It’s 10pm on a mid-December night and I finally rest my head on the pillow. I am exhausted, but I can’t sleep — not yet. Because the moment my eyes close it starts: the automatic and instinctual mental checking of all the boxes. The holiday season to-dos, the worries, the plans, and the don’t-forgets — all jingling around in my brain while my husband snores a slow-tempoed symphony just six inches away. I love the holidays, but they also stress me the f*ck out. Because while Santa’s list is long, a mother’s holiday list is even longer. And as planner, orchestrator, and manager of all of my family’s yuletide cheer, I am kind of losing my mind.
First we have the gifts, which I am pretty sure my husband thinks just show up on Christmas morning. Honestly, he might still believe in Santa. Because every single search, purchase, and wrap-job is on me. The kids, our families, the teachers, the mailman, and everyone in between. I find the gifts, buy them, find secret spots to store them, organize and re-organize them, wrap them and then stick a little card on them that says “from us” when it should really say, “from just me, forever” with the eyeroll emoji. With four kids, curating a beneath-the-tree scene that is surprising and magical but also fair and not argument-inducing is no small feat.
And then there are the decorations and the elf. You know, the mantle garland with the twinkle lights and the little sparkly star detail woven throughout, the decorative shelf with the bottle brush tree collection, the illusive holiday card display. And let me tell you: transforming a space traditionally overrun by toddler toys, messes, and scattered laundry piles into a winter wonderland is exhausting. And while outdoor decor is traditionally a job of the patriarch in many families I know, we seem to be taking a more progressive approach as this task falls on me as well. So at nap time you can find me on the front lawn, untangling lights and figuring out how to secure blow-up Rudolph’s left foot properly to the ground while cursing at my three-year-old who is trying to “help.” Hey, I’m not proud.
And, oh, the gathering plans? Don’t worry, I’ll take care of that too. Immediate family, in-laws, cousins, and friends, I’ll organize and mark the calendar, ensuring everyone is satisfied with our participation in the holiday festivities. I will make cheese plates garnished with sprigs of holly and mingle merrily with everyone during seasonal catch-up conversations. And afterwards, while my family decompresses with some light television or a nap, I will take the time to relive each interaction and conversation in my brain, wondering why I acted like a Christmas clown and worrying about who I offended. It’s a really special anxiety-induced Christmas tradition reserved (at least in my house) only for me.
I will also feel compelled to cram in a bunch of life lessons during this chaotic time, which adds yet another fun layer of stress. It usually entails a cutesy self-created “Kindness Calendar” that encourages my kids to do nice sh*t. It is then followed up with voiced frustration and disappointment when they do not perform said kindness acts thoughtfully or happily enough, leaving me even more concerned about their character than when we started. ‘Tis the season. should we include her elf piece here too?
And then there is all the other stuff: addressing and licking seventy five holiday card envelopes (after getting the photo taking and designing the card), baking tree-shaped cookies for the neighborhood kids, unsuccessfully assembling gingerbread houses, and scheduling time to put together a three hundred piece dollhouse all while trying to soak in the spirit AND not have a nervous f*cking breakdown.
But ultimately, it is what it is. I know my role in this yuletide circus and maybe a bit of it is brought on by my own control issues. As long as we can all acknowledge the absurdity of a mothers’ seasonal responsibilities, I can work my way through it relatively unscathed. But jeez, I really wish someone (ahem — my husband) could at least put up the lights.