O Little Town of Rush and Mayhem

I think a lot, at this time of year, not just about everything that has to get done, but the whole issue of expectations, and where they come from, and what to do with them (as opposed to what I sometimes feel like telling people what to do with their expectations, which is another matter entirely). It's such an odd thing, this season of alleged comfort and joy, merry brightness, decked halls and midnights clear, that counter-intuitively often causes huge stress and strain and great antipathy toward one's fellow human.

Last year Matt was away for work the second week of December. It was terrible - I felt like it put us so behind in Christmas prep that we never caught up. I didn't send out Christmas cards at all for the first time in years. This year there was no travel on the horizon but I didn't really trust it to stay that way, so we started decorating early, as opposed to my usual "oh, we'll start December first, oh wait, was today December first? We'll do it on the week-end, oh wow that's a lot of sports happening this week-end" and whoops, late again. 

So we started early, and I'm not working yet, and I've judiciously employed my mantra of "do what you have to, then do what you can, then let the rest go". I've baked four pans of salted chocolate toffee pretzel bark, two batches of toffee shortbread, two pans of skor brownies (yeah, we like our skor bit-employing recipes in this house), three batches of white chocolate-dipped lemon shortbread, two batches of sugar and spice cookies, and three batches of gingerbread scones. Most of my Christmas shopping was done last week.

And you know what? IT'S STILL STRESSFUL. I am NOT calm and Zen and beatific. I have given away or fed people most of the baking and I feel like I should bake more. I keep thinking of presents that would be perfect that it's now too late to buy. My parents are coming over for Christmas Eve and I have no idea what to serve. 

So here I am, privilege up the wazoo, with way more time and money to throw at this problem than most people have. How do we do this? Why do we do this? 

There have been really great moments. The day of Christmas book club I realized it was short story night and I hadn't read the short stories yet. Then I realized I didn't really feel like reading the stories, so I baked more cookies instead, and showed up and happily confessed my delinquency and had a lovely night hanging out with book club friends. Today the oven died while I was baking more lemon shortbread - I mean, the element started sputtering and sparking in spectacular fashion, and once I figured out that it wasn't going to explode and kill me, I turned it off. I swore for a bit, then wrapped up the rest of the dough, shoved it in the fridge, texted my husband to please figure out how to fix it and went to sit by the tree with my dog. When Matt got home, we opened the oven to find that the cookies I figured were a write-off had actually baked perfectly in the cooling oven.

This isn't a metaphor, though - most cookies don't bake themselves, and crowded stores suck, and there's never enough time to do everything, and we're always being encouraged to spend more money than we should. So I don't know. What's the mid-point between Grinch and Crazed Gingerbread Stepford Wife? I don't want my family to be disappointed, and I also don't want the secret ingredient to be resentment. 

If you have any wisdom on this subject, feel free to share. If not, I'm happy to tell you to do what you have to, do what you can, then let the rest go as many times as you need. Also, here is a picture of my lovely daughter wearing a Peace sweatshirt.


StephLove said…
Our December was more harried than usual because of all of North's rehearsals and performances and the fact that Noah totaled the car over Thanksgiving weekend (you didn't miss that in my blog, I was asked not to mention it) so Beth had to spend most of two weekends car-shopping.

As a result, we only got half the outside lights up and none of the inside decorations and the pine roping for the mantel is just sitting out on the porch. We're leaving in three days and not coming back until a couple days before New Year's so I think we've passed the point of it making sense to decorate. I am a little sad about this but it just wasn't in the cards this year.

The kids made peanut butter-chocolate kiss cookies last weekend and I'm hoping to make gingerbread dough to take along with us to bake in West Virginia, but that's the extent of our baking.
Swistle said…
My gift cycle is always, always, always this:

Julie Leclair said…
I only have to buy for Marty, Max and my niece and nephew. That's it. And we leave Christmas day so I don't even need to cook any big meals. And I still get so stressed and overwhelmed. I have no reason too but I think it comes down to expectations again. And I always end up spending way too much because I want it to be special, when really I should focus more on creating moments and memories then stuff. Because in the end, the stuff just gets tossed into a corner and forgotten. But with Santa leaving our house this year I think I feel a little pang of guilt/sadness/remorse (?) and want to fill the void with happy stuff. sigh. I want to have a Christmas with no presents and just skip off to somewhere warm where people will do the cooking and I can drink mimosas all day. Can't wait for Max to be old enough to think that's cool. Merry merry to you my friend. xoxo
Nicole said…
I just loved this post. You know, why is it stressful? Cookies do not bake themselves! I am actually not stressed and my biggest secret is that I aim to finish all my Xmas shopping by Remembrance Day at the latest. I just take a deep breath, go to the mall once or twice, and do the rest online. It works for me. I also freeze lots of dough to make whenever I have time. Make cookies, that is. Also: I don't host any family dinners. That probably is the biggest thing, we just go to my mom's.

ALSO and this is interesting: last year I made a concerted effort to invite my brothers and families over for a Xmas wine and appies, as you may remember. I decided not to this year because reasons. Reasons you know. Anyway, it is interesting to me that neither of my brothers have reached out with an invitation for me. Well. I guess that's that.

Anyway, that's my advice, reduce stress by becoming estranged from your extended family! No, wait. That might not be the best conclusion but I guess it's mine.
Anonymous said…
I have no solutions that I've actually implemented in my own life, but I read an article around Thanksgiving that summed up the stress level and was someone else's take on what she did.


The guiding principle in the last paragraph is probably the key one: she and her husband refocused on how they wanted the holiday to feel, instead of the "you must do this" holiday checkbox items. And the other part, which is what she's mostly writing about, is her not being solely responsible for running everything in their lives.

Mind you, as I'm sitting here, the cards haven't gone out. I've bought most of the Christmas presents, but have yet to buy anything for us to eat on Christmas day. Or even dinner tomorrow night. My workload is crazy this year, and I've been limping through the last three weeks because I HATE asking people to do things, yet don't have time to manage it all myself. She had the sense to call a summit with her husband... I'm not there yet.
Ms. G said…
Turkey my Dear. Turkey is the answer to everything. Turkey and my specialty, Tube O'Cookie Dough!

Be Merry!-but only if you feel like it.

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