Friday, December 30, 2011

On Not Becoming a Grinch

Well, Christmas came and went, and it was mostly merry and bright for my family, but keeping it that way was certainly not effortless. The days leading up to major family holidays are seldom made up of greeting card moments in my house, unless the greeting card involves harried frenzies and occasional freak outs.

I'd guess most families have their share of holiday stress during what's supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. There's so much to do, such expectations. In the insanity of extra celebrations and assorted commitments other people want from you, what's actually important to you can get lost. In an already busy life, the whole season can lose its meaning.

What's with the pressure anyway? Why do parents force their screaming and terrified child to sit on Santa's lap and then pay $12.95 for a picture of it? Why do people rush around spending money they don't have just to buy some plastic junk that no one will care about or remember in 6 months? Does it really add to our joy?

I tend to sway radically from being relaxed to losing it, but this year, I made a conscious effort to avoid turning into a Grinch. Despite the fact that our local extended family requires numerous separate celebrations, at least one of which I'd end up hosting with my home in the midst of a remodel, I was determined to just focus on a happy season for my kids.

Did I mention that my Girl Child and I quit eating meat, so I had to think of a festive vegetarian dinner to satisfy 10 carnivores? And preferably one that the preparation and cleanup of which wouldn't push me over the edge? No matter, I would be cheerful for my kids.

They had saved up money to buy the biggest bag of dog food available, and wanted to collect bags of old tennis balls from the field next to the local tennis courts, all to be delivered to the dogs spending Christmas county animal shelter. It's a sad and dismal place, even for a shelter, and could use all the help it can get.

The clock began ticking. I had the food in my car for days, never managing to make it there. Part of me began to get grumpy about this extra errand which was completely out of the way when I was already running around like a chicken without a head. Then, I thought about my sweet kids, and the message I would be sending with my bad attitude.

Then, I thought about the dogs at the shelter, many of whom wouldn't make it out of there. For goodness sake, they deserved a tennis ball to chew, even if I was busy. So, I did some deep breathing and committed myself to quit the wanking about it and get down there, even if some other errand got dropped. We skipped a cookie party and made it at the very last minute, just as they were closing their gates for the holiday weekend.

Later, Boy Child and I were talking about the homeless people outside so many stores. We often have snacks in the car, and it's not unusual for my kids to give their granola bars or bananas to someone who is begging. But, while going without snacks is a giving gesture, the spirit of the season calls for more.

We began thinking about homeless children and Christmas. Being homeless at any age is sad of course, but the kid factor puts an even more tragic spin on it.

We decided to pick out some things to take to kids at the rescue mission. He was thoughtful, avoiding cheap plastic things that will only break and wind up in the trash, realizing puzzle pieces could easily be lost in transit, and that processed junk food was probably something they already had enough of. He thought noise making things might drive their already frustrated parents over the edge, so that was out too. He chose portable drawing supplies, gloves and cool beanies, lotions and soaps, bouncy balls, nuts and a little good chocolate too.

Getting things to the mission was another potential stresser. It's not on the end of town that I usually frequent, and as I mentioned, I was maxed on driving and errands. When what's meant to be a kindness turns into a nuisance, it kind of loses the point. Again, it just took some prioritizing. No one would miss one more activity I planned for our family celebration, and it left us time to drop the packages by Christmas eve.

All the baking and crafting felt mostly fun and loving. With conscious effort, so did most of the shopping. We missed gifts for a few people we didn't know we would see, but we just enjoyed the their company rather than feeling bad about it. We ended up skipping a couple of parties, and letting go of a few ideas, but were all fine with giving up some stuff to focus on the rest.

The numerous celebrations happened without the drama that extended family can sometimes bring. Certain people and situations tested my efforts, and I'll admit I slipped on more than one occasion, but I figure my best effort is all I can achieve as I'm far from perfect. I can't tell you how much deep breathing helped, but it did. When all the cooking, shopping, eating, wrapping, unwrapping and cleaning was done, I had mostly avoided becoming a Grinch.

Actually, the eating part goes on, and probably will for a bit. Thank God for stretchy yoga pants! The gifts of excess sugar do take their toll on my household, and normally sweet and rational people have been a bit more intense. Maybe I'll freeze some for later, or better yet, host a tea and pawn it off on my friends and their kids. Of course, that would require more cleaning, so I'll have to think on that.  For now,  I'm just so glad to have my peaceful home back, and hoping I can keep my inner Grinch at bay long enough to put away all these decorations.

Hoping everyone had wonderful, Grinch free holidays too!