I’m just not a big fan of the holiday blog posts. I generally cannot relate to the happiness quotient.
They irk me as much as those holiday letters that reflect an entire year of only perfect moments in someone's else's less-than-perfect-but-shhhhhhh-don't-tell-anyone life.
I get the magic of the holidays – but only if I pause long enough to stare into the eyes of my now-young-adult-but-not-so-long-ago-much-younger daughters.
But, I have to say that even they are very tired of the muss and fuss; of the retail season that is thrust upon everyone one of us months in advance; of the "take down this decor to put up that" – only to repeat it again in a few weeks but in reverse.
My girls are wanting less to-do time so that we can have more together-time. It took decades, but they figured out the magic of the season.
Thus, our family traditions are being reinvented to minimize what had turned into “routine chaos”.
Routine chaos usually begins with any holiday that means that your kids have a longer break than you do. Everyone’s schedule changes. And it’s not always for the better or the saner.
Kids get time-and-a-half off for their supposed good behavior at their job (read: school). And for that, you get to rush around trying to:
- spend quality time with those barely-recognizable children who spend more hours in school and extracurricular activities than they do with you. (“Put away the tech!!! Let’s do something together! You pick. And, no, not a video game.”);
- sqeeeeeeeze and appease all the relatives who will be slighted beyond the usual “hrumph” if you don’t make as much time for them as you do for other relatives – and yes, they have a score sheet;
- spend time with caring friends who are decidedly not using spreadsheets to compare your time with them vs anyone else because, hell, they are having the exact same issues you are and they are just grateful you are NOT keeping track;
- see every doctor, dentist, orthodontist, allergist, and every other specialist (including the vet) when everyone "has off" so you DON'T have to figure out how your child can make up the exam that they missed because of your not-so-excellent school-year scheduling karma AND it doesn’t require that you take an increasingly-scarce sick day. (Wait: You’re allowed sick days?)
Routine Chaos: It’s predictable. It’s the holiday season. Spring break. Summer vacation. Fall break.
Year after year. You know it’s coming. You plan it – often in minute detail. You look forward to it. (Well, some of you do.)
There are always attempts to reconfigure it for the next round to include more relaxation.
But that never works.
Expect chaos, and you will achieve a much more zen time with family, friends, and, even, relatives.
And, by the way, for those people keeping track of your overly-scheduled time (a combination of artistic prowess and project management skills), you may give yourself permission to free up someone else's scoreboard and claim that time for YOU instead.
Highly recommended. Not easy, but highly recommended.
And every therapist in the world will congratulate and hug you for your courage and honesty (even if you have to tell a white lie to get out of seeing that yet-another-required-person to free up you-space).
One more thing regarding together time: when you turn the tech off, have a pre-planned agreement of what you will all do in order to avoid the sheer unplugged panic.
Board games don’t have to be played on the screen, for instance, and you can still buy them – even the original retro ones without the plastic bits and eye-grating revamped design!
Ditto card games on that no-screen-necessary concept.
Ditto anything involving the great outdoors and a ball or bike or tent in the yard; or, depending on your weather, a snowmen family or treehouse or Little Free Library construction project.
Ditto family movie night that ends in a popcorn food fight followed by a treasure hunt of who can find the most pieces and ending with hugs before your teens even know you hugged 'em.
Be creative. Be crazy. Let your kids and family know that any idea is up for a majority agreement and if it’s not unanimous, then oh gee, you’ll have to spend even more time together with Plans B, C, and D.
Finally, remember to this: Be decidedly un-adult. That is: let your guard down and find your inner child again. That’s a gift for everyone including yourself! A little mess. A lotta laughter. And a lot of utter silliness.
Routine Chaos. I can’t say I recommend it. I can’t say I enjoy the anticipation of all the changes in schedules and moods. But I can say that when I let go of my “have-to’s” and encourage more “want-to’s” for myself and for others, it’s a helluva lot more fun.
And I love those moments.
With the people I love.
Memory makers. Our way. Routine chaos becomes a family tradition of laughter and letting go.
Not just a mouse.
A dead mouse.
Not really freshly dead, but not exactly shriveled up and odor-free, either.
And not just an almost fresh dead mouse, but a dead mouse who may have ingested rat poison that the landlord used in our newly rented home while the house was between tenants.
And there’s more.
Because Rory-the-mouse-eating-dog is not just a dog.
She’s a service dog-in-training. A 6-month old puppy who just passed round 1 of her service dog tests. This is one brilliant dog. (Mouse consumption notwithstanding.)
However, she has become the gold-plated dog. The dog who costs just that much more with pet insurance and personalized training sessions to meet my daughter’s particular needs.
The dog who oozes the promise to give my 18-year-old her independence – in about 2 more long-short years.
So here we are in the story: Dog eats dead mouse. Mom/driver is not home. And you know this scenario, because these situations only happen after an excruciating long day. The kind where you at least remembered to eat the banana on your way out 10 hours ago. Where you scrounged for a few apple chips. Where there was some water intake at some point but I know my PCP and probably The Surgeon General are not particularly happy with me.
It’s 8:30pm and I’m on my way home. Dinner. Quiet. Collapse. In that order. That is the plan. HA. It’s when parents believe this, dream this, need this, that we can’t possibly achieve the plan. It will never happen.
It didn’t happen.
So this is the panicked call from my daughter in short: Dog ate mouse. Dead mouse. Rat poison?
Now you also need to know that the dog doesn’t eat the dead mouse during normal vet hours; she waits until 10 whole minutes after closing. So the ER vet advises: get the dog to the ER vet hospital where vomiting will be induced.
Dead mouse + rat poison → dog vomit.
My resourceful, calmly panicked daughter finds out what to do to get a dog to vomit. (Check with your own vet.) She administers the fluids and waits while I am driving and hoping and trying not to share the same very real fears of my daughter but, of course, I am fearful. For the dog. For her. For our finances. For the guilt I am feeling over thinking about finances “at a time like this”. And I am exhausted. And still driving.
20 minutes. 10 minutes. 5 minutes . . .
I approach the house, bluetoothing <Hey Merriam Webster: new word alert!> my daughter on her phone to get the dog ready to race to the vet. Because, of course, the dog won’t vomit.
Now, here’s the secret – not the point of the story but the secret – that every dog owner who needs their dog to urgently vomit must know: It’s not the liquid alone that will work (not all the time, anyway). It’s a combo package: liquid and …
Because 1 (one) block from the house, that dog starts projectile vomiting all over the back of the car. She covers it. Floor. Backs of front seats. Fronts of back seats. And of course the seat itself. She misses nothing. She’s on a roll. She covers every inch. Every seam. Every crevice.
People within a two-county radius probably heard my daughter screaming that the previously digested mouse is now emphatically undigested and "swimming" straight toward her in this newly created river of dog liquid.
This is my daughter: “My thighs hurt!! I can’t sit!! The mouse is underneath me! But I’m okay!! I’m okay!!” and of course: “EWWWWW!”
Followed by more dog hurl.
Me? I’m driving. Singularly focused: Get dog to vet. Getdog tovet. Getdogtovet.
My daughter is calling the same ER vet. “Hold, please <endless line buzz> . . . Oh, the vet-on-duty just said there was no need for your dog to vomit because the amount of poison ingested by the mouse would be so small.” No joke. All vomit. All over.
“But,” says my daughter with her quivering thighs, “I just called a little while ago and you told me to make her throw up.”
Answer: “Well, you don’t need to bring the dog in any more.” (Now, just for the record, the next day, the dog’s real and actual doctor said yes, please get the dog to vomit vermin. So there. Justice in the world exists even for dog-eating-vermin with loving-panicked owners and loving-but-exhausted moms.)
I pull into a convenience store and my daughter proceeds to wipe out the car, dead mouse and all. (Apparently, we carry paper towels in our car for just such occasions.) And yes, the mouse is relegated to its own bag, jic (just in case) there is a need for the mouse autopsy. What do I know? Saving the dead mouse seems relevant.
I also know enough not to help. Partly I am just certain that if I move from the driver’s seat, exhaustion will shove me over the cliff. I will lie prone near the gas pumps mumbling “dogmouseprojectle”. I stay in my seat reciting my new mantra: Getushome. Withdog. Getushomewithdog.
But, I also know that this is one of those mean mother moments that my daughter will grow from more by my not helping, not taking over, not just getting it cleaned up faster or better or whatever I may not be clearly thinking. I know enough to know that I don’t want to clean up vomit and dead mouse any more than she does, but if I do, she won’t. And she needs to. And she did – while crying from relief, laughing at the insanity, and collapsing from her own exhaustion. Rory is no longer vomiting, by the way. Rather, she seems quite content to not help and just supervise with her puppy dog eyes as she plops herself down on the seat. (Yes, now dog is covered, too.)
In the back of my addled brain, I somehow know that life with a service dog, living independently one day a long-short time from now, will mean handling the vomit and the vermin that come her way.
While my job was to be the driver (she cannot drive), my bigger job was to let this be my daughter’s journey and to let her lead the way. GPS be damned.
And that is the point of parenting.
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.