Dec 1, 2017
The Biggest Holiday Surprise...
Well Kids, it's that time again--Season's Greetings.
Today I want to talk about what is probably the biggest surprise realization of my adult life, or at least my parenting one. Providing food, clothes, shelter, and love/belonging, blah blah blah...that stuff is important for sure, but the responsibility for another person's life wasn't as much a shock to my system as this little point:
Being the parent means I am now responsible for providing the Christmas magic. I am the Magic Maker.
It's kind of funny to admit that this is a recent discovery for me. I mean, for almost 20 years now the Cat Daddy and I have been negotiating decorations, trees, the amount and intensity of family gatherings and tree lighting (we agree on white lights, Amen and Amen), and how we "do" the holidays. That part is reasonable. Mostly.
The part I've been wrestling with is that magical feeling I remember as a kid, and how it became very elusive when my own kids came along. I started feeling vaguely blah toward the holidays. The Joyous Season deteriorated into piles of stuff I had to buy and do, and I felt a little bit like Charlie Brown amid the mess of pink Christmas Trees, exhausted and confused by the magic that didn't feel very magical (or meaningful).
After years of stabbing in the dark at various traditions, and way too often hiding in a corner emotionally, waiting for stuff to fall into place, I realized that I wasn't feeling the magic because I wasn't making the magic, and as the Magic Maker that is precisely my holiday privilege and pleasure.
I wasn't sure where to start, so I looked at the Magical families around me. Not necessarily the most cheerful or decorated, or really the most anything. I looked at families where they all seemed to be enjoying each other and having a meaningful time together, and where the mom wasn't over in a corner offering an exhausted, passive-aggressive accompaniment to the occasion (who, me???). My main sources of info were Facebook and past in-person memories, so throw in all the caveats and grains of salt with that, but it was enough to get an overall impression.
The main thing I noticed was that everyone was truly different. Some families held big annual events, and celebrated every special holiday touch, and summoned gentle snow showers on command because they were that Magical. Some families were pretty darn plain on the holiday spectrum, and mostly stayed home and sat around the tree, and were quite content to do so. And then of course most of the families fell somewhere in between. So I thought about what I wanted our Christmases to feel like.
As chief Magic Maker, the first thing I decided was that Grumpy Mom was not very magical, so I took a good, long look at my life. I had tried on enough traditions throughout the years to decide which ones were keepers and which were making me Grumpy. I just had to make note of them; to remind myself.
This was the beginning of my Happy Xmas List.
It's Happy 'Xmas' and not Happy 'Christmas' precisely because it's all about the trappings and prep, and only peripherally about the Baby Jesus (Baby Jesus is another post). A minor point which I'm not sure makes any difference at all, except it's slightly quicker to write, and saving time keeps me from getting Grumpy.
It started as a piece of scrap paper a year or two ago. I wrote down holiday stuff that makes me happy. I wrote and thought, and crossed out and wrote, and thought and wrote a little more, until I was (reasonably) happy with it. I ended up with 3 main items that I then migrated to my Bullet Journal so I no longer had to worry about misplacing my Happy Xmas scrap paper (losing key info makes me Grumpy). It goes as follows:
Item 1: Timeline. Every year around October I know to start thinking about stuff. I've always vaguely known "Oh I should starting thinking about that," but now I've chosen dates that MAKE me think about stuff in a timely fashion. Grumpy Mom thinks it is ridiculous to start planning in early-fall, but Practical Mom knows I will be much less grumpy when I'm not tying up loose ends at the last minute or feeling ashamed for being late with gifts.
I don't actually have to DO anything until after Thanksgiving; just kind of mentally prepare thru November. It gives me a game plan and gets my head in the right place to remember the extra efforts I want to make toward providing the magic, so I don't forget when I'm tired.
Item 2: Table. With 3 columns. First are the Must-Do's: the things that absolutely MUST occur for it to feel like Christmas to me or someone in my family. Then there are the Nice-to-Do's, which are exactly that, but if they don't happen it won't feel like something is missing. And indeed, letting some of those slip off the list leaves behind more mental space for the Must-Do's. I'd rather up the magic quotient on fewer things, because weak-sauce magic makes me Grumpy. And finally, there are the Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals--the BHAG's. These are ideas I LOVE, and I want them on my list so I don't forget to do them someday, but for various reasons I don't have the capacity to pull them off YET. Like summoning gentle snow showers on command.
Item 3: Names. Just the family members we give gifts to each year. So we don't forget the major players.
That's it. Just enough structure so I don't feel like I'm awash in tradition, but plenty of room for improvisation and revision.
Last year I focused on sticking only to the list. I still wasn't great about getting all the gifts out on time, but just the same it was a HUGE sanity-saver. Something would pop into my head "You should do this..." and I was all "Nope, don't need it. I'm good with what we have." Or someONE would say "You should do this..." and I would say "I have zero capacity to handle that, but I give you my 100% blessing to make it happen."
This year somehow I have the capacity to think about decorations (Nice-to-Do), and I realized except for some meaningful pieces from family and friends, we just had a hodgepodge of random things accumulated over the years. So I'm donating the stuff no one cares about (sorry random stuff, but it's true), and hopefully it will go to a more appreciative home and get more use. And now we are talking about what we'd like to see around the house to make it feel festive.
And do you know what I'm noticing? It's much more fun for everyone this way. I'm not (as) Grumpy anymore, and my Magic is contagious. Granted, my kids still want every single thing they see on TV and at friends' houses, but what they really get excited about is when Mom & Dad share their excitement. And when I'm focused on doing fewer things well, it leaves space for my own excitement, and also to pick up on subtle cues that are specific to my kids. You guys, this year I bought a Paw Patrol Advent calendar. It is kind of ridiculous, but Paw Patrol is a favorite in our house, and they love that I surprised them with it (suck it, Inner Critic!!).
In conclusion, I tend to be a late-bloomer so I wouldn't be surprised if you have worked out many of these details for yourself already. I'm happy to join your ranks, and I wish you a great time this month, being the Magic Maker for those you love. Go make your own Magic.
PS--you may notice I didn't go too much into specifics. That was on purpose, because specifics are so...specific. If you'd like some ideas, Tsh over at the Art of Simple did a helpful podcast on the topic of holiday prep. I listened AFTER I wrote my list, and it was reassuring to see that I'm not the only one who gets overwhelmed by ALL the choices.