For many around the world - but certainly not all – the month of December has turned into this chaotic time warp. And time, as we once knew it, has turned into “Apple time” – you know when the time for installation and upgrades alternates (versus counts down) from 75 seconds to 43 days to 27 minutes and so on and then . . . TA DA! Done! What the hell? Who counts like that? And how did the holiday time become some sort of “iTime”?
The rush into the holiday season has turned into a crush of the holiday season. Every place is more crowded. Every person moves faster. (And if they aren’t, they should be!) Every decoration is bigger, more glamorous (or more gaudy). Every thing is wanted, not needed; and every thing that is needed is unaffordable. Exceptions are made that should never be made but are made anyway. Just this once . . . or maybe, twice . . . It becomes harder to breathe, much less be happy, jolly, merry or whatever the season calls for.
Families that should never visit for more than a few minutes arrive for the day or sometimes several such that it rolls into another unit of time, commonly referred to as “a week”. Relatives say exactly what you wish you couldn’t hear but expected to hear and it still irks you anyway. Sometimes they don’t say anything but somehow you know – you just know, dammit – that they are thinking it and probably saying it to each other when you’re not within earshot! And that irks you as well. And you walk around irked – which by the way is a really cool word and you may borrow it or just have it. (I won’t be irked, but I’ll need that word back in a little while. You’ll have to share it.)
Friends who should visit can’t because their own families are visiting and they are dealing with their own festivities, aka holiday madness. They are calling you instead of visiting. They are ranting about all the things that their relatives are saying (or not saying) that are irking them.
Are we having fun yet? Who knew a single short season could be so irkful? Irkulous? (And yes, I’m riffin’ now.)
But we hare having fun. Because, thank goodness, there is the wonder of small children with their eyes still sparkling, reflecting the lights of whatever holiday you observe. If we do a good job, we hide the chaos from them. We hide the worries. We hide the financial-what-have-we-just-done panic. We hide the work projects that demand our attention because their deadlines, of course, are at the end of the month. We hide how we feel about our favorite relatives because they are (mostly) favorite, just not necessarily right now. In general, we actually just hide from our children. It’s safer that way. Let them enjoy the season on their own. Let them ooh and ahh.
And then, unless Hannukah goes even later, the chaos screeches to a halt and stops. Or so we believe.
If you celebrate Kwanzaa, this is your week to celebrate – possibly with some of the issues noted above.
But, many of us have the hanging week. The dangling week. The week that is sandwiched between Christmas (and sometimes Hannukah) and numerous other holidays that are celebrated in countries around the world at this time . . . and . . . New Years which is celebrated by everyone around the world at this exact time.
For parents, our kids have no school and this is our week not just to return and exchange gifts in long lines in stores and post offices; not just to visit family (see above); not just to clean up the decorations and find places for all the gifts; but to spend quality time with tots to teens.
Quality time. Together. Family. Our own family.
In the age of technology – of movies that no one has to agree upon because we can all watch separately on our separate devices, where board games have become boring because tech has re-engineered our brains for constant color, faster pace, and more to do, to score, to level up, to win – this concept of family time is hugely challenging.
So we spend the week trying to avoid the guilt of demanding our kids be with us or subtly avoiding our kids all together. We send them to play with their new toys. We make play dates with friends. We continue the visits with relatives who are still here and we try to coax our kids out of their rooms to visit and take the pressure off our own visiting which then, of course, increases the pressure.
And then when school starts again, when work requires that we return, we go back to our regularly scheduled programming of runaway moments and lost opportunities to make real connections. We are often a lot more weary and are scratching our heads at all the ideas for what we could have done for fun but never did.
Why didn’t we?
You can still do it.
You can still find 2 board games and play for 15 minutes each. (Don’t demand hours. Ask for 15 minutes per game. A good game will last longer by default and no one will want to leave. After 15 minutes, anyone can choose to sit out and wait for the next game. But add a rule: no tech while waiting. Watch. Read a book. Hang out. Pretend there is no wifi. Deal with the panic of 15-30 minutes of no pings, rings, or dings.)
You can still agree on a movie by agreeing on several movies. Everyone picks 2 and each then narrows it down by agreeing on 1 of each person’s choices. Then schedule movie moments (afternoons or evenings) that can only be rescheduled in dire emergencies. Dire. Make snacks. Divert all other tech. (For the purposes of this exercise, microwave popcorn does not qualify as a “high tech” item.)
You can still toss everyone into the car and head to a museum – everyone chooses their fave (art, science, history, zoo, . . . ). The key? Set a timer for an hour. Big family? One museum every two weeks. Everyone goes. One hour. If, after an hour, people want to stay, only by unanimous agreement (teens included), you can choose to agree to another 30 minutes. After that, time is up – else you risk sudden meltdown and mutiny. Much better to leave with everyone (or most everyone) wanting to come back.
You can still toss everyone back into the car and head to a park, playground, hiking/skiing trail – again, everyone chooses a favorite. If you have mixed ages, get creative about what people are allowed to bring along. But leave the tech off. In fact, bring tech only if you have a crew likely to split up on trails; then tech is safety (unless, of course, the preferred tech requires an extension cord). Whether your weather is snow and cold or warm and summer, get the heck out there. Take a walk. Together. Even the grumpy kids will walk, particularly if they have a target in space or time. Maybe they’ll go faster, maybe slower – but make an effort to occasionally go their speed; talking is optional with grumps but walking together is not.
The holiday sandwich is not always likeable. It’s not always easy. It doesn’t always have the right ingredients so that everyone can enjoy.
Sometimes, in the chaos of “iTime” we need our routines to appreciate unscheduled time.
If you are a believer in “2016 Sucked”, then you are in luck. 2017 has arrived just in time. And the best way to make 2017 even better is to talk, spend time with your kids. You may not be able to change the world but you can alter your small part of it.
Resolve: A little less tech. A little more talk. A little more time.
Then go find something to do. Together.