Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My Holiday Mantras

Sara Shaw

We welcome Mrs. Sara Shaw as a guest contributor to our PHA blog. She comes well qualified with a Masters degree in Education from Regis University and works as a part time middle school teacher in the Denver suburbs. She spends most of her time raising her two children, Ella (4 yr.) and Jude (20 mo.).

Yep. It’s here… again. The holiday season has been knocking on my door, determined to force its way in to our lives since Hobby Lobby took down their Fourth of July display and replaced it with hundreds of fake Christmas trees. I can’t even count the amount of times I was in the grocery store and overheard, “Jeez. Jingle Bells? Didn’t we just celebrate Labor Day?” It seems that I am not the only one who wonders why we find ourselves humming along to “Frosty the Snowman” when it is 79 degrees outside. Despite the insanely early marketing of the holiday season, this is the year that I refused to accept that December was approaching. I stuck my fingers in my ears and bought my Halloween costumes; I ignored the ornament aisles and focused on fall-colored tablecloths. I held off on pulling out the red and green storage totes until the very last minute. Now I realize that my holiday procrastination may seem extremely Scroogey, if not downright un-American, but please, let me explain. It isn’t the celebration that I dread. It’s all the stuff that comes with that one day, which in our house is December 25th.

I wasn’t always like this. My childhood memories of Christmas are like most people I know: in a word - magical. The snow was always falling, the fireplace lit, cozy snuggling on the couch with loving grandparents, delicious cookies and steaming hot cocoa, and of course, that giant sparkling tree teeming with piles of beautifully wrapped presents. Through my childish eyes, it was truly the most wonderful time of the year. What I didn’t see was the wizard behind the curtain; the one responsible for it all. No, it was not a big jolly guy dressed in red. It was the woman bent over endless lists at the kitchen table, frantically checking things off and adding more tasks. The woman who was determined to do everything just right and create that magical Christmas for her family. My mom.

There is so much you never understand until you have kids, and last year I added “How much work Christmas really is” to that list. When you are growing up, Christmas just happens. Thanksgiving ends and suddenly, almost overnight the house is decorated, the treats are on the counter, and the Holiday activities commence. But now, as a mother of two, I have fully realized that NONE of that stuff happens without hours and hours of hard work, organization, and thoughtful preparation by, (gasp) me? It is a scary thought. One that didn’t really occur to me until I found myself knee deep in shredded wrapping paper, watching my children buzz around with their new toys, waiting for them to hit their inevitable crash from their month-long sugar high, I myself collapsed on the couch. I looked at my mom, and groaned, “Is it always like this?” My mother knowingly smiled and tried to encourage me, agreeing that yes, Christmas is a lot of work, a lot of time, and a lot of stress. I suspect she may have taken some secret revenge- like pleasure in hearing my complaints. Much like when my daughter throws diva-style tantrums over her wardrobe and my mom gleefully tells me that Ella is a lot like a little girl she used to know…..That aside, last year, I finally got it. I was able to see the holiday season through the eyes of a mother, and based on the way I felt that morning, I made a decision. I would create a magical Christmas for my family, but I refused to do it stressed. Insert your laughter here.

I will enjoy the holidays. I will not attempt to replicate the decorating photos I see in Martha Stewart’s magazine. I will not make 17 different types of cookies including several new recipes I’ve never tried. I will not stay up until one in the morning frantically searching the internet for that one perfect gift my mother in law didn’t even know she wanted. I will not do research on where to find the best Santa Claus with the best beard and the most twinkle in his eye. I will not drive from store to store buying every single toy my children ask for, even if they really, really, really hope that Santa brings it.

These were just a few of my Stress-Free Holiday mantras this year. As you read this, you may be thinking, “Well that’s great, but I don’t try to bake 17 different types of cookies, I don’t even care what Martha Stewart’s house looks like, and I only buy my children a few presents. Yet, every year, I still find myself frantically trying to keep up with all the requirements of the holiday season.” In every interaction I’ve had with other moms over the past few weeks, I hear some hint of this sentiment. We want to enjoy the holidays. We want to create beautiful celebrations with friends and family. But we want to do it and keep our mental, physical and spiritual stability intact. So how can we accomplish this?

I do not profess to have all the answers. Or even, quite frankly, any of the answers. I am not a psychologist, or a life coach, (although most would agree I may benefit from a visit from one or both of those). I am a stay-at-home mother of two who is learning by trial and error and can only speak from my experience and perhaps the experience that my treasured “mom” friends have shared with me. As I shared my previous year’s nightmare of taking on way to much during the holiday time, and the mounting pressure’s I had felt as the weeks of December went on (all of which led to a giant let down on Christmas, and ultimately left me wondering, “Is this worth it? Isn’t this supposed to be fun?”) with other women, I feel I have learned at least one valuable lesson which has helped me in my attempts to have a stress-free holiday.

That lesson is this: Lower your expectations. I do not mean this in a cynical, negative, “don’t even bother” way. I mean stop the madness of trying to create the “perfect” anything, especially Christmas. There are so many pressures that we as mothers place on ourselves; so many “to-do’s” that we feel terribly guilty about if we don’t accomplish. And sadly most of those “to-do’s” are not at all necessary. I spent some time after Thanksgiving making a list of what exactly is important to me and our family, and what exactly this month should be about. And guess what? Making sure my children make a holiday craft every day wasn’t on it! Neither was spending large amounts of money on elusive gifts in order to show people I loved them. So, I had to let it go. All that “stuff”, all those extra pressures to create a Norman Rockwell scene, that we have somehow convinced ourselves is required, needed to vanish. Instead, I tried to focus on what was on my list. Sharing my faith beliefs about this holiday with my children, giving gifts that were simple yet still thoughtful, decorating the tree, but not Martha’s tree, and ultimately creating an environment where friends and family would want to be and would be able to experience the peace that this holiday can bring.

So, with December 25th a mere five days away, I must determine if I was able to do this. Did I give up the fantasy or will I collapse on the couch and in some ways be thankful it’s over? Truthfully? Yes, and no. Despite my stress-free holiday mantras and my shift in priorities and focus this year, I must confess I still found myself running to Hobby Lobby way too many times in order to perfect my fireplace mantel. And I was still that frantic mother at Target trying to get those last-minute gifts purchased in time. However, I’m happy to report that those moments of chaos occurred far less frequently this season, and I can only hope that each year I will learn to avoid the pitfalls of the pressure a Rockwell fantasy will bring. In doing so, I hope to live in the blissful moments of peace and joy that this season has to offer. And maybe, just maybe, when the soundtracks of the stores begin blaring holiday tunes in September, I will find myself smiling, perhaps even humming along…

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