It never fails. Every year I get really excited for the holidays. I think of the warm holiday glow. I imagine beautiful holiday cards, perfect turkeys, the smell of the Christmas tree and laughing together with my extended family.
And then I freak out. My perfectionistic tendencies creep out from the shadows and start sharpening their teeth to bite off more than I can chew.
I tell myself all I need is to plan properly! To make lists of my lists. Have tasks three weeks out. I feel like if I just spread out the tasks far enough and plan it well, there will somehow magically be time for all of them and I won’t be overwhelmed. I’ll be able to enjoy the holiday season and still pull everything off. I mean sure, on a regular day I struggle to find time to pick up my dry cleaning from across the street, but I should still be able to get these extra 64 things done. Planning!!
But then the “to dos” just keep piling up and now they’re LATE! So I have a choice to make. I can somehow make everything happen by skimping on sleep and the rare bit of exercise I get, or I can choose to let some of it go. It’s not always that easy for me to believe this. I have a ridiculous idea of how I think things are supposed to be, but I have been learning that if I decide not to do something in a given year, the world does not come to a screeching halt.
Get out of Hell free card – skip it
But it’s not the holidays without ____________! I beg to differ. The day will come and go regardless. Know what really matters to YOU. For me, I’d feel sad if I didn’t have a tree because I love the smell. I’d be bummed to stay home and eat leftovers or something. But apart from that, if push came to shove, I don’t particularly care about gifts or cards. I love hosting it at my house but I understand there may be years where that just doesn’t make any sense.
It is okay to just skip whatever parts you don’t want to do this year. ESPECIALLY if you have a new baby, new job, are grieving etc. If life isn’t on coast right now, give yourself a little breathing room. And even if things ARE easy right now, you are allowed to pick just the things you like to do and keep those. (You can call it a “curated” holiday if it makes you feel fancy…) Nothing is going to happen to you if you don’t check off every box. I promise.
To be serious for a moment, this is a hard time of year for a lot of people. Relapse rates go up. Suicide rates go up. When expectations don’t meet with reality, it can hit hard. So ease up a little. Scale those expectations back. You aren’t in a movie on the Hallmark channel, so things will go wrong. And that relative who pisses you off every year will probably do so again no matter how delicious a meal you prepare.
So though it’s a bit tongue-in-cheek — because I don’t really believe you are ever slacking if you are taking care of your family and yourself — I give you a slacker mom holiday version of what I consider to be the biggest stressors around the holidays.
The Holiday Card
I can’t imagine that anyone has ever had a good time taking a family portrait in matching sweaters. It is always a shit show. No one wants to be there, the kids are bored and unwilling to sit still with smiles on their faces. You will inevitably get frustrated that they can’t do this one thing for you, and just have a nice family outing. Save it. Save the money for the sweaters and the photographer and the aggravation.
Slacker mom holiday hack
Use photos from the year. I actually love sending holiday cards. But I wait and see whatever half-off coupon I can find for minted.com or Vistaprint.com or one of those. I pick a layout that already exists and just throw in some cute pics from my iPhone gallery. The whole thing is done in fifteen minutes. From my couch.
Sigh. I love having a Christmas tree. That smell, hanging ornaments that are special to me, and making a new one every year… Really I love everything about it except cleaning up the pine needles. I love to deck the halls. And I also love to light the menorah. (We have both faiths in our family so we celebrate everything.)
There’s just one problem this year. The Anonymous Toddler will attempt to body slam the tree. So I may have to go for a Charlie Brown tree this year that I can perch on a high enough shelf, and burn a lot of Frasier Fir candles (for after my son’s bedtime) to make up for it. Because I do not want to add a trip to the emergency room to my list of things to do.
As for the menorah, despite having a gorgeous handmade one, for the foreseeable future, I will be using an electric one. I usually hate the electric ones but I actually like this one.
We host a holiday dinner every year. I love doing it. In my mind, we have napkin rings and table runners and long tapered candles. Unfortunately, I do not own any of those things. I have to borrow a tablecloth from my mother every year because even though I have a family and a job… that’s just a line of adulting that I don’t cross.
Slacker Mom Holiday Hack
Borrow a tablecloth and just set it with whatever group of plates and silverware you have. Or tell people they are eating on their laps. (This may happen this year for us as I have invited more people than can technically fit in my apartment under current fire codes. A table has no place here.)
Order some of the food like the side dishes or dessert from a fancy grocery store and put it in your own serving dish, or make it a potluck. You do not need to cook fifteen dishes.
Make it quick!
Despite all the hassle they come with, kids are very useful to blame stuff on. Case in point – We have people come over at 4:30, eat at 5:30 and out the door by 7:30 because of bedtime. This actually works out for everyone. I only have to put out a cheese plate for appetizers instead of a whole spread, and everyone gets to experience the holiday activity without it dragging on and on.
This is also strategic in the realm of booze. Because my husband and I are sober, we ask our guests to BYOB if they want to drink. I don’t have a problem with people drinking in my home but I don’t really like it when they get drunk there. Having a three-hour cap on it keeps most people from getting drunk to the point where they start getting belligerent. Maybe not everyone, but more so than at a five or six-hour event where they just keep re-pouring.
Perhaps the most stressful part of the holidays is being around extended family. These people know how to push your buttons – hell they installed them! You’re already exhausted from all the extra emotional labor, and it can make you feel less able to stand up for yourself.
One issue that tends to get to me is that I don’t know what to expect. Will I have a good time or end up crying in my car? Both have happened with about the same frequency, so I am always on high alert for comments that will hurt me. But being anxious about it beforehand doesn’t make them hurt any less. Yet when I get caught up in that anxiety, it’s like I’ve created a fight where there was none. I miss watching the kids run around and the sounds of other people I love talking because I’m prepping for an insult that may or may not come.
I’m still learning to be present as much as I can by engaging my senses as much as possible. But this is still hard stuff that years of therapy has only made a dent in, so while I would definitely recommend bringing yourself back to the moment as much as possible, here is my slacker solution:
Slacker Mom Holiday Hack – Run away
I am not kidding. Be as subtle about it as you can, but do your best to avoid the person who upsets you the most. When you get cornered by them, say an effusive “Hiiii! How are you! So good to see you!” And then realize that you need to help your kid with something/go to the bathroom/refill your drink/take something out of the oven etc. Sit as far away from them at the table as you can. Also:
I don’t have a huge apartment so I can’t do this as stealthily as some. But large groups of people and lots of noise stresses me out. So every hour or two, I will slip away to the bathroom or my bedroom (or some other unoccupied room if I am at someone else’s house.) I mess around on my phone for five minutes, listen to the quiet, and then I am ready to go back in without losing my mind. This was a habit I developed when I smoked. I used to just go out for a cigarette whenever I couldn’t deal. So when I quit nine years ago I really missed those little breaks, so I decided to keep them.
This one is overwhelming me this year since I’ve had some unexpected expenses lately.
I absolutely love figuring out the perfect gift for someone, and watching their face when they open it. And I love the fact that I don’t have to subject myself to malls or department stores anymore but can instead get everything shipped directly to my door. The downside is that it can be a bit too easy to keep spending money clicking away.
Slacker Mom Holiday Hack
I was trying to figure out what it is about giving gifts that makes me so happy and I came up with a couple of things that I am really after:
- Making other people feel good.
- Making them feel seen.
So this year I am doing something a little different that will still hopefully get these things across. I make some damn good cookies, so I am going to make a very large batch the weekend before and put them in mason jars with some cute ribbon. But along with that, for each person, I am going to write out a note that lets them know what I think is awesome about them and why I am glad they are in my life. Heartfelt, but not overly cheesy. No, I will not be spending a ton of money, but we all have enough stuff. What we don’t have enough of is appreciation for all we are and all we do.
‘Tis a gift
This is the first year my son registers the concept of Christmas and he is SO excited by it. But he doesn’t even realize yet that there will be presents! Right now he’s just over the moon at all the pretty decorations. He knows something special is up and has seen enough Micky Mouse Christmas specials to understand it’s all about family and a giving spirit. I wish he could keep that sense of wonder forever, but I know that’s not reality. For now, though, I just soak it up and let him be my teacher. That sense of wonder and kindness doesn’t require extra effort. No slacker version needed.