Christmas was wearing me out. I needed months to recover and then it was time to start thinking about repeating the whole process again. With eight kids and all sorts of people to buy or bake for, from each Sunday school teacher to the postman I never wanted to forget, friends and extended family, I was stretching each and every nerve to its limit in order to meet everyone's needs. And my standards.
I was purchasing and wrapping hundreds of gifts each year.
But I didn't want to leave anyone out!
The very ability to do this was a gift. I'd been a single mom who'd suffered through seasons of Christmas anxiety, the kind that had everything to do with a lack of finances. Times when hearing the sound of jingle bells seemed to produce a kind of jolly melancholy, for lack of a partner to share it all with, when all I wanted for Christmas was a hand that would hold mine and my all children wanted were toys I couldn't afford.
But then, remarried to my husband Kevin, I was in a position to share, hand in hand! And boy, did I want to share!
And fulfill my obligations. The ones I determined.
So, the Christmas season became frenzied. I took harried to a completely new level, and I know you know what I mean. We all do it. We all take the beauty of the season to extreme levels in a variety of ways. We all lose sight of what's most important. We convince ourselves that doing takes precedence over enjoying. And worshipping.
At some point, I told my husband I couldn't do it anymore. I was losing my joy in the process. I wasn't worshipping enough. My heart wasn't twinkling in anticipation. There was little time to get all that had to happen accomplished and I was exhausted and irritable during my favorite time of the year. The season of my Savior's birth, my own, and our wedding anniversary was losing luminosity.
Sometimes, the people I purchased gifts for didn't even like them.
Oftentimes, I felt as though that was my fault.
I would forget people too--the choir director, the piano teacher, the garbage man, the bank teller! I was driving myself crazy with all the people I wanted to reach out to, to love!
I'd forgotten I didn't need to do all that. I'd lost sight of breathing. The image of quiet thankfulness amidst gentle worship had slipped from sight and the night was never silent.
But there was still the very real issue of getting those I HAD to buy for gifted!
While keeping small children and animals alive. And teenagers manageable. And what would the Wednesday night church group leaders think if my kids didn't show up with gifts for them? Would they believe we didn't care? That we didn't appreciate their volunteer hours?
So I cried. And tried to do more.
Well, my husband isn't always motivated by my tears but he is by my anxiety. He's a problem solver, so he got to work for me. The next Christmas, he told our kids, most of whom were teenagers at this point, that we would spend the holiday differently. We wouldn't do gifts. Instead, we'd board a train for Christmas. We would travel from Kansas City to Chicago, the highlight of which would be attending a showing of A Christmas Carol--then in its thirtieth year of production at the Goodman Theater. And perhaps everyone would get a gift after all. Just one.
Well, you know how kids are. They didn't want just one gift but I have to say they were great sports about it and we all had a fabulous time! Except that in the end, the kids told me they really did prefer traditional at home. And multiple gift giving. They loved having our presents under the tree multiply to no walking room.
Also, our kids are creatures of habit. They prefer precedence. They still talk about the time their father and I changed up Thanksgiving with an early morning fishing expedition at our pond and subsequent catfish fry. I thought it would be adventurous! We had hushpuppies!
They most certainly did not. Some say they're still considering therapy. Kevin and I will truly never live that one down.
In short, we never did another family trip in lieu of Christmas at home because Kevin came up with another idea. In this one, he did all the shopping and I did all the wrapping. And baking, of course.
I wouldn't do any Christmas shopping.
Of course I didn't like that idea. I was screaming about it inside my head. I wanted to be in control. I HAD to be in control! That's what moms do! And then I realized that control was killing me. It was robbing me of merriment at Christmas. It was stealing my connection with the season. It was preventing me from enjoying my people, my friends, life--Christmas spirit!
I should mention, inasmuch as my schedule included homeschooling children, as well as driving, forty five minutes one way, up and back, twice a day, three hours every single day, to the city for the older siblings' school in the city, not to mention caring for farm animals, the idea that I would even consider holding on to such a responsibility when offered a way out, is ridiculous.
I am not always rational.
I had to let it go. I had to, I told myself. So I bit my lip and held my breath and, sighing, I let go.
I turned all shopping for Christmas over to someone else. My husband. Most of it anyway.
To be fair, the kids gave their father lists and he made decisions based upon recommendations and the internet was his lifesaver. And Christmas morning was as much of a surprise to me as to anyone. More so. I hadn't even glanced at their lists. The only time this got a little weird was when our son Taylor brought his then fiancé Cassie over for Christmas and I worried over not having been involved when she opened a box with a mug in it. But she later told me she loved that mug! And he did get her some lovely bath salts, as I recall.
It was okay. We were okay. We were all happy and I was far less stressed and the Christmas music played and we were a family in authentic celebration.
I must add that I am awfully thankful for my mother-in-law's wrapping assistance. She arrives each year before Christmas with an extra set of hands I am so thankful for. That is icing on the cake, or on my gingerbread house, as the case may be.
And tradition is good in moderation. Kelsea did, however, put a lot of pressure on me when she bragged about our tradition to her husband the first year after they were married. "I told Michael my mom makes cinnamon rolls FROM SCRATCH every Christmas morning!"
You see what I mean? My kids are creatures of habit. But some habits are fine. When you let go of control and free up some breathable room, you can retain a little healthy tradition. Even if it means, as was the case last year, that your Christmas morning cinnamon rolls aren't exactly from scratch any more.
Sometimes letting go of control means doing what you've always done. And sometimes it means celebratory change.
Just remember to breath this year. Worship. Enjoy a silent night. And love people with your actions and words. Those are gifts enough.