I don’t know about you, but this Christmas seemed to go by in a blink of an eye this year. Weeks before Christmas, I was scrambling to get gifts together while hubs was finishing his first semester of med school (post about that to come later). This was our first year celebrating Christmas without any family around. Part of me was thinking that might make it more relaxing- no trucking all over the place – 2 hours here, 3 hours there. But, on the other hand, what could possibly be fun and memorable for the kids? I mean for us – hubs and me – it’s a little less magical than when we were younger. I remember having such fond memories of Christmas as a child. Time with family, Christmas lights, candlelight services at church, Christmas carols, and the list goes on. For our kids, they know that Christmas is about the birth of Jesus and we’ve had great traditions with our church to celebrate. We’ve just never had a steady tradition for our home celebration. When we lived in Michigan and the boys were really little, we did the driving all over the place thing. Now that we live in Minnesota, it’s not that easy.
So, as we were nearing the holidays and as I began really thinking about what we were going to do this year, I began feeling the pressure. You know, the pressure to make everything so perfect that your kids will brag about how great their Christmas was. Now, we are on a tight budget so I knew that they would not be bragging about crazy iPad/Xbox One/Wii U gifts, I had to “wow” them with an experience. I had that pressure, I’ll call it the Pinterest pressure, mounting. In my mind, I had to make homemade snowman shaped marshmallows for their homemade hot chocolate that they would sip in their personalized mugs that I made with a sharpie and 20 minutes in the oven. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, Google “Pinterest” and come back in 3 hours after you realize you’ve been sucked in. And, don’t be alarmed, it happens to everyone.
Anyway, all I had been hearing for the last few weeks were countless Elf on a Shelf and creative gift stories, both of which don’t exist in our world- by choice mind you. I was beginning to really question everything Christmas. I was getting annoyed by the commercialization of Christmas. Now, I’m all for Christmas magic but I felt an unusual amount of pressure this year to embrace all of the new traditions. Maybe it was because, for the first time, Aden was asking for an Elf on a Shelf because it seems as though every child in his class has one. He even told me he would teach the Elf to be good and not naughty. How could I not consider after he said that!? But, I also felt like that would be one more thing that would be a distraction from the true meaning of Christmas. And then there are the numerous places to go visit Santa, fancy gifts to get, etc. It felt like it was surrounding me and reminding me that if all was not perfect, I was a failure as a mom. It was the one day of the year that everything has to be PERFECT. No pressure right? I know, this is all internal and it’s not like anyone was telling me I had to do all of these things. But, I also know from my 9 years of being a mom that if I’m feeling this way, surely someone else is too. So, here’s what happened this year and why this may have been one of our most ordinary and memorable Christmas’ ever.
We decided a couple of years ago to stay in Minnesota over the holidays so we could start traditions with our children. We wanted them to open presents at home Christmas morning. We decided to also try to gradually implement different things as our “new traditions”. We started by having a “Polar Express” ride on Christmas Eve a few years ago. That was an epic fail. We thought it would be fun to wake the boys up shortly after they went to bed, issue them “tickets” to the polar express, hot chocolate and then drive around to look at Christmas lights. After a while of waking them up and several minutes of fussing, we finally began our journey. Within 20 minutes of being in the nice warm car, both boys were knocked out. So, we drove around and enjoyed the lights while they caught some Z’s. Okay, so it backfired that first year. The next year, we thought we would try again since it cannot become a tradition if we don’t keep trying right? So, the next year, we drive around on Christmas Eve. But, we were smart this time. We left a lot earlier so they could go to bed when we got home. Then last year, there was a snow storm coming through and it was snowing a LOT. So much so that we had to actually turn around a few times because the van (oh how I miss her!) couldn’t even make it up a few hills. We even had to stop a couple times to scrape the windows off because it was snowing so hard the wipers and defrost couldn’t keep up. Definitely a polar experience. So, although they managed to stay awake and it was a very snowy experience, I was feeling a little blah about this whole thing. But, it was one of the things I remembered from when I was little. I loved driving around and looking at Christmas lights. I was determined to pass down some piece of Christmas tradition to my boys. And, being that this was really the only thing that we had done consistently since we began staying in Minnesota for the Holidays, it seemed that we had to just keep trying. So, this year I really wasn’t putting a lot of thought into it. To be honest, I was so distracted just keeping everything day to day going, I had planned on really “planning” everything out once hubs was done with finals. Imagine my surprise when a few weeks before Christmas Aden excitedly starts talking about going to see Christmas lights! He said it was one of his favorite things to do and he wanted to make sure we would have hot chocolate again since we have a new car and I was refusing to let them eat or drink in it. It melted my heart! Heck, after that, he could have eaten a ketchup popsicle on a hot summer day in that car and I would have been happy as a lark! Our inconsistent and unpredictable tradition was part of his Christmas experience! So, maybe it wasn’t as epic of a fail as I had originally thought. Imagine that!
So, we knew that we would have our Christmas Eve drive, but we were not really sure about what other things we should try. We decided that during the day on Christmas Eve we would make cutout cookies and a number of other treats and then decorate cookies on Christmas day. Hubs and I thought taking the boys to the movies would be a fun surprise on Christmas day since we really didn’t have anything else planned. It would be a fun and memorable Christmas.
So, Tuesday night, the night before Christmas Eve, hubs and I were up SUPER late. He ran to the grocery store for me (he’s WAY better at sticking to a list) and I wrapped presents. Of course we had to wait until all kiddos were in bed so I was up way past my usual bed time. Christmas Eve morning was nothing too spectacular. I began baking and we tried to clean up a little because we knew the chaos that would ensue on Christmas morning. I baked an obscene amount of cookies and made a few different types of dips for our appetizer dinner. We did our Christmas cutout cookies- dozens upon dozens of them. I had forgotten how many that recipe made- only that I loved that recipe. Oops. I made a cheesecake, really an experiment actually. I had some hard chocolate chip cookies that I thought would be a great crust on the cheesecake. I borrowed hubs muscles and had him crush the cookies and added butter to make the crust. It was a little less crunchy than a usual graham cracker crust but I decided to still try this out. Well, it just so happens that a decent amount of the butter leaked out and then proceeded to burn on the bottom of the oven. When I opened the oven to take the cake out, it looked like I had a raging fire inside. Oops. It wasn’t burnt so I let it cool and decided to save it for Christmas.
So, now I should probably stop here for a moment and explain a couple of things so this can make sense. Asher is a really good baby. Like abnormally good. He only cries when he’s hungry and it only gets bad when he’s really hungry. We know his rolly-polly appetite has him eating every 3-4 hours during the day so we seldom get to that point. Next, the older boys argue ALL THE TIME. Aden is the instigator and Elijah is the know it all. It’s just the dynamic of 6 and 9 year old brothers I guess. So, back to our evening. We’re getting ready to leave for our Christmas light tour and we are literally just down the street and Asher begins to fuss. Now, he had just eaten so we know he’s not hungry. He’s likely just fighting sleep. But, he’s fussing pretty good. Elijah who is sitting in the middle and serves as our helper in the car is getting annoyed- can you tell the honeymoon of the baby brother is over?? Aden of course has to say some smart remark, which Elijah retorts and then Asher starts to really cry. We are only about 5 miles from home at this point. Do we turn around and call it a night or just keep on truckin? We opted for the latter. After a good 20 minutes, Asher finally falls asleep. The boys are still bickering on and off but for the most part, they are peaceful. It was just weird though, there was no snow. It was so odd for Minnesota, and at Christmas time. It almost didn’t even feel like Christmas. After a couple of hours and some pretty neat lights, we get home and convince the boys to go to bed. I then dig into all my plans for a memorable Christmas morning. I put together the French toast bake stuff I had found on Pinterest (of course). I got the kitchen tidied up and we managed to get to bed earlier than the night before but still pretty late.
The next morning the boys were up before us as expected. Asher was fussing and the older boys were begging back and forth to begin opening gifts. Family started calling (probably forgetting we are an hour behind Michigan time) so the boys are really going crazy about opening presents. Typing this out now, it doesn’t sound as crazy as I felt it was that morning. I felt like the only thing to make it crazier would have been if a mariachi band showed up to serenade us. All the while, I’m forgetting to put the French toast stuff in the oven. The boys are now opening presents and digging into stockings- that of course have candy galore. I’m doing something in the living room, I can’t even remember, but it dawns on me that I have not started breakfast! Oops. I preheat the oven (forgetting that I had burned the butter the night before). A little while later I notice a vast amount of smoke coming out of the oven! Windows are opened again and we wait for the oven to cool before hubs comes to the rescue, cleans the oven, and gets the casserole baking. I forget to tell him that it has to be covered with foil. Oops. I’m still in the living room dealing with Christmas morning chaos- opening packages, putting toys together, trying to limit candy consumption, you know, the usual. Again forgetting the other breakfast casserole I had prepped the night before. The timer goes off and I get the casserole out. It’s completely toasted and crunchy on the top. Not in a good way either. That is when I remember that I was going to make the other casserole- which takes an hour to bake. I freak out a little bit because the complete success of Christmas day hinges on this perfect breakfast! Hubs calms me down- which I clearly needed at that point because every piece of this wonderful Christmas morning I had planned was going up in smoke- pun intended. He makes a rockin’ omelet using all of the ingredients from the casserole, it was huge AND delicious! And, he managed to salvage the French toast stuff! He’s part super hero I do believe. At this point, we realize that Elijah had eaten a WHOLE bag of Snickers and Aden was half way through a bag of Skittles. Nice breakfast right?
So, after the breakfast mishap we’re trying to get the boys ready to leave for the movies without tell them that we’re taking them to the movies. We had done great up to this point keeping it a secret. Until I spilled the beans. Totally by mistake though. I said it casually in a sentence and Elijah heard me and announced it to everyone. Oops. We make it to the movies and are getting settled in. Now, I’m a little nervous with Asher. We took him to the movies when he was about 8 weeks old and he was fine, slept the whole time. Lately he’s been a little more unpredictable. He’s usually a quiet kiddo. I had a bottle locked and loaded ready to use at the first little hiccup. Which happened to be about 30 minutes into the movie. I moved swiftly and had him bottled up in no time. Except he wasn’t too interested in the bottle, he just decided to start talking- baby talk that in most cases would be adorable. This time I was horrified because I didn’t want to be that family in the movie theater. I was rocking him like crazy, I’m surprised I didn’t break the springs in the chair. Even hubs said to take it easy I might make Asher motion sick. A short while later he finally fell asleep and I don’t believe that he caused any major issues. I certainly heard a number of toddler cries and candy wrappers that were louder than him. At least I think they were!
By the time we got home, it was time for dinner and then relaxing. At this point, everything else had gone differently than planned so I really had zero expectations for the rest of the evening. That, I think, was the most successful part of the day. It went fine because I had no expectation of what was supposed to happen. I realized three things throughout the day: I put way too much pressure on myself, my boys had an amazing Christmas even without all of the items I was stressing about and some of the best memories from this Christmas are the silly mishaps that happened.
I will not speak for other moms but I had a big reality check this year. I was putting way too much pressure on myself to do everything. I am one person with a lot on my plate so everything is not possible, and that’s okay. I believe as a society we often put the pressure on ourselves but do not often have people say it’s okay if we don’t do everything. It’s not a competition, it’s our own internal pressure to make sure that we’re doing all things possible because we fear missing something (impossible to avoid), doing something wrong (nobody is perfect) or not doing enough (providing love and support is what matters). At the end of the day, I have 3 very happy boys, a hubs who knows when to save the day (or get out of my determined way!) and a lot of memories. So, time for me to relax a little before I head back to work, and to reality. Maybe I can get lost in Pinterest for a few hours before then….