Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Why You Won't Be Getting a Christmas Card from Me

Two or three years ago we (and by we I mean me) stopped sending out Christmas cards. You know the fun of shoving your kids in matching, itchy sweaters, driving around the mall parking lot, sitting in a crowded portrait studio, having over-worked frazzled college kids barking at your kids to “smile, dammit!” Okay, they may not actually say “dammit”, but we’re all thinking it. Then you have to pick out the least cringy picture, pay half a year’s salary for pictures of your own family, wait a week, drive back to the mall, keep repeating, “put it on your Christmas list” when your kids ask for every single item they pass on the way to the portrait studio, bring the pictures home, stuff them in 75 envelopes, teach your kids a new word when you get a paper cut, look up your Christmas card address list, try to remember who the hell all these people are, address, stamp, and send the envelopes “in time”. Yeah, I know, for a writer my run-on sentences need work, but that’s how crazy this makes me. My ADHD brain does not do well with multi-step instructions. It shuts down when the Your pictures are ready for pick up text comes on my phone. That’s after the ordeal of actually taking the damn pictures.

We don’t have a typical family. Getting everyone out of the house is next to impossible. Getting everyone out of the house on time and well dressed? Ha! My kids both have special needs. They, along with me, get overwhelmed very easily. For my oldest, getting to the mall, dealing with uncomfortable clothing, bright lights, crowds, and noise, and being forced to smile through it all is draining. My youngest is on the autism spectrum. Some days, putting shoes on is an epic battle. To give you an idea, I’ve already gotten a letter home from school about the number of tardys this year. Winning over here, people. Once we get to the destination, he wants to touch/lick everything. He struggles with verbal instructions and receptive language in a perfect environment. In a crowded, hot, bright studio where a strange lady on the verge of tears is telling (begging) him to “Sit there, no, there, put your arm around your brother. No, like this. Don’t touch the prop. Don’t touch the light. You moved. Smile. Hold still. Smile. Don’t touch the teddy bear I just put next to you. Smile. Now let’s take 872 more poses,” well, you get the picture. No pun intended.
“But, Kat, you know you could have a photographer come to your house and take the pictures? You could do them outside!”
I could, even with all the dog hair. The thing is, that wouldn’t eliminate the other 70 steps involved in sending out the damn pictures. Now, I get the fact that for some “normal” individuals, addressing and stamping envelopes and putting them in the mail box is no big deal. Some people love giving and receiving Christmas cards. Great. Don’t let me steal your joy. But we’ve kept up with the sending of the Christmas cards because it’s expected. Yes, I like to have pictures of my family, but at this point I’d rather have the pictures reflect our real life – mismatched socks, messy hair, and no one looking at the camera. Probably a dog photo bombing. So, you won’t be getting a Christmas card from me even though I’m thinking of you, I wish you a Merry Christmas, and I will save the picture you send of your beautiful family. Except for that one person. Just kidding.

When we stopped sending Christmas cards, we violated an expectation, and we heard about it. The lady my mom worked with thirty years ago wants to know why she didn’t get a card from us. Was it lost in the mail? Third cousins twice removed felt slighted. Yes, I’m exaggerating, but only slightly.

You won’t be getting a Christmas card from me and it’s not because I hate you. It’s actually not you, it’s me. I can’t keep up and it’s one thing I’ve chosen to let go. If you want pictures of our family, I’ll be glad to send them via text in all their imperfect glory. If you want to take pictures of the kids at a holiday get together, by all means. Please send me copies! But I won’t be sending Christmas cards. Here’s my Christmas greeting: Merry Christmas to you and your family, and a happy New Year to everyone on my Christmas card list and anyone reading. Except that one person.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Tis the Season to Be Stressed Out

            Tis the season to be merry. Joy to the world. Right? Right?! Okay, let’s be real. I’ve always loved Christmas. I’ve been one of those annoying people who starts listening to Christmas music before the jack-o-lanterns rot. My husband and I have a friendly debate about it every year. When I was a kid, Christmas meant Hallmark movies, picking out the best tree on the lot, eggnog, and circling creepy dolls in catalogs. For us, it first and foremost means hearing the story of Jesus’s birth.

            As an adult, I was excited to carry on Christmas traditions, my favorite of which is hosting Christmas Eve. My best childhood memories include sitting around with cousins, eating too much, and having a “surprise” visit from “Santa” aka my dad, parents clapping hands over the mouths of older kids who tried to declare that was just Uncle Don. Damn those older kids, ruining the magic for everyone. That happens, though, doesn’t it? We lose the magic. Joy to the world becomes stress to the world. Tis the season to be crazy.

            It’s fun to decorate with my kids, showing them decorations that date back to my grandma. I love seeing them count down the days until Christmas and picking out the gifts. We still host Christmas Eve, though we can’t get anyone to play Santa anymore. I’ve tried soliciting some of my neighbors, but they’re all mysteriously busy on Christmas Eve. Weird. Most of the kids have outgrown the belief. Hopefully, I still have a few years with my six-year-old.

            Where am I going with this? Here’s the thing. Every single year I, like every other adult, jump on a hamster wheel while the Thanksgiving dishes soak and fall off, exhausted, somewhere around January 15th. I’m a straight up Scrooge by December 25th. Every year I tell myself this year I’ll let go of the stress and really enjoy this season instead of it being a whirlwind. I’ll focus on what really matters and let the rest go. Yet every year the messages come in. OMG, 27 shopping days left! Amazon delivery is behind! What does everyone want for Christmas? Hurry, decorate! Make cookies! Watch all the Christmas movies in my abundant free time! Go to everyone’s holiday party! An introvert’s dream!

            By the time the wrapping paper I inevitably spend all night Christmas Eve securing around gifts is strewn across the living room and my kids are arguing about whether or not it can be recycled I’m left feeling…. empty. I doubt I’m alone. Holidays are hard for a lot of people, and not just because of the added to-dos. This past week my pastor was talking about keeping the Sabbath. In his typical gentle/challenging way, he said, “Don’t raise your hands, but how many of you remember when you’ve last actually rested on the seventh day? Left the dishes in the sink? They’ll still be there Monday. Are you waiting until after the Christmas season to keep the Sabbath?”

            Now, he said this to a group of women, so you can imagine the response. I heard someone say, “I wish he’d tell my boss I need a day off!” His point was, why do we think we have to do it all, and we’re the only ones who can? Well, I have an answer: expectations.

            Whether we get it from our families, Facebook, our kids, or our own internal pressures, we all have a running list of what we should be doing. We feel like if we don’t do all the holiday things we are somehow failing. Actually, when we do all the things we get less out of the season, or at least that’s true for me. So, a few years ago I decided to let some Christmas tasks go for my own sanity. Let me tell you, it was a big deal, but I’m still on that hamster wheel. I have to figure out what other corners I can cut.

How do you keep from going crazy during the holidays? Please, please share! Unless your answer is, “I love doing all the things; it just takes a little organization, that’s all!” If that’s your answer, please return to the Hallmark movie from which you escaped and let me know which one it is, so I can make sure it never shows up on my DVR. Thanks.