My mother tells a story about how she once spent the night before Christmas assembling 100 tiny plastic escalator steps in Barbie’s shopping mall. Her parents were both in the hospital and she didn’t actually start shopping for presents until Christmas Eve. She says there was nothing left in the stores—she had to buy the last of the picked-over toys. She was exhausted, defeated, and very unhappy about the pathetic display of junk that greeted her children that Christmas morning.
Here is what I remember: “Barbie’s shopping mall? YES!”
A perfect example of how much parents can beat themselves up over things that children don’t even register. We see cheap plastic—but they see fun. We see amateur attempts at festive decor—but they see holiday splendor. We see failure—but they see magic.
We are obviously missing something…
And isn’t this the season for it? Whatever the gift giving holiday, we are decorating and shopping and planning. And all the while, feeling like we could be doing it all SO much better.
Of course, we have these feelings of insecurity and inadequacy year-round. But there is something about the month of December that dials it up a notch…or twenty.
So the very first thing that you MUST do, is purchase some lifestyle and entertaining magazines. Already feeling like crap about your annual inability to adorn your front door with garlands? Martha Stewart is sure to make your holiday decor attempts look like those preschool crafts that you surreptitiously toss in the garbage when the kids aren’t looking.
I don’t know about you, but this overwhelming pressure to make things perfect gets the best of me far more often than it should. Starting with Thanksgiving, I find myself lamenting our lack of nice serving spoons. Then on a less superficial note, I also wonder when my children will be able to sit at the table for more than fifteen minutes and actually eat the holiday meal instead of requiring their own grilled cheese sandwiches. Our holiday dinners have never quite lived up to the ideal Norman Rockwell images of tradition.
January through mid-November, I could care less about how things should be. So what is it about this time of year that makes me such a flailing perfectionist who tries to force everyone around her into Hallmark holiday moments?
We celebrate Christmas, so right after Thanksgiving we run directly into two often-contentious holiday traditions: tree decorating and a visit to Santa.
I have to confess right now that I’m a complete maniac about my tree. To say that I’m somewhat particular about how it looks would be like saying that Christmas at the North Pole is a bit chilly. I just really love a beautifully decorated tree and my desire for perfection borders on pathological.
Decorating a Christmas tree is supposed to be a fun family tradition. Why should it matter that 70% of the ornaments are hung on the bottom left corner? Who cares if someone wants to add their Star Wars action figures to the mix? And what could be more festive than three pounds on tinsel dumped on top of it all? Right?
No. I’m sorry. I just can’t do it. It’s a problem, and someday I’ll get help. But in the meantime, we’ll compromise with a “kids’ tree” in the play room. There are others like me out there, so they understand. I just hope that the rest don’t judge me too harshly.
Thankfully, I’m much better about the Santa visits. But learned to let that one go early on.
My oldest child was eight months old for his first Christmas, and it really was the perfect time to take him to have his picture taken with Santa. I dressed him up in a cute outfit and proudly watched as he patted the fluffy white beard and then smiled for the camera. He was adorable.
The following year, he had newborn twin siblings at home and a budding sense of stranger danger. As I dressed him up to visit the same Santa, I had feelings of foreboding that this year might not go quite so well. Sure enough, the line was long and he refused to sit in the stroller. Thirty minutes of hearing “no” every time he wanted to play with the fake snow made him decidedly cranky. And when we finally approached Santa’s lap, he looked at me like I was about to hand him over to a jolly-looking ax murderer. A picture was snapped two seconds before he burst into tears, and I had to ask myself, “What the hell I was thinking?”
And year after year, I walk past mall Santas with wailing children on their laps. Of course in defense of all the parents standing in line with candy bribes and crossed fingers, there are plenty of children who LOVE seeing Santa. For every baby who screams and pees on him, there is another who giggles at his hearty ho ho’s. And we can never be sure which way it will go. So we get in line and roll the dice.
Last year, my five year old and two four year olds begged to visit Santa (they also got into three fights during the our long wait in line and knocked over part of a display…but they didn’t cry!). This year, unfortunately my oldest wanted nothing to do with it and hid under my coat while his brother and sister sat on Santa’s knee and smiled for the camera. And this was completely avoidable since I KNEW that Oliver didn’t want to visit Santa. He told me that he didn’t. But there was always the possibility that he might change his mind at the last minute… Honestly, I should have just taken the twins while he was in school.
At least I didn’t force him to be in the picture. Which was mediocre anyway. I have of yet to see a good Santa picture since that first one six years ago.
In the end, I think we all do our best to create good holiday memories for our children. If they are sometimes a little forced, at least we know we had good intentions. If there are tears as parent go from bribes to threats while taking a picture for their holiday cards…well, it was a really nice shot of everyone together.
But in experiencing all of this for ourselves, we should open our eyes to the fact that EVERYONE falls short. No family is perfect, so no holiday season is perfect. It’s an ideal that no one could ever achieve. A myth perpetuated by greeting card companies. A beautiful idea that could only ever fit into the glittery confines of a snow globe. Real life is messy. Not everyone can be Martha Stewart.
Even our own memories of happy holidays are part illusion. Because we’re viewing them through the kaleidoscope of childhood wonder.
We remember tearing wrapping paper off the presents and eating candy. We can close our eyes and feel the excitement we had for this once a year celebration when wishes are granted and anything is possible.
Our parents, on the other hand, remember tantrums and sugar-induced meltdowns. They thought the meat was a bit overdone and rolled their eyes over Great Aunt So-and-So’s diatribe on how children were disciplined when she was a girl. But they did their best and hoped it was good enough for us. And it was.
We need to remember that and realize that as long as we do the best for our own children, then that is good enough. For them AND for us.
The table decorations may not be up to glossy magazine standards…the serving spoons may be mismatched stainless…a display of Star Wars action figures might have suddenly appeared on the once perfect tree…and there may (will) be some tears…but if our hearts are full of love and good intentions, then that’s good enough. That’s life. And in it’s own crazy way, that’s pretty much perfect.
Originally posted on Health News HERE.