Slacker Mom Holiday Hacks

the anonymous mommy
slacker mom holiday
Oh shit it’s Christmas.

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!!

xmas planning
It made sense in November, okay?

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.

weird art
An important piece that allows you to blend Halloween with Christmas.  It’s inevitable anyway.

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.

holiday card
Everyone now hates me but I got the damn picture

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.

woman on couch
Better.

Decorating

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.)

bagel ornament
Hole-y night

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.

Hosting

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.

place setting
Not happening

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.)

crowdsurfing
I said get me a YAM not SAM

Outsource

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.

Tick Tock bitches.

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.

Family

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.

mean grandmother
I just thought maybe they’d wear something nice for a change.  Oh well.

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:

Take breaks

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.

Presents

This one is overwhelming me this year since I’ve had some unexpected expenses lately.

sad dog
He’ll be okay

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.

mother and child

The danger of “it’s not that bad”

the anonymous mommy

it’s not that bad

          My heart is feeling weird and fluttery. But I’ve never been hospitalized for my weight. It’s not that bad.

          I can’t remember the last time I went a day without a drink. But I mean I’m never drunk at work or anything. It’s not that bad.

          He punched through the wall.  I mean, it’s not like I got hurt or anything. He didn’t hit me. So it’s not that bad.

          I am crying a lot and really don’t want to leave the house.  I’m not suicidal or anything. It’s not that bad.

          My boss says gross things to me. But he doesn’t touch me, so whatever. It’s not that bad.

These are all things I’ve said in the past, either out loud or to myself. It didn’t register that anything was wrong with it. In my twisted logic, it was about respect and self-protection. I didn’t want people to think I was being too much of a drama queen. I knew that there were people out there dealing with much worse situations than I was. And I should be grateful that I wasn’t.

But that isn’t’ gratitude. That is settling for scraps.

cupcake crumbs
Yeah, that should be plenty 

It’s not that good

Okay, so maybe you are handling the situation for now. It’s not that bad, but it’s certainly not that good! The whole reason for saying something in the first place is because there is an internal alarm system going off saying, “Bad! Bad! Bad!” But you’re afraid you will be judged for it so you qualify it. Then no one can get mad at you.

But why are we so willing to tolerate what is admittedly not so good?  Your life should be more than “not bad”.  When you think about the hopes you have for your children, is it that their lives will be “not miserable”?  Of course not.  You want them to be happy and fulfilled.

Somewhere along the way, we stopped believing we can have nice things.

dog ate bed
This could be why

There are a number of times in life when we are slapped across the face with reality.  That some things don’t always work out. Good doesn’t always win.  You can do all the right things, and still end up with what you consider to be less than your share of happiness.  The lesson of “Life isn’t fair” is a very difficult one to accept.  Part of me still wants to stomp my foot at it like a three-year-old.

Serenity

serenity now

The Serenity Prayer is some advanced shit.  It sounds simple enough:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;

Courage, to change the things I can;

And the wisdom to know the difference.

But damn if it’s not hard to carry out.  Yes, there are things that are simply out of your hands.  Cancer.  Natural disasters.  Who is currently in power. Other people’s will.  The fact that it’s raining…  It feels like if we just point out to others, or to the universe that it’s just not fucking fair, that life will somehow “get it” and resolve things to put them back in balance. We all wish it worked this way.  It feels like it should.  But it doesn’t.

Accepting things does not mean you have to like them and it doesn’t mean they don’t hurt.  It just means that you stop throwing so much energy at them.

Then there are the things you can change, and this is sometimes harder because the onus is on you.  (Hee hee, onus.)  This is where “It’s not that bad” comes in.  That is the sound of someone realizing this is something that they should probably change – and then chickening out.  It’s scary to rearrange things in your life.  But we can’t sit there and rail about the world being unfair, and then not do our part to make it as fair as we possibly can.  Sometimes it’s about baby steps.  Just giving yourself the leeway to think “What are the GOOD things that might happen if I take action?” – instead of just imagining all the bad ones.

Being able to pick through what’s yours to change can be tricky.  Sometimes we need outside perspective.  And that’s another thing “It’s not that bad” is a placeholder for.  A request for perspective.

Sending out an S.O.S

I’ve noticed over time that it seems like message boards (or Facebook groups and their ilk) have made it a bit more possible to reach out for help. Because it’s a space on social media where we have a degree of anonymity, it allows us to show something other than the glossy highlight reel reserved for most of social media. It’s a place where people can ask each other tentatively – is this normal?

scissors in head
It looks worse than it is

I am on a few different Facebook groups for mothers and have found them very honest and useful. But “it’s not that bad” is rampant on them. Thankfully, whenever there is one of those posts, other mothers usually rally around the poster, letting her know that she doesn’t have to stand for whatever it is. But in equal measure, there is often a chorus of “yeah, same here.”

Fear and Change

Whether it’s a friend confiding in you, or someone posting on a message board, one of the reasons for downplaying the problem is that it’s scary to admit that your life isn’t perfect. We spend so much time and energy trying to convince everyone that we are happy and everything is great – even those we are closest to. Because if we admit there is something really wrong, we might actually have to do something about it. Having to “hit bottom” doesn’t only apply to addictions. If something is hurting us, most people are so afraid of change that it takes something pretty dramatic to jolt them out of their everyday routine. We’ll take the hell we have right now because we know we can survive it. We’d rather have pain than chaos.

This is another reason why sharing these things seems to happen more often online. No matter how close you feel to your online tribe, they aren’t likely to follow up with you on what you need to change. Your best friend will.

One-upping

We are all guilty of going to town with our war stories. This is another reason women tend to downplay what they are going through.

          “My child is in the NICU”

          “Oh, yeah, mine was in the NICU for two weeks and on oxygen. We couldn’t even touch him!”

not helpful
Thanks Melissa. That’s helpful.

Often this is done in a bid to connect, not belittle. But a more effective way to do this is to acknowledge them. You can say “I’m sorry. I’ve been through that. How are you doing with it today?” (Today is key here.  How they’re doing overall is too overwhelming.)  Let them lead the way in terms of asking for your story. Most likely they just need to talk.

That said, sometimes when you have a worse situation going on, it can be tempting to one-up. Because you’re not complaining, so why the hell is she? Back away from the keyboard my friend. More than one person can be in pain at a time. You don’t need to play tug of war with something you don’t want in the first place. But together you can hold it a little more lightly.

Do you know your enemy?

We are at a turning point for women right now. Can you feel it? We have the opportunity of a generation to become more powerful. To level the playing field. To say it IS that bad and we won’t accept that for ourselves. But when you listen to the voice that invalidates your pain, you accept pain as the status quo. As something acceptable.

Men aren’t the enemy here. They almost never are. Overgeneralization is never positive or helpful. The enemy is our culture. Men have their own pain and their own stories. Most just don’t talk about them because they are shamed out of it. “It’s not that bad” is translated to “don’t be a pussy”. And don’t get me started on what’s wrong with that.

The only way to change a culture is to

1) Talk about it. Say it is that bad.

2) Change ourselves.

It’s not enough to want it to be different for your daughter. You need to want it to be different for yourself.  When you hear it” It’s not that bad” come out of your mouth, it should serve as a warning sign that something is wrong in your life.  And that you matter enough to change it.

Time Flies

 

Awhile ago I was having a conversation with my best friend, then about 8 months pregnant with her second child.  Her husband was away for work at the time and she was dealing with a three-year-old and a heat wave.  She was obsessing over getting her son’s new room perfect so that they could move him in there before the baby was born.  I was trying to convince her to take it easy, and it all seemed so logical to me that she should just be able to let some things go and give herself a little grace.  I could practically hear her eyebrow arch over the phone. The pot was on the phone to tell the kettle she was black.

Who me?

Fair point.  I do this all the time.  I take whatever life event is stressing me out, and I seem to find some project that I think will fix everything and give myself a million tasks around it.  It’s my way of trying to take control of the situation.  About a year ago, I started a bullet journal to keep myself a bit more organized and fell into an Instagram hole of amazing bullet journalists.  All of a sudden I decided my handwriting was bothering me, so I needed to incorporate 20 minutes of handwriting practice a day.

Plus my new daily workout to fix my mummy tummy.

And cut back on processed foods.

And have a “no spend” day once a week.

And a weekly meal plan for the whole family where I cook dinner most nights.

But I couldn’t figure out why I felt so stressed and unhappy. Why I kept wondering if I needed to call my psychiatrist to up my medication for the first time in ten years.  The idea that I was putting extra pressure on myself never entered my mind.

Maybe Later

These skills are all lovely things to put into practice, but now is not my time for most of them. I’d love to have beautiful handwriting, but I think everyone would prefer I use that time to shower. Because there is only room for one of the two.

While part of my desire for all these projects is certainly about a wish for control and keeping the outside of things looking perfect, I think it harkens back to something else too – the freedom that I had before I became a mother.

Even before I quit drinking, I was always a big fan of self-improvement practices and learning new things. I had a standing new years resolution to learn one new skill a year for no other reason than it interested me. I would dive into new and overwhelming projects, and experience time speed up as I focused intently and felt the thrill of the tiny improvements in my new skill emerging. I still have this urge. I still want to learn calligraphy and how to surf. I want to learn to play the ukulele. I want to learn javascript and how to make jewelry.

Well that’s efficient

But being a mom is a skill that takes more than one year to learn. I don’t know if it’s one I’ll ever master. It’s trickier than say, learning the piano. As soon as you think you’ve got it figured out — everything changes.

Tempus Fugit

I am also constantly reminded in subtle ways that I won’t always be so strapped for time. The way my son’s head suddenly appears above the top of the kitchen table instead of skimming beneath it – when did he grow? A couple of months ago, I could count how many words he knows. Now I have no idea. Hundreds?

I have always hated it when mothers look at me and say– almost as a warning – “It goes so fast…” I believe it. But it irks me because my attitude has been, “Yes, I get it, but what do you want me to do about it other than to be sad?”

Maybe this is part of the answer – to put some things I want to do on hold because there will space later in my life. When my son is moody and hormonal and just wants me to leave him alone. When he goes off to college and they have to pull me off his doorjamb. Maybe that’s the time for calligraphy.

The limits of time have never sat well with me.  I remember crying as a child once when I realized I would never have time to read all the books I would want to in a lifetime.  I’m still that same girl.  There are too many things I want to do in this life and I can’t wrap my head around the fact that I probably won’t get to do them all.

Choices

For me, there is a simple truth that I can’t both DO ALL THE THINGS and enjoy all the things. There is something in knowing the limitations of time.  It means your choices must be considered.  What we choose is special because whether we think about it or not, it’s what we’ve prioritized at this moment above everything else.

I also know I could do everything else on my list, but if I had never gotten to be a mother, it would have felt hollow.  So what if I got to see Kyoto but didn’t have the full human experience of having a child?  This is certainly not the case for everyone nor should it be. It’s just what’s true for me.  I have always wanted this.  It is special, and brief.  It deserves my full attention.

I still have and use my bullet journal. It helps me keep track of play dates and meetings. And I even have a page for “Stuff I Want to Learn”. Having a place to park those ideas somehow lessens the anxiety that I will immediately blank on everything I was ever interested in the moment I am left alone with my thoughts. When I get that down on paper and out of my head, I can then look up and focus on where I am right now. I can see the way my son’s hair sticks up because he’s gotten banana in it again, and notice how he smells like sunscreen and dirt from the playground. And I can know that even if it’s not a skill I can put on my resume, or impress people with at parties, I’m still always learning.

 

Letting Go of Perfectionism

Perfectionism

Perfectionism

There’s a catch-22 in writing about perfectionism. I have wanted to write about this for weeks but kept putting it off. I wanted to do more research. I needed to have the right inspiration… In reality, I was terrified — because if you’re going to write about perfectionism, it had better be perfect.

Let’s get this out of the way: This post isn’t perfect. I am not perfect. And dammit I hate that.

Perfectionism is my preferred defense mechanism. If I am smart enough, thin enough, selfless enough, pretty enough, impressive enough, etc. then no one will notice all the things that are wrong with me.

The Trap

It worked pretty well for a long time. Most people in my inner circle didn’t realize I had a problem with alcohol because I was so high functioning. Had anyone dare say anything, I had my hobbies, career advancements, relationships, and friendships to throw in their faces. I used it to justify my drinking to myself as well. Look, I work hard, I volunteer, I bake, I sew, I write… can’t I have Just One Thing?

The problem was, it worked too well. A couple of times I was brave enough (okay, drunk enough) to admit that I thought I had a problem, and people told me they didn’t think I did. I got the feeling they thought maybe I was being a touch overdramatic. Cringe.

But I also had a strong fear that I wouldn’t be found out. That I would be able to keep up the façade. – until one day I would develop cirrhosis. And then the jig would be up. People would know how imperfect I was and it would be forever metaphorically etched on my tombstone.

I don’t think I’m alone here

There is a huge misconception in this country about what an alcoholic actually is. People picture someone homeless stumbling around with nothing left talking to themselves. They don’t tend to picture a woman. Certainly not one in business attire. And it doesn’t take drinking a fifth of vodka a day to become addicted to alcohol.  A bottle of wine or two will do just as nicely. One of my favorite quotes from Ann Dowsett Johnston about her drinking is, “I drank way more than I should have and probably a lot less than you’re thinking.”

There is something going on here culturally too. It may just be the women I hang out with, but I’m hard-pressed to think of a woman who doesn’t consider herself a perfectionist. I hear it everywhere, “I’m such a perfectionist.” “I’m so OCD”, “I’m totally Type A”. Have you ever heard anyone say they’re type B? Because I haven’t.

I’m so OCD. But not in an unattractive way.

There is a message that if you aren’t a perfectionist, you are lazy. You let things go. And beware, because there are plenty of women out there who don’t. They are better than you, and everyone you love may just realize that.

One of my biggest fears in writing this post is that someone I know would see it and say, “Really? You? A perfectionist? Okay…”

In truth, I don’t know that I am a typical perfectionist. My house is somewhat messy. I’d love for it to be sparkly, but not enough to, y’know, clean it. My clothes aren’t perfectly ironed or expertly tailored, and I often wear flats despite knowing I look better in heels. I have even been known to eat ice cream in public after coming to the shocking realization that no one cares.

The strange thing is, I don’t expect perfection from others, so it seems egotistical that I should have to be perfect and no one else does. The truth is that I feel like my being perfect gets me just up to the level of everyone else’s normal. I don’t know where this comes from. But I do know that it speaks with the same voice that whispers that I should skip dinner. That I could have just one drink.

Imperfect mom

In a way, the thing that has shifted me away the most from perfectionism has been becoming a mother.  It’s a strange thing because I want the best for my child in ways I never did for myself.  But motherhood threw into sharp focus the fact that it’s just not possible.  Seeing that huge gap between myself and perfection and knowing it wasn’t something I could close was an ego blow.  But it was also a relief.  In knowing that it was impossible, I was able to let go now and again.

I know I can try with all my might to be the perfect mom.  To hand sew his Halloween costumes instead of buying them on Amazon.  To read educational books for hours and set up some sort of sensory water station like I see on Pinterest when we are stuck at home, instead of cuddling and watching tv together.  But in giving up some of those things, I also know that my son gets a mom that isn’t wound up like a rubber band ready to snap.

A slow fix

I don’t have a top ten list here of how to beat this. Nor do I have a cute exercise for you to change your thinking (although Steps 4 and 5 are a damn good start.) This is a process. Realizing it is an important step towards learning to question that perfectionistic voice. That’s been what has begun to help me. To stop for a second and ask myself,“Wait, is that really true?”

Is it true that I can’t have people over to my house because there are bags of clothes in my room I still haven’t donated?

Is it true that if I ask for a sick day to take my kid to the doctor that my boss will mommy track me?

Is it true that unless I get Botox, people are going to think my face looks like a shoe?

pretty much

I have to remind myself every day that adult life is not like middle school. I am not under a microscope. And if someone criticizes me for something, their word is not gospel. It’s just their opinion and worth no more than my own. It is my choice to jump down a shame rabbit hole. Or not.

Thoughts?  Want to tell me how perfect I am?  That I do look like a shoe? (I knew it.)  Have at it in the comments.