Surviving the holiday season

The holidays are about building memories, not buying them.

Hello December,

It’s been a whole year since I last saw you. My baby was on the cusp of turning one, we were approaching our first Christmas together as a new family, and I was in year two of trying to create new holiday traditions for our little blended unit of parents and stepchildren and baby. I vaguely recall trying to stay relaxed. I do remember doing a whole lot of making stuff, entirely too much driving from store to store to store trying to find more stuff, and longing desperately to just have more quiet time with my family.

I recall lovely, beautiful moments of our little one playing with wrapping paper with his sisters. I remember snowy walks in the woods in our very snowy month of December, and pulling little person around on a toboggan for the very first time. I remember our children looking forward to each of their Advent days, feeling the pockets to see which days ahead had the biggest treat.

I also remember wanting more sleep, less time driving, less time rushing, less time hurrying.

This December is surging ahead. The holidays are looming. Already I’m finding myself confronted with days that include a busy toddler who has learned how much fun it is to get into trouble, to not listen when mama says “no”, and one who would much rather close the door to the room he’s in so that mama can’t see what he’s doing (or the crayons and markers he’s dumping on the floor).

Getting ready for the holidays can be a task unto itself when you’re on your own. When you’re faced with tasks like driving children to numerous holiday activities, lessons and playdates, plus chasing a busy toddler around and trying to keep him alive, holiday preparation can be daunting and stressful.

 All that our children really want is our presence. That, really, is the biggest holiday gift, and it should be extended year-round.

I have had moments already—in trying to communicate to our toddler that certain behaviours are not *ahem* ideal—where, as opposed to staying calm and collected, I have suddenly yelled in exasperation: “No!” To which he mocks me back: “No. Mean mommy.”

He then proceeds with whatever said activity he was entrenched in: dumping table salt into the pot cupboard, pulling the cat’s tail (again), pouring the cats’ water into their food bowls and then dumping it all on the floor (or into more bowls), climbing up bookshelves (terrifying!), knocking cactus plants off of shelves with his toy broom. All the while, I am also trying to knit holiday gifts, create advent calendars, get supper into everyone’s hungry bellies before bedtime (as opposed to yogurt and crackers, like the other night), or write holiday cards.

Needless to say, my stress level piques. So instead of staying calm and collected with my little person, instead of trying to reason with him or explain why said behaviour is not desirable, I find myself exasperated and upset — and those feelings of stress are directed (and piled) upon little person.

But really, he’s not the one I’m upset with.

Rather, it’s the too much of it all. It’s easy to forget, in December, all of the lovely, beautiful moments of this fleeting month, to let them pass by amidst the rush and chaos of holiday preparation.

The light is changing as winter approaches. The sun is in a different place in the sky. The air feels different. There is, living on a farm, a different pace suddenly — as everything else slows down.

The vegetables and flowers and fruit are all done for the year, the plants are all going to sleep, animals are moving into hibernation. And we, too — we all slow down, don’t we? We are stacking our wood for our fires, we are cozying up with soft wool blankets and steaming mugs of hot chocolate or tea. We might fall asleep early, as the sky darkens sooner, all in our fuzzy soft pajamas, cozy in bed with winter stories and snuggly children to cuddle. Perhaps we stay in bed a bit longer as the sun appears later in the morning, padding downstairs on cold floors with warm slippers for that first decadent cup of coffee. We wait for the first snowflakes and the first snow days and the first of our snowman-building and sliding in Pippy Park. We wait for Bannerman Loop to open, and to lace up our skates for the first time this year, hopefully with thermoses of chocolate.

We look forward to the Christmas lights.

The changes of the season, and of the holidays, are short and fleeting. These moments for our children, they are short as well.

So there must be ways to minimize the stresses, the anxiety, the rushing, the hurrying, and the oh-so-very-unwanted yells of exasperation at the children.

Little tricks of the momma-trade that I tend to forget (and must remember):

  • Hungry children are also stressed out. They misbehave, they don’t listen, they are trying to catch your attention. Even if supper isn’t ready before bedtime, a whole lotta snacks during the witching hour will help with a misbehaving toddler. (And don’t forget snacks for that ferocious momma bear as well.)
  • Multitasking is not all it’s cracked up to be; our attention, when spanning too many things at once, means forgetting things, being stressed, or not paying attention. This is how I missed my toddler trying to sweep the plants off the shelf. Thankfully he didn’t get a cactus needle in the eye. From now on, he’ll be on my back in a carrier, or in the kitchen with me while I make food, and I will be playing with him, devoted and attentive, when he wants to play.
  • When you’re stressed out, everything seems worse. So take a deep breath and remember that if it doesn’t get done, too bad. Gifts can be given after Christmas (it’s a season, remember?), the house can be messy, and errands can wait.
  • All that our children really want is our presence. That, really, is the biggest holiday gift, and it should be extended year-round. They will not remember the running around shopping or trying to get to another sale. They will remember all the times that mommy said, “Not now, I’m busy.” And they will learn that Christmas is all about stuff, instead of togetherness and joy. Our presence in their lives is the biggest gift — not just for them, but for us, their parents, as well.

And so the Advent is finished, the knitting has been set aside, and even the writing was made to take a pause. Because instead, I needed to go outside and watch snowflakes with my toddler, and to talk about penguins with him. My attention, on these moments of the season, was exactly where it should be.

Editor’s note: If you would like to respond to this or any article on, or if you would like to address an issue we haven’t yet covered, we welcome letters to the editor and consider each of them for publication in our Letters section. You can email yours to: justin at theindependent dot ca. Not all letters will be printed, but all will be read.

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