making paper snowflakes, and watching Christmas movies, and going to the library, and having carpet picnics… and it’s been nice and it’s been busy and it’s been oh.so.tiring.    I’ve been caught between that place of relaxing and going with the tide, and getting stuck in those moments of panic:  “Christmas is in a matter of weeks!  We have company coming!  I’m still in pain!  I haven’t slept in a month!  We have so much to do!  Aaaaaaaaaa!!!”

“So do you think we’ll get it all done in time?”

Calmly, matter-of-factly, and so patiently it would have irritated the %&$# out of me had it come from anyone but him:  “Yes.  Of course we will.”

“And it’ll all work out?”

“It’ll all work out.”

And it will.  Of course it will.  I know that.  Intellectually, I know that.  But the moments of freak-outs seem to be every bit as hard wired as my blue eyes and not-quite-blonde hair.  I’d like to think that if I were single, that I’d still be able to live in the moment, that I’d still be able to talk myself through the stressful moments, that I’d still be able to keep it together.   But what can I say?   While I could survive without a husband who’s the calm to my storm and the order to my chaos…..

I thank God I don’t have to.

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Filed under about me, Christmas, life, Uncategorized

Expectations

 

For the past three years, the end of November has meant two things:  I’d 1) be furiously and joyously and manically finishing up my 50,000 word novel for NaNoWriMo, and 2) be going all gangbusters on the house, setting up the tree, getting out the decorations, hanging the stockings, and stringing up the advent calendar, painstakingly filled with 25 carefully planned out activities to do with the kids.

This year, I decided against Nano about 5 days in, just a couple of days before my surgery.  In hindsight, I’m very glad I made the decision when I did, because I would have been forced to make it anyway.  Even now, three weeks later, typing for any great length of time is still painful and exhausting.

And as for Christmas preparations?  We have no tree.  Our decorations are still safely abiding in their boxes in the garage.  We haven’t bought one present for the kids.  I haven’t planned a single advent activity.  And if I can be totally honest, just the thought of doing any of the above is, well…. painful and exhausting.

I don’t know what I was expecting when I signed on the dotted line for this surgery, I really don’t.  I just so very badly wanted to be better, wanted this 7 month ordeal to be over.  But it’s so much easier to tell you what I did NOT expect:

I didn’t expect the pain to be this bad, and this persistent.   As it turns out, knowing intellectually that I was facing a 3+ month total recovery time is a very, very different thing than to feel the stark reality of the pain and frustration of week three, knowing that I still have several more weeks (and possibly months) to go.

I didn’t expect to need powerful narcotics, beyond a day or two.  Again, I’m at three weeks.  The one night I tried to sleep without Percoset, I woke up in tears.

I didn’t expect to be so incapacitated.  I don’t know why I didn’t, because the past several months have shown me very clearly how instrumental our shoulders are in our day-to-day tasks.  But I didn’t.  I can dress myself (with some pain), shower (with some pain), brush my teeth (with some pain), and as of a few days ago, drive (with some pain).  But five minutes ago I had to call in the 12 year old to open a can for me, because the can opener was just too much.  There are multiple can opener-esque scenarios throughout the day, and it frustrates me.  Which brings me to:

I didn’t expect to be so frustrated.  With the pain, with the situation, with myself, with the need to just HURRY UP AND BE PATIENT ALREADY.

I didn’t expect the big black dog of depression, who’s once again been flirting with me for months now, to not just embrace me but engulf me… to suffocate me… to consume me… like an unwelcome old friend who won’t take “no” for answer.   A friend whose presence is so familiar and so easy that I’ve let myself fall deep, deep into its depths before I even realized it’s happened.   Because there’s a sick kind of safety in the darkness, and because it’s just too damn much work to take that first step to start climbing my way out.

But.  (And may I just say, thank God for buts?)

I expect that the pain will lessen, and God-willing, eventually go away completely.  I’ve learned that healing is very much a one step forward, two steps back process.  I can’t compare to yesterday, but I can compare to two and a half weeks ago.  Just because today is a bad day, doesn’t mean tomorrow will be a bad day too.

I expect that I’ll eventually be able to rest without the aid of any prescriptions.

I expect that with time I’ll be able to open cans again.  And do a downward dog.  And pick up my daughter. And be even stronger than before.

I expect that my current frustration will teach me great lessons, and that if I allow myself to feel it, that it too will go away.

I expect that I will take that step, and the one after that, and the one after that, until there’s not so much darkness.  And I expect that if I rest in the presence of where I am – fully rest, and lean, and breathe – instead of fighting, that it won’t seem so hard.  I expect that if I allow myself to feel how I feel – without letting it define me – that the promise of something better will find me, and meet me halfway.

Finally, I expect that this coming month, and the Christmas holiday in general, will be different than years past…. but that different is okay, even good.  This is a season of great growth and learning to be sure.   If the past three weeks are any indication, the lesson is HUGE.    And that’s better than a perfectly executed advent calendar any day.

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Filed under about me, being happy with what is, Christmas, learning, life, update

Christmas, presents, and why I want to be like Carrie Bradshaw

 

I’ve never been very good at fitting in with one group.  Never has this been more clear to me than it has been since the advent of Facebook, where I can SEE right there in black and white just how very different my friends are.

I have friends who are Christians, friends who are Atheists, and every other religious flavor in between.  I have friends who are unschoolers, and friends who are strong supporters of the public school system.  I have friends who are extremely liberal, and friends who are very conservative.  Friends who… well, you get the idea.  A lot of different opinions.

And I learn from, and appreciate,  each and every one of them.

One of the things that I love most about blogging is that (provided that you’re doing something at least a little bit right) it really does become a community … one in which people can come and gather just as they are, differences and all.   And I don’t know about you, but I’ve been needing that.   Because the amount of division I’ve been seeing lately is making me crazy.  Christmas season – which most people would agree should be a time of family, fellowship, and goodwill – seems to bring out an odd side of a lot of different folks.

It’s like December 1st hits, and it’s time to Deck the Halls!  Time to shop!  Time to be merry!  Time to …. squabble like little children.   I don’t think I ever see people sweating the small stuff quite as much as I do at Christmas time.

In one corner is the “It’s MERRY CHRISTMAS, not Happy Holidays” crowd, which has grown tenfold since I posted about it.

In another is the “Christmas is too commercialized/secular/greedy/materialistic/just plain wrong these days” group.

There are those who let themselves get swept away into the “Christmas is just so STRESSFUL” train.

Some decide to do away with the tree and the presents and the lights altogether, in order to focus on other things.

Then there are the people who take personal offense to any or all of the above, and/or people who let themselves feel guilty because they shopped at Walmart, didn’t hand make their gifts, and didn’t use eco-friendly recycled freshwater stream Martha Stewart biodegradable toilet paper gift wrap.

My head hurts.

I want to say as sort of a general, blanket statement that you are the one creating your Christmas experience.  It doesn’t have to be stressful.  It doesn’t have to be commercialized.  It doesn’t have to be materialistic.   And for that matter, it doesn’t have to be homemade either.    Decorate, don’t decorate.  Give gifts, don’t give gifts.  It’s all the same to me.  But please don’t think it has to be either/or.   When I recently asked on my Facebook page if you thought there was something wrong with gift giving at Christmas, one thing I saw come up again and again was that Christmas should be about giving to others, not about getting lots of stuff.  And absolutely, I agree!  But why should giving to someone outside your own family hold precedence over giving amongst yourselves?  Why not do both?  Why would there ever be something wrong with giving a heartfelt gift to a spouse or a child or a parent, whether it’s Christmas, or a birthday, or a Tuesday?  And yes, almost everything most much of what we give are not needs, but wants.  We live in a ridiculously abundant world, to be sure.  If you’re reading this right now, it means you have internet, or a smart phone, or access to a public library… all of which are far, FAR more than many, many people around the world are privileged enough to have.   But is it wrong to have them?

A couple of months ago I got a new phone that does amazing things.  It’s like a robot.  I don’t need it, but I’m happy and thankful that I have it.  Is it more important than God or my health or my kids or my relationships or giving to others?  Of course not.  It’s a luxury.  And the few presents we’ve gotten our kids for Christmas are luxuries too… luxuries that I’m happy and excited and thankful to be able to give them.   Giving them doesn’t mean we don’t give to those outside the family though.  It doesn’t mean it’s the most important part of our celebration.  It doesn’t mean we don’t remember the true meaning of Christmas, and it doesn’t mean we’re greedy and materialistic (two other words I’ve recently seen a lot of).  To me, greed and materialism mean putting ‘things’ ahead of people.   And if you’re giving with the spirit of… well, giving… isn’t that the opposite of greed and materialism?  It shouldn’t matter then if the gift is a gift of time, or a picture, or a good deed, or a homemade bauble, or yes, even a mass produced something or other from a big bad department store.  If the giver is giving sincerely, in love, shouldn’t the old adage, “it’s the thought that counts,” still ring true, no matter how little OR how much something does or doesn’t cost?

I was watching the movie “Sex in the City” yesterday, and there was a scene about halfway through that completely (and surprisingly) made me all leaky-eyed.    Jennifer Hudson’s character gives a small gift to Carrie, and Carrie graciously accepts it before going into her room and returning with a gift of her own, something extravagant that she knew she would really love.  Just watch.

That to me is what gift giving should be about, whether it’s done on Christmas or any other of the 364 days of the year.  Two people sharing a moment with each other.  Two people GIVING to each other, with their whole hearts.  It didn’t matter that one gift was a $14.99 DVD and one was a however much those fancy name-brand bags cost.  They were both given, and accepted, with genuine warmth and happiness.  That’s what I want from my gift-giving… whether I’m giving a plate of cupcakes or a pressure cooker or a Louis Vuitton handbag.

Finally, as I was deciding how to end this post, I saw the following quote on Facebook that summed up the spirit of giving more than I ever could:

Christmas gift suggestions:  To your enemy, forgiveness.  To an opponent, tolerance.  To a friend, your heart.  To a customer, service.  To all, charity.  To every child, a good example.  To yourself, respect.  ~Oren Arnold.

Words to live by, for sure.  And we can’t give any of the above if we’re wasting time and energy worrying about Christmas particulars that at the end of the day just shouldn’t matter.

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Filed under Christmas, holidays, life, not sweating the small stuff, perspective

Day Six: Regrouping

Just nineteen days till Christmas.

I was recently living some Christmases past on my blog, feeling sad about the fact that I’ve always written about our advent activities in great detail, and that this year… um… it’s not happening.  I feel like we have been go, go, going for the past six days  – they’ve been good days, don’t get me wrong –  and there has been precious little time to catch my breath, let alone do anything silly like write a blog post or share a picture.

It was starting to catch up with me already, so today I’m doing just that:  stopping to breathe, blog, and share a few pictures (and also go to the doctor when Husband gets home, because I’m finally admitting that this sinus infection is not going away on its own.)

We have been geocaching, gone out for ice cream, had a carpet picnic, and made paper snowflakes.  The little ones have done craft after craft, and done it up well I might add:

Husband and the boys also spent almost an entire day this weekend building an addition to the chicken coop:

Yesterday, we joined a field trip to a railroad museum at the last minute…

… and spent the rest of the day out and about, browsing and shopping and librarying.

Which brings me to today, and my great need to regroup.  I’m once again reminding myself to live in the moment, enjoy the little things, and not get caught in the hustle and bustle.  Our calendar for the next two weeks is even fuller, and I intend to enjoy it.  Even before my antibiotics kick in.

Happy 19 Days Till Christmas!

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