Every year, I make a mental promise to myself that goes something like this:
Enjoy the holidays this year. Really experience the joy that is this time of year. Time is fleeting. Our families won’t always be together the way we are today. Savor all the magical moments of the season. Encounter the peace that is part of the spiritual part of Christmas.
Maybe you have similar conversations in your head. Maybe you really do all of that. If that is you, please leave a comment or drop me an e-mail with some tips. Every year, I fail. Miserably. Instead of being present, I’m worried about getting, wrapping, hiding, and finding the presents. Instead of embracing the time with family, I get anxious about hosting everybody for multiple days and how I’m going to feed them, the laundry, the clean up. ::groans:: The Clean-Up! (If you are my mother reading this, please note this isn’t a cry for help or anything new, but my truth. Thank you for telling me it was okay not to host Thanksgiving. This in itself, was an early Christmas gift. If you are any other family member who stays with us, know I’m forever grateful when you smile and ask to do the dishes.)
I’ve been to the therapist enough to know the simple solution is to lower my expectations, which I have. The thing is: I’m particular. It makes enjoying the holidays difficult. My anxiety skyrocket as we approach Thanksgiving. My mind races trying to figure out how we are going to fit it all in as the December’s calendar fills up.
Where do you cut back? What will we remember one, five, or twenty years from now? How do I make the right choices out of desire and not guilt? What needs to change, because our families are changing too?
My 17 year-old, Hallmark employed self shudders at the sloppy wrapping job I turn out today. I loved the hours of perfectly wrapping gifts and creasing each corner so that the gift looked crisp and fresh. Affixing a fluffy bow and just right gift tag. Today, rumpled, reused gift bags are my best friend and tissue paper is clearly optional. If I do get out a roll of paper and wrap, it usually doesn’t involve a bow and use of a permanent marker to write the recipients name on the wrap. To this day, I appreciate the thoughtfully wrapped gift that looks beautiful sitting under the tree awaiting the joy that comes with opening. I’m also real. My 5 year-old could give a crap about whether his gift has a bow and he wishes every gift under the tree has his name, so do tags really matter? Not quite 20 years, but, yes, expectations have been lowered.
My 23 year-old, newly married self would not approve of the insistence of P.F. Chang’s for Christmas Eve dinner in 2011. (In fairness, I did go into labor that night with Littles.) The thing is, when I hosted our family for Christmas that year in our little 62nd Street apartment, it was just five of us. I made the most incredible Prime Rib that has never been repeated. We happily did the dishes in our dishwasher-less, barely there kitchen. Reflecting back, it wasn’t the food or location that made it magic, it was that we were together. P.F. Chang’s took a Christmas Eve dinner reservation for fourteen. Life evolves, but the magic of that night was again that we were together.
My 31 year-old, infertile self would be so proud that I even want to celebrate the holidays this year. In our little yellow house, my husband’s single holiday request was that we put up a tree. He just wanted lights, no need for ornaments. From Thanksgiving through the New Year, those strands were the only light that shone in our home… like a star in the sky foretelling something miraculous was about to happen. It was a reminder that Christmas is a season of hope and anticipation.
I’m not sure what will transpire this holiday season, but my goal is leaving the time and space to have moments that I will reflect back on and creating memories (perfect or not) that are the most valuable gifts. I’m going to take the pressure off and lower my expectations to one single thing: Be Present! Recognizing that includes all the good and bad that come with the season… even the dreaded clean up. This time of year is naturally messy (both literally and emotionally.) Accepting that not everything has to be joyful is like breathing one deep sigh of relief to me.
Tomorrow, I’m posting about the logistics of making time and space. We’ll see how it works out for me. Please hold me accountable in the weeks to come.
Here is my last disclaimer: If I have a date with you in December, it is something I really want to do. You are a special part of our holiday season. This post is about pushing out everything else, so I can be present for those moments. Not canceling those moments for wrapping presents or being so bone tired that I barely stay awake.