The Next 30 Days: Why This Mom Wants to Quit Christmas Disclaimer: I type fast because usually someone is yelling or crying. Forgive typos and grammar will ya? I know what you are thinking, “She wants to QUIT Christmas? A mom of four children? CHRISTMAS? Like, Jesus is born, Joy to the World, Peace on Earth…..THAT Christmas?” Uh, Yep. That’s the one. No more NO-EL for me. I am DONE (I seem to be saying that A LOT lately.) But really, I am done with the way moms end up celebrating Christmas. It’s not celebrating the birth of our Savior anymore. There are no Silent Nights, no Midnight Clears, no Resting for Merry Gentlemen. Instead, look for your next 30 days to be filled with the wonderful ‘Joy’ and ‘Christmas’ spirit that all this crap invites:
Christmas Card Photo Taking. Maybe it is just our family, but the best and most successful holiday family photo I took for our card was the one with all my kids ASLEEP. It is not physically, or mentally possible to get four boys, and one grown man to dress formally, smile cheerily, and stand still for any length of time beyond .3 nanoseconds. Trust me on this. It CANNOT happen. It would take a bottle of sedatives (not for me, for the kids) to get them to actually smile together, at the same time, during a photography session. I actually did manage to snag one half decent shot a few years ago. That year, I was still able to find matching Christmas pajamas in all their sizes. I lined them up under the Christmas tree, and I snapped over 60 pictures. Pictures with tongues sticking out, fingers picking boogers, fingers picking wedgies, hands down their pants, hands pulling each others hair, a crying four month old…you get the idea. It was at snapshot #59, when I became hysterical, and while sobbing, told them “All mommy wants for f-ing Christmas is one ONE DAMN PICTURE!” For the one second they were all in shock and inert, I clicked, and viola! A killer picture. I am thinking this year I will just take their generic wallet size school photo, glue it on some red and green construction paper and call it a day. In a few more years, I will just scan their driver’s license photo and send it out. That’s what they get for years of no photo cooperation. ( Oohhh some of the revenge I have planned for their adulthood is soooo delicious.)
The Christmas Letter. Everybody gets at least ONE of these beauties. The 5 page long, exhaustive, grossly detailed retelling of the year 2012 for the “XYZ” Family. It typically also includes a magazine cover worthy photograph of the XYZ’s. If you write one of these, skip to the next topic. If you don’t, but instead relish when one arrives in your mailbox so you and your spouse can laugh yourself silly, then you know EXACTLY what I am talking about. “Johnny got his green belt! Katie swam across the pool all by herself! Little Max pooped in the pottie! Our kids are ALL STARS, captains, and class presidents! Husband was salesman of the year! We spent the summer in Africa building schools! Vacation in Hawaii! New cars for all! I am the happiest married woman on the planet!”
I am tempted, every single year, soooo tempted to write one. A real one. The Fenton’s 2012. Dear friends and family, This year nobody got promoted. No super bonuses, no employee of the year. My husband works his ass off. Travels constantly. But he is not grumpy about it. He is the guy on the plane who helps the mom with the baby. Pushes strollers down jet ways, loads her overhead bin. He talks to an old lady the entire length of a transatlantic flight because she is nervous and excited to see her grandchildren in Germany. He saves his first class upgrades for his wife and kids. Never misses a golf match when his son is playing. Loyal? Lassie, you got nothin’ on him. My four boys have broken EVERY nice thing we own. They exhaust me to the point of tears. Like, daily. I pick up dirty underwear. Hourly. Dirty dishes. Every half hour. Yell or scream. Every five minutes. They never quit a sports team. They are polite to strangers. The big ones watch 60 Minutes, and enjoy it. (?) My oldest son enjoys serving funeral masses. (?) My youngest is the devil incarnate, with an infectious laugh and the best hugs ever. The third, never a complaint leaves his lips, only hilarious jokes. My second son takes care of my herb garden, and loves Publix as much as I do. They are healthy. PERIOD. And they put up with me. ME. And that makes them amazing. Me? I currently work about 48 jobs and get paid for none of them. I still take pictures of stuff I bake for no reason, other than I think there is another crazy lady out there who wants to see bread rise on my countertop. I ran another marathon this year so I can keep inhaling donuts at an ungodly pace, and it also helps control my rage so I don’t end up profiled on an episode of Dateline. This year my family laughed hard, fought hard, cried hard (mostly ME,) and loved hard. Loved very hard. Even when none of us wanted to. Merry Christmas, The Fenton’s.
Decorating. One word. Pinterest. I curse you and your never ending scrolling pages of whimsical, wintery, wonderful holiday décor. Sorry, but it’s not gonna happen. Never does. Probably never will. I gave up decorating my Christmas tree by myself years ago. There was the one year I spent an entire day delicately placing each light strand and ornament, only to have a kid either run it over driving the little tykes cozy coupe through the house, or take a 9 iron to it, with actually a pretty good golf swing if I recall. I can’t remember. I must have blocked it out. I tend to do that with traumatic boy household disasters. Remind me to tell you the Thomas the Train meets the toilet story. Anyway, that was the year I quit doing the tree. After that I would put it up, drag out the box of lights and ornaments, and say “Have at it boys!” The first couple of years I did this, only the bottom half of the tree was trimmed. Hey, kids are short. Only recently have ornaments actually made it to the top of the tree. Last year it wasn’t half bad. Late one evening, after all had gone to bed, I relaxed on the couch with a hot toddy, put my feet up, and was ready to admire the twinkling lights. And as if on cue, as I admired the beauty and was thanking God for all my Christmas blessings, the whole tree fell over. Crash. Bang. Epic collapse. Ornaments shattered everywhere, light bulbs cracked, tinsel frowned. Turns out the kids made it UP the tree, but not AROUND it. I didn’t flinch. I didn’t even gasp. Boys will do this to you. You become freakishly serene in the face of disaster. I believe God does this to mothers of boys, you know, so we don’t KILL them. I smiled, got up, yanked the lights from the electrical outlet, and went to bed. The next morning, me, some rope, duct tape, and an S hook I jammed right in the damn drywall resurrected that doomed Frasier Fur. This year, I will tie that sucker to the wall BEFORE I drag out the ornaments.
Parties. Bring a covered dish to share ! An ornament to exchange! A $10 gift to swap! Where do these parties come from? OK, I am guilty of throwing my share of Christmas parties. I used to host a cookie swap every year. It grew out of control and ended up stressing all my friends out so much I quit doing it. And yet, I still go to other people’s holiday parties. I am filled with the guilt of saying “No thank you. We are busy that night.” I know how much effort hostesses put into them. I want to be a good friend, good parishioner, good school volunteer, good neighbor, good club member, good co-worker. So the calendar fills up quickly, and I go. And I work myself into a tizzy about what food to bring, what gift to swap, and what ornament to exchange. Then what should feel like a joyful get together ends up being WORK. More WORK. More to do. To buy. To bake. To wrap. I call a moratorium on all holiday parties for 2012. Let’s just get together in a few weeks and exchange valentines.
The Christmas Plays. In my B.C. (before children) days, I used to think about how cute and fun it will be when I have kids that can be in Christmas plays. Ohhh!! I would have a little Mary, maybe a few angels in fluffy white wings with rosy cheeks, and then maybe one infant son, who would be born just in time to play Jesus in the play. Yea, well, that didn’t work out so well. Turns out I generated my own flock of shepherds. Anyway, when my first two boys were old enough and when I still could not bring myself to say “No” to anyone dressed like clergy, I volunteered to put together the Christmas Nativity play at our church. I wrote the play, handled the rehearsals, and even helped with the costumes. How merry and joyful it will be! And then you find yourself awake and sewing a costume at 3 a.m., wondering why the hell the root word of ‘simple’ is used in a “Simplicity” sewing pattern, and there is no way in hell that thousands of years ago a lady thought to add a dart in a robe for a man who watches sheep. And there will be Peace on Friggin’ Earth when I figure out how to make this purple Rubbermaid box into a manger! And why can’t those little @#$%ers remember the words to “Joy to the World?” I mean, seriously, heaven and nature sing, heaven and nature sing…..over and over, and OVER agan. THAT’S IT! That’s the whole DAMN song! Serenity NOW! For the last few years (really since #4 was born and I completely cracked,) I have smiled gingerly and easily said “No” to helping do the church Christmas play. Instead, I have made all my boys be actors in it, you know, to mess up the lines, drop the shepherds staff on the alter, wear a Burger King crown and hold a shoebox and mumble “I brought fuurrrrrr.” But they didn’t. They did perfectly, of course, because their mom wasn’t involved. Go figure. This year I will watch 3 different plays, two at schools, one at church. I will smile and feel the joy. I promise.
Toys. I am thinking I may be in the last year or two of my spouse and I participating in Christmas Eve toy assembly, otherwise known in divorce court circles as the “Clamshell Packaging Conflicts and the Little Tykes Vendetta.” This makes me very joyful, because years past have seen us at each other’s throats in the garage, each holding a power tool, and neither of us had visions of sugar plums at the time. Rather, my visions included C batteries and an allen wrench and shoving them up his…..well, you know where. See, no matter how early I buy and hide the toys, my husband will wait until Christmas Eve, errrr, make that Christmas morning, circa 2 a.m., to put them together. So there we are, exhausted and blurry eyed, attempting to translate German instructions (seriously, why do all the cool toys come from Germany?) and to do so before sunrise. Then, it gets ugly. “Who are all these toys for? What does this one do? Why does he need this? Who would buy this? ” This from the man who did not walk inside one single store the entire shopping season. But now, NOW, at 3 a.m., he has an opinion. You have got to be kidding me. “They are for YOUR boys. BOYS! All 3 of them….. you, you….non X chromosome making jerk! We are done! No more babies ! Never touch me again! No orgasm is worth this! And guess what? Barbie dolls don’t need to be put together. Merry F-ing Christmas hunny!” If I ever have the chance to teach at a pre-marital counseling class, I plan on depriving the happy couple of sleep for a week, feeding them only candy canes, giving them a screw driver and 25 unassembled toys, and telling them they have 45 minutes to have them put together, wrapped, and under the tree. Oh, and here is a sleeping 4 month old baby, who during this assembly marathon, will wake up screaming and take an explosive crap on you and your husband, and will then need to be bounced around for 3 hours. In a row. I remember now why I was an emotional wreck that Christmas Eve, swearing violently and weeping, and calling my husband a jerk while he put toys together for our children. I was pregnant, and didn’t know it yet. And the following Christmas, we had a screaming 4 month old crap on us in the garage at 3 a.m. It’s all worth it. Of course it is. When they run out ecstatic Christmas morning, you magically forget the previous 4 hours. Like childbirth. And morning sickness. You just forget the misery when you see their faces.
So this is where I wrap up my story with a big red and green bow, and tell you how wonderful, warm, and delightful the Christmas season REALLY is (come on, you knew it was coming.) But that’s the problem. It is a ‘season.’ It is all the great things we do as people, but forced and shoved into about 25 days. We save it all for Christmas; the charitable gift giving, the delicious food, drinking hot chocolate and snuggling with our kids, the parties where we come together with friends, the bringing of home baked goodies over to a neighbor, the telling our loved ones near and far what they mean to us. We save it all for one month. And then we stress out about how it HAS to be DONE, all before the 25th day of a random month. Well it doesn’t. There are 12 months in a year, and lo and behold, they all have a 25th. Give all year. Like in the middle of June, bring food to the food bank. Throw a party, in April, just because you haven’t seen your girlfriends in awhile. Road trip to your aunt and uncle’s house for Sunday dinner. In August. Bring fudge to your neighbor in September. Send coffee to your kid’s teacher in May. Don’t save it all for Christmas. We have the capacity for too much love, for year round love and giving. Do it for ALL 12 months of the year. Except the music. Save the Christmas music for the season, ok?