‘Tis the season, as they say; and for many parents, it’s a tough season. The month of December is a Pandora’s Box of expectations, demands, and pressure. You have the average month’s worth of usual stuff—work, laundry, keeping everyone healthy, basketball practices—then throw in the prep, planning and execution of the holidays. Makes you want to pull the covers back over your head, doesn’t it?
While I pride myself on being quite organized and a dutiful planner, December used to make me seize with anxiety. When my kids were young, the average month soaked every ounce of energy from me. I often wondered how in the world I would carry off the extra tasks required to make December a success.
Luckily, those were simpler times; meaning, I had very little extra money after the bills were paid! Christmas gifts for my two children were incredibly basic: a flashlight for reading under the covers and secondhand toys. My family filled in with other presents, thankfully, and I don’t think my kids felt they were missing out on anything.
Having a simpler lifestyle actually helped us get through the holidays. Since Santa wasn’t bringing huge or expensive gifts, I put my focus on other seasonal things, like the special books and movies that only came out of storage in December, along with the decorations and ornaments. We would bake and decorate Christmas cookies, a full-on, all-day Saturday event that left the kitchen destroyed but was always a great experience. Those were wonderful times.
I can still remember the joy I felt when my church offered a free babysitting deal for four hours one Sunday in early December. The pure bliss I experienced, having such a huge chunk of time to shop and wrap gifts without little ones around. When I picked the boys up, feeling weightless and accomplished, they had made Christmas ornaments: their smiling photos tucked inside small wreaths, hanging from ribbons. These were the types of things that would carry me through the hectic month.
Of course, at the end of the month there would be no school, and sometimes no daycare, which was yet another wrench thrown into things. I tried to save up my vacation time so the three of us could be home together. We’d make pancakes in the morning and enjoy a long, luxurious breakfast. Some days were dubbed “PJ Day,” where no one ever changed out of their pajamas. Those were the days—there was a lack of money, but an abundance of love. Just the other day I was in Michaels (feeling inadequate as I passed all the options for making crafts), and the store was playing music from the Nutcracker. A thousand happy memories rushed to my heart as I thought about my boys doing their own interpretive dance to the soundtrack we played daily near Christmas.
So try to keep this mind when you find yourself buried in shopping lists and crumb cake recipes: when your children are adults and they start to reminisce, what holiday memories do you want them to have? Memories of a ton of gifts under the tree, or memories of special traditions that even MasterCard can’t claim? My struggles back then were real and challenging, but our memories are unmatched.