December 1: The Holiday Season Begins.….and it goes surprisingly smoothly. We recently moved across the country so we were a little unsure of how this would go: we have no family, no social group, and we’re not involved in anything. Which sounds really sad but actually no family no friends no activities equals nothing on our calendar. And it’s lovely. Our calendars, just like our houses, can get cluttered. So our new system is like an elimination diet; remove everything and eat grass. Then one by one, introduce one carefully chosen event at a time and assess for any negative reactions.
December 3: Single Parenting Week………Every December, my husband leaves for a week to attend his company’s sales meeting. The timing of this annual event generally leads to premature holiday burnout, an annual stress-induced illness, and an annual epic holiday fight. But I take it easy on myself this year and, so far, it is not so bad. I sort of “half-parent” my way through the week and let my son eat popcorn for dinner and leftover pizza for breakfast. Also, I wrestled Mike into a planning meeting before he left in which we sketched out a budget and a gift list; so when he leaves, I’m ready to start the legwork.
December 10: Husband Returns Home………and leaves again. Wait……where are you going? I thought we could do x, y and z together! Or maybe YOU could do x, y and z. But no. He’s going to Baltimore for a meeting. Then he comes home from Baltimore sick. Really sick. The annual stress-induced illness!
December 15: Sick Day Coincides with Post Office Day………the day we had planned to have all of our gifts wrapped, packaged and sent to our families back home —and my husband is watching TV on the sick couch. Not only are the gifts not wrapped or packaged, there are several gift ideas that failed. So before the trip to the post office, I have to run out and pick up a few more items. But I forget that the geography of our new home prevents me from “running out” for things; everything is spread out, far away. Any errand requires a minimum 20 minute car ride. I always say I’m going to run out to Target—and two hours later I’m coming home with milk. But, nonetheless, I have to “run out” for a couple gifts before my post office run. And I’m searching (unsuccessfully) for a go-to store; that neighborhood gift shop with something for everybody but it doesn’t seem to exist here. And every store is 10 miles away. And the next store is 10 miles from that one. So my “running out” for a few things turns into an all day cross-country roadtrip. I’m starting to hate my car. Quickly, quickly get your things so you can get to the post office so you can get home before bus time and cookie baking. Because…….
December 15: Post Office Day Also Coincides with Cookie Day……..Two days prior, a note came home from my son’s school asking parents to bake an ASSORTMENT of HOMEMADE cookies to be distributed to the teachers and staff as a Christmas gift. The cookies are due tomorrow. Such a lovely idea…..if I had known about it 3 weeks ago. And it specifically says “homemade” so I can’t “run out” to the store and get some Mint Milanos to wrap up with pretty cellophane. I’m hostile about forced baking; I mock people who get stressed out because they haven’t finished their baking. Now I’m one of them. But they can forget about an ASSORTMENT.
Post Office Day is Only 1/3 Successful……….the West coast gifts get purchased, wrapped and shipped. But I come up short when I make the bold move to skip the big box electronics store and instead drive by with my middle finger up. I just cannot go in that store again. So I keep driving even though it means the rest of the packages will not get shipped today. While I drive, I brainstorm ways to pass off store-bought cookies as homemade.
3:00pm Racing Home For Bus Time………because we are required to meet our children at the bus. If you are not there at bus time, Frank the Bus Driver takes your kid back to school and you get in big trouble. I keep reminding myself that if I get pulled over for speeding, I will FOR SURE not get there for bus time.
3:15pm Bus Time……I make it. Whew! The bus arrives and Frank holds his hands up in dismay; he says my son, Liam, never got on the bus. I repeat: Liam is NOT on the bus. We check under the seats to see if he’s playing a funny trick. Did he miss the bus? He missed the bus last week but I got a phone call from the office one minute after dismissal time telling me of his whereabouts. It’s now 35 minutes after dismissal time. I call the school secretary……..is he there? Did he miss the bus again and you just forgot to call me? But it’s clear he’s not sitting patiently in the office waiting for a ride. She puts me on hold and starts searching the school. When I’m on hold, it occurs to me to panic – especially when my husband gets up off his sick couch and stands 12 inches in front of me, staring at me like Mel Gibson in “Ransom” – making the hold time seem like that period of time that the police refer to as “crucial.”
3:25pm…….what seems like 92 hours later, the secretary gets back on the phone and says “He’s at Weird Science.”
Weird Science……..the after school program he goes to every Wednesday. EVERY Wednesday.
3:26pm……..I go upstairs and have a holiday meltdown.
I had let Christmas happen to me, the proverbial tail wagging the dog, instead of making mindful, proactive decisions that make my holiday season peaceful and fun. The key word being MY holiday season. I had let external factors rule my day – other people’s visions, other people’s requirements, other people’s deadlines. And I fell for it.
EPILOGUE: The next day, I “run out” to the store and get a 2 liter of Pepsi and a bag of Cheeseburger Doritos and watch movies on the couch.
Next year, it will be different.
And I really mean it this time.