Thursday, December 27, 2012
It is too late to to make it this year, but if you would like to become your mother, your own beloved mother who, at holiday time, became an unreasonable ball of stress that your family feared and avoided, I have developed a plan that will have you stomping around and giving your loved ones the silent treatment in just three easy steps.
1. Have a child
2. Have a holiday
3. Attempt to do anything at all
It really is that simple, folks!
Last Christmas was Isaac's first and we spent it at Matt's parent's house. The kid was still a baby so he didn't know, or care, what was up with all the presents and house-trees. Our biggest concern was getting to our destination and back on an airplane without being that family with the baby (we were, that family, FYI). Traveling was nice because we had to pack lightly, we were given a reasonable amount of reasonably sized gifts that would fit into an overhead compartment, Isaac was still nursing, so when things got rough we would slip away into a quiet room for some down time...we were awash in new-parent ignorance, and it, as they say, was bliss. This year...oh this year. This year we stayed home, and we had to face the music. The music coming out of every toy train, every singing Christmas ornament, piped through every store's sound system, and sung by the angelic church choir-- obscured of course by the whining of an over-tired 18-month-old in a necktie. I don't remember the exact words, but the refrain was something like "Christmas sucks, Christmas sucks, I hate you Christmas time..." sung to the tune of jingle bells. Sure, we didn't have to fly, but nothing about this holiday seemed reasonable. Least of all, me.
On Christmas Eve, Isaac and I went to pull our 4 o'clock shift at the church nursery for the early family mass. Ike went down for a nap at 3, because of course. When I had to get him up we proceeded to have our tenth "argument" of the day over, of all things, his shoes. This kid sleeps in his shoes when we let him. If we somehow manage to get him to the crib without them, he wants them on as soon as he wakes up. Matt and I have to be shod at all times or else he cries. Flip-Flops seem to bother him, I suspect because they aren't real shoes. Boots are the best, in his opinion, and he often tries to wear more than one pair of shoes at a time. On Christmas Eve, however, fifteen minutes before we have to leave the house, he won't put any shoes on. Not new ones, not old ones, not mis-matched ones, not slippers or sneakers. "Nununununu", he said, shaking his head at me. "Fine!" I finally said, tossing his new, awesome and matching shoes to the side, "but I'm leaving this house in five minutes and you can either put your shoes on and join me, or you can stay home alone and wait for Daddy. I'm going to call Santa Clause and tell him to take all of your toys back". He is EIGHTEEN months old. He doesn't know a) how to put his shoes on or, b) what 5 minutes means, I could or would never leave him alone on another floor of the house, let alone home alone, I don't know Santa's number, and even if I did there's no way it would matter because the kid has ZERO point of reference when it comes to the "naughty or nice" element of the popular tale. But the words were out there, I stood my ground.
This was the transformative moment for me. I felt the sweet release of the Mom frustration, the end of the anger pile-up that began the day after Thanksgiving and was just building to a foaming, frothing boil. The gifts were wrapped in color-coded paper, labeled in complimentary home-made tags, the tree was perfect and twinkling and even still alive, I was dressed in something that didn't pull or itch or make me look like a blimp, I had heels on-- I didn't care anymore if his shoes matched his goddamned tie, or whatever, and I didn't care if he didn't like how things were going down. He was going to wear that damn tie, the sport coat, and the new shoes. He didn't have to like it, he didn't even have to stop whining about it, we just had to LEAVE. And we did! I felt like Bunny when she meant business. I felt the power of not giving a rat's ass if the kid thinks you're the wicked witch or the not-fun parent. I was Krampus, stuffing the kid into a sack, and I was high on that power for like, ten or fifteen minutes.
It was awesome. Of course, things went downhill from there, but whatever. There were no kids in the church nursery so we went through all that for nothing. We ran back home to help Matt make a dip that we forgot to even serve, made it to my parents at 6:00 to sit around and wait for the tenderloin to cook for 2 more hours, Isaac cried 90 times and was a clingy, whiny mess due to the sheer amount of stimulation and attention he was receiving from the twenty-plus guests, the adorable outfit I fought with him over lasted about an hour before it was covered in hors d'oeuvres to the point of being un-wearable, he wouldn't eat dinner but was content to suck on cookies instead, and I am pregnant and was therefore sober. Dreadfully sober. And my feet hurt in those heels but of course I couldn't tell anyone and blow my "no big deal, I'm easy-breezy fashion mom" cover. We went home and collapsed at about 9, Matt and I saying to each other "fuuuu, it's only Christmas Eve. There's still more", before rising to play Santa for another hour or so (and not in a fun way. In a "where did you put the tape? Oh here it is, wait, it's empty, are we out of tape? Like OUT out? Or just out of this one? Are you even listening to me?" way).
I learned a few powerful lessons this year. First, I learned (for the millionth time), that I was nowhere near good enough to my mom. No wonder she never really seemed to get all gooey and Christmas-y the way moms in the movies do! She had to do all the same stuff I did on Monday, but with two more children, and host dinner at her house (and an event at Bunny's house is no small feat. We're not talking about lining up for the buffet with paper plates here. She's got all the china, all the silver, a million candles, cloth napkins starched to perfection, she cooks the dinner, cleans the house before and after, preps the bar and still manages to be an impeccable hostess throughout. Oh, and this year she had to go to work afterwards. Bunny wouldn't like to hear me blaspheme like this, but Martha Stewart should seriously be honored to kiss my mom's ass when it comes to putting on a dinner). Never will I ever be able to express how much I have taken my mom for granted over the years. Christmas With A Child #2 just crystallized it for me.
Also, I learned that Santa Claus is there for a reason. I have heard some parents say that they feel uncomfortable "lying" to their children about who brings them presents. To this I would like to say "fuuuuk that". I understand now why we have to invoke a higher power: because kids don't listen. They really don't care in the slightest if you are late or early, over tired or stressed, they could give a shit if you, the mom, need them to listen and respond right now. Kids are jerks. What they do care about is the promise of toys and the magic man who brings them. Isaac is even too young to understand this white lie, but boy did it feel good to hurl consequences like "no toys! Ever!," even if they fell on deaf ears. They won't next year Ha Ha! But seriously, your children know you work hard. They get it, they see you leave the house, they know when you are away. You don't have to make it so aggressively clear that you are the one buying all those Christmas presents with your hard-earned money, the same money that stresses you out when the heat bill is due or you have to pay the sitter. There are 364 other days in the year to talk about work. Let Santa have this one, let the little ones believe that being good children has a reward that is really special (beyond their mother's not eating them alive or putting them on Craig's List under the "Free" heading). And besides, do you remember when you figured out the ruse? And do you further remember how long you pretended to still believe, for your parent's sake? I said that kids are jerks, but I never said they are dumb.
I learned that white sweaters are adorable, yes, and fashionable to boot, but are best saved for a time when your child is asleep or far, far away, lest the gift from your stylish sister-in-law become one big napkin upon which your toddler will wipe his pepperoni-covered hands.
Lastly I learned that Christmas is a particular kind of hell reserved for those who have a life outside of decorating, shopping, and the Elf on the Shelf (don't get me started). For parents who work--in or outside the home, for those for whom just keeping the kids alive and the house from burning to the ground for another 24 hours IS the job, for those of us who get to December 22nd and suddenly think "Ahhh! The world didn't end! Christmas!", the holidays are just one more damn thing we want to do, one more thing we want to do really well. We would like nothing more than to be festive and chipper and dressed in red. We want to be the kind of people who bake 15 dozen cookies and host theme-parties. Sure, we want all that. Just not enough to actually DO all that. For us normals, just getting our kids to wear shoes and not sneeze on the elderly is the best we can arrive at. The stomping around, the empty threats, the silent treatment-- those things are all for us. They are little surprise stocking stuffers we give to ourselves at the end of a hectic month. We earned them, so let's enjoy our fits! I didn't know how she'd take it, so I hesitated before telling my mother about my "Bunny Moment" on Christmas Eve. I didn't want her to be hurt. When I finally came clean and told her that I had become my mother, she asked me "was I awful?" To which I laughed and replied "No! Not at all! You were a mom!".