I’m Sick and Tired of December

I’m not Scrooge and I’m not the Grinch, either—but December is enough to make me feel like one of those guys. It’s only December 6, and I’m feeling sick and tired of this month.

Could we schedule anything else? Seriously. I cut back on parties and try to simplify, just like nice mommy articles suggest. I do. I make or buy four carefully chosen presents per child in pre-set categories, so I don’t overspend. I refuse every invitation I can. But what else are we going to cut? The first grade Gingerbread Man play, the Christmas piano recital, or the December Dance Showcase? The Christmas Cruise or the Living Nativity? The ward Christmas party that we’re helping with or the employees’ Christmas party (not that—I got to meet Ben Huff’s parents!)? I admit that I set myself up for failure years ago by starting traditions like decorating the Monday after Thanksgiving without fail and cooking a specific Christmas Eve dinner, Christmas day morning breakfast, and Christmas day luncheon. What am I going to do—disappoint everyone by serving cold cereal and leftovers? Refusing to put up decorations this year like I threatened to do? Every year my dreams of sitting cozily by the Christmas tree and reading cute stories flitter away just like the glitter dust we throw at the city’s “Lights On” Ceremony.

I am tired of decorations. There is too much clutter and mess, and I resent the time it takes to put it all up and the time it takes to put it all down, not to mention the annoyance of cleaning around and over and through holly garlands, Christmas figurines, and pine needles. I make Christmas jam in June or July for neighbor gifts, but I still have to deliver them and carol at the doors for a list of people that grows longer by the year—not that I’m complaining about having too many friends, truly I’m not. But I am tired of organizing my Christmas card list (why do you people have to move to new houses all the time?), folding cards, addressing envelopes, and sticking stamps. But I love to receive cards and hear what people from my past are doing, so I have to send out mine.

And service projects. Don’t even get me started. You are going to get mad at me, I just know it. But I have to tell you that I am pretty sick of service, too—or at least, of service projects. We have the ward service project, the elementary school service project, the middle school service project, the National Junior Honor Society project, and various school class service projects. There is the homeless shelter food drive and pick-up, as well as the deserving people and organizations asking for help and donations at every single store or business I go to this month. In the mode of “cutting back on Christmas,” I’m skipping the service-learning project in my class this semester (Shhh. Don’t tell.) and the December blood drive. I’m sorry. I know I’m being sarcastic, so you might not believe me when I say that I feel guilty about my bad attitude. Money is tight, but there’s still that nasty choking in my throat each time I walk by the ringing bells of the Salvation Army and don’t hear my coins clink in their metal buckets. I gave at the last three stores, so I have to avert my eyes when the cashier asks, “Do you want to donate to ____?” and I say with pretended cheerfulness, “Not today!”

I wonder what all this teaches my children about service. I want them to love being charitable, so you’d think that would make me want to run around doing every single service project out there. That would set a good example of service, right? Oh, it makes me tired just thinking about it. My Christmas dream is to slow down and focus on our family service project. It’s personal, it’s serious, and it hits close to home. My children are emotionally invested in our project, and I think it’s important for them to actually work and serve in a way that impacts their lives. Our family service project was chosen to do that. But what about the rest of the projects? What do my kids learn when they see their exhausted, Christmas-worn mom run to the store (again) and shell out a few more dollars for one more can of this or that, which they then toss flippantly into the service box at school? They don’t learn the value of money, the value of time, or the value of their mom. They think service is bringing a note home, showing it to the adult, and carrying back whatever the adult tucked into the recycled grocery bag. What can I do? The projects are all worthy and valuable, but we’re spread so thin. I’m left feeling haggard, miserly, and guilty, and I hate December for making me feel like that.

So that is my whining. I’m sick and tired of December. Or maybe I’m just tired. That happens to me occasionally. But I’ve decided to suffer through for a couple of reasons. First, I can never get enough Christmas music. Bring me carols, ring me bells, sing me “Hallelujah.” Praise the Lord in song! One month is not nearly long enough to listen to everyone from Fred Waring to Rebecca St. James, from David Lanz to my new favorite, Celtic Woman. The peace and joy that is supposed to be Christmas pours down and washes over me through a rousing rendition of “Hark the Herald!” or “Joy to the World!” Even a serene, instrumental version will cause me to take a deep breath, smile, and remember. Because there is something else I can never get enough of: celebrating the birth of my Savior. A baby was born in Bethlehem, and I believe he grew up to become my way, my truth, and my light. A mere month per year is not nearly long enough to honor Him.

With the first snow of the season drifting down outside, me feeling warm and cozy here on my soft couch, the white lights of the Christmas tree sparking in that bright glow of white winter, and the kids still fast asleep, the clutter and confusion fade for a minute. A cup of hot cocoa would complete the Christmas image, but today is Fast Sunday. I’ll be fasting in gratitude.

43 comments for “I’m Sick and Tired of December

  1. Bob
    December 6, 2009 at 11:20 am

    Well..at least you don’t have to get football in too (?)

  2. Ginger
    December 6, 2009 at 11:52 am

    Wow, I see lots of things in there that you feel are necessary, but we don’t do, and everyone survives just fine. Do you really need a Christmas Eve dinner, Christmas morning breakfast, and Christmas Luncheon? No. We do “junk” sugary cereals for breakfast, and the kids love it. It’s a special treat on Christmas day. If I do a fancy Christmas Eve dinner, we don’t do a fancy Christmas dinner, and vice versa. The best year was last year, when one of our good friends invited us for Christmas Eve dinner, and then we had them over the next day for Christmas dinner.
    This year I have one nativity up, and our Christmas tree, and no one misses all the boxes of other decorations that usually go up. This year we won’t be at home for most of the season, and I didn’t feel like dragging everything out. You know what? The kids haven’t even mentioned that there are no nutcrackers up, or other garlands and what not. Not even the stocking are hung.
    I think we still too often set expectations for ourselves that others might not care about. Do the things your children will really love and remember (your ONE family project), but forget about the other things the kids won’t think about past their nose.

  3. December 6, 2009 at 11:58 am

    I let the grandchildren, ages 2-9, decorate our tree this year and it really doesn’t look much worse than when I spend 2 hours fussing with it. Too bad our ornaments are glass and I still have to pack them carefully afterwards.

  4. Kylie
    December 6, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    That’s great, course correction. I actually neglected to mention that neither I nor the children have gotten around to decorating the tree. I’m thinking white lights might work just fine this year.

    Ginger, I don’t know where you live. If you’re in Utah, we could be friends and split the Christmas Eve/Dinner. What do you say? Great advice, by the way. Thanks for releasing my guilt over the service projects.

    And, Bob, you were right. No football. . . . Thank goodness.

  5. December 6, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    I’ve had this idea of writing up an article titled Four Christmases, to talk about different ways of seeing and celebrating Christmas. For quite a few years, I’ve done a very minimal Christmas celebration, although it’s picked up recently — last year we had a natural tree, and some lights in some of the windows.

    This is voluntary space. Nobody does everything possible. And the point is not to work yourself into the ground — it’s to remember the gift the Savior is to each of us, and how important it is that he came into the world for us. It reminds us of his example, and his call to come and follow him. That is the most important (IMO) of the four Christmases — the one where we remember and try to follow him. The one with the decorations and programs and music and gifts for others is also good, but not when it gets in the way of the first. It’s not about loving the Savior, then, and about worshiping the expectations of others instead. It’s just one of the ways it’s easy to jump the track of worshiping the Savior by means of serving others (for example) and make it about the others instead.

  6. z
    December 6, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    I think it’s often hard to face up to the fact that we can blow off a lot of things and nobody will care. If you go to a lot of trouble for 10 years, and then stop and nobody notices, did they care about your efforts for the previous 10 years? Maybe not, and that’s kind of upsetting.

  7. Dan
    December 6, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    You’re always welcome to come also to our Old Testament Symposium in the Inwood building in northern Manhattan if you’re in New York next Saturday. :)

  8. Kevin Barney
    December 6, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    I agree with Ginger; I see lots of stuff here that you could profitably cut. For one example, our tradition is to eat out Christmas Eve, everyone for themselves with cereal or whatever they want for breakfast, and Christmas dinner is at Grandma’s house, so no cooking at all.

    Last year I was feeling the financial strain of supporting two kids in college for quite a number of years together with a contracted income due to the economy. So I wrote in my family letter that I wasn’t going to send my siblings presents this year, just cards. I think it was probably a relief, because for years I’ve been the only one to send actual presents among the siblings. I liked doing it, but the world didn’t end when I stopped, and that cessation is going to be permanent. We’ve gone years when we just never got around to sending out cards, and we just let it go.

    I seriously think you should scale way back. Pick the things that you and your family really enjoy and concentrate on those without trying to do everything. Having extra decorations up isn’t worth having a frazzled, tired mother in the home.

  9. Julie M. Smith
    December 6, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    The sentiment reflected in this post is one I hear a lot this time of year and never quite know what to do with because it is so different from my reality. Maybe because we homeschool, maybe because I only have a few very special (to me) decorations, maybe because people hate us so we are never invited to anything, maybe because I shop online, maybe because I’m oblivious to social cues and so buy/send/make very few gifts, I don’t know, but December is always so blissfully calm and quiet around here: lots of Monopoly and hot chocolate and time at home reading all snuggled together.

  10. E
    December 6, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    I agree that many of the things you have listed seem like they would be easy to scale back or eliminate. Since no one has said anything about neighbor gifts, I’ll add that. We don’t take things to our neighbors/friends. It is not necessary. I seriously doubt anyone is offended or wonders why we didn’t bring them that plate of cookies or pint of jam. Think about it: when people bring you these little things, it’s nice, but aren’t you already drowning in cookies, candies, and “stuff”? Do you even give a thought to who didn’t bring you something? These things should only be done if they are truly meaningful to you, because for most of the people you bring stuff to, it really does not matter at all whether you do it or not.

  11. living in zion
    December 6, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    I am having t-shirts made for my friends this year. They are dark blue with white letters, BYU style. The saying on them is “I’m not bitter, I’m just tired”.

    Tell me where and I will happily send you one. You can going our club.

  12. Kylie
    December 6, 2009 at 7:20 pm

    Sounds fabulous, #11. I could wear that T-shirt on lots of days.

  13. Kylie
    December 6, 2009 at 9:48 pm

    Ookay, okay–I watched the First Presidency broadcast, too. And I knew the answer was “simplify” long before I wrote this blog.

    And, just so you know, this was exaggerated a bit for effect. I actually didn’t put up the decorations: my daugher who just couldn’t live without them said she would do it herself if I didn’t feel like it. She did. And, for some odd reason, the first week of the month is clearly going to be the worst . . . was everyone trying to avoid me the “hassle” and “rush” that would happen later in the month? Apparently everyone had the same idea. Oh, and my Christmas shopping was done three weeks ago. I’m odd like that.

  14. Garrett
    December 6, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    “Nothing is so bad that whining about it won’t make it worse.” – J.R. Holland

  15. Johnna
    December 6, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    I get what you’re talking about. Maybe you have to be a mother of teen children to get it. I think I hit the wall December 2nd this year.

    The traditions things is hard. Two years ago I sat down with my kids and found out which elements of the traditional meals and activities they actually remembered, let alone which were most important to them–which was an easy way to drop some elements–and then asked them what pieces they were going to take on, because I just couldn’t do it all. Last year we spent Christmas in NYC, which at least broke the back on some of the must-dos.

    I’m ducking some of the service projects too. It’s one thing to have a handful of kids under the age of 7. It’s different when that same handful of kids have recitals and projects and parties.

  16. Jeni
    December 7, 2009 at 12:10 am

    Kylie, I used to try to do it all, too – we even planned gifts for the bus driver! A few years ago our family hit some very rough times, and out of necessity, it all changed. My children did not share my disappointment in all that we “lost.” In fact, I have learned that they are most happy when I plan nothing and do nothing at all. They don’t really care much about most of the activities. Try this: Take a night off and cancel everything. Put your pj’s on and just SIT on the couch and do NOTHING. (This can be a lot harder than it sounds!) Watch as your kids come by – they’ll sit by you, they’ll talk to you, they’ll wonder what’s going on. Or maybe they won’t notice you and you can just watch them. Cooperate with whatever they feel like doing as long as you don’t have to go anywhere. The first time I did this I was actually so overwhelmed I felt dizzy and ill. But by the time bed time rolled around, the kids thought we’d had the best day in months! Now I do this from time to time just for fun – and every time it’s been a priceless experience. Good luck enjoying the season!

  17. JoAnna Collida
    December 7, 2009 at 1:02 am

    My girls are 12 and 14 this year-and put up the tree by themselves while I enjoyed a night out with my husband. What a nice surprise! As a teacher, taking care of in-laws who no longer drive (this is good for all mankind), and with two very busy children (you know the drill), I’ve found that God has done the “simplifying” for me. I “simply” know what can and can’t be done. Last year we started a new tradition. After morning gifts, we, as a family, delivered meals to shut-in’s. What an experience for the girls-they can’t wait to do it again this year. Don’t fret and don’t whine-it’s all good! You’ll make it girl! Did I mention that all 20 girls in the 5th grade want a pair of my too cool ornament earrings? Now where do I fit THAT in? :)

  18. M
    December 7, 2009 at 1:15 am

    Although many of the service projects can’t be avoided since they’re organized by others, some of the things you mentioned are in need of service year-round, such as the homeless shelter. Instead of feeling compelled by social pressure to participate when everyone else is participating, just schedule to help out later on in the year when they still need just as much help, but it’s not on most people’s minds.

  19. Stephanie
    December 7, 2009 at 9:36 am

    I hear ya. And I want a t-shirt, too.

  20. anon
    December 7, 2009 at 10:56 am

    Then just don’t. None of it is necessary. Hire one of the 13yo girls in the ward to put up your decorations, hire a 16yo guy to put up the lights. Don’t give out neighbor presents, don’t go caroling, and don’t cook that Christmas dinner. Order out pizza. No one is going to miss you, or your jam, THAT MUCH. Seriously. No cards, no pictures, no cookies.

    Do what you want to…get out those books and sit by the tree and read. Life is to short. Do what matters most. Let your neighbors buy their jam this month. Admire the lights across the street and forget about yours. Create some new traditions. You are not bound to follow a certain meal just because you ate it the year before. Whats wrong with cereal??? Let everyone pick out their own box. They’ll love it.

    After losing a child 2 months before Christmas, I realized very quickly how little actually NEEDED to be done for the holidays. Cherish the moments you have with your kids RIGHT NOW. And stop making it about following a LIST of have-to’s. There is no rule that you HAVE to do any of it.

  21. Julie M. Smith
    December 7, 2009 at 11:14 am

    Thank you, anon.

    It seems that many find it difficult to apply the counsel we are so frequently given about not overscheduling our children to the month of December, which might be the single most important month when it applies.

  22. Rosalynde Welch
    December 7, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    Hang in there, Kylie! I guess I have a different view from many of the commenters here; I think there is real value in all the many things you are doing. With the crucial caveat that if you truly are sinking then you should cut out whatever needs cutting without hesitation, and your kids and neighborhood will be fine—with that caveat in mind, I think you should keep doing as much of it as you want to. And I think that you’re like me in that you really do *want* to do most of it, even if you’re tired or hassled some of the time. (I’m not as busy as you, probably because my kids are younger, but I’m sure my time is coming.)

    I think maybe the problem is that we’re not doing quite what we *think* we’re doing at Christmastime—we think we’re celebrating the birth of the Savior, or teaching our children about service. And there is plenty of that, as there should be. But the group service projects, the parties, the gifts and cards, the performances—they aren’t about service or Christ, directly, they’re about making community. They’re the very stuff that community is built of, inasmuch as they create shared institutions that serve our joint interests and invest our own welfare in our neighbors’. That is an immensely valuable kind of work to do; a vibrant community that teaches, nurtures and supports our children is an invaluable gift, and one that money will never be enough to buy—only time and relationships will. So keep it up, most of it, if you can. People like you make the world go round.

  23. December 7, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    I echo everything Rosalynde says, Kylie. Christmas–all holidays, really, but for better or worse, in the United States today most especially Christmas–is a time for building up social capital, for community-building, whether within one’s own family or within your neighborhood or ward or within an even larger circle of associates, friends, and perhaps anonymous others. Christ is the reason for the season, but He’s only indirectly it’s substance; the substance is the fellowship which service and traditions make possible. Granted that many attempts at fellowship and community are exhausting and may ring hollow, but I think that just means we should try to find other ways to accomplish the same ends, not abandon the ends themselves.

  24. December 7, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    Ky, it’s especially hard when you happen to be descended from several bona fide domestic goddesses. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts you can give your children (esp. K and S) this year is permission to do less in a decade or two when they’re in charge. But I give a hearty amen to Rosalynde’s comment, and salute you for all you give your family year-round!

  25. document
    December 7, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    Someone made a comment to me at church when I said “no” to joining the stake choir for a multi-church Xmas concert. It wasn’t directly to me, but it was about me. I said no to the bishop and the fellow behind me says, “It is a shame when good musicians won’t catch the Christmas spirit and give their time to the church.” I turned around and told him that musicians give more than anyone else through (save Bishops and Financial Clerks) the Christmas season, especially in a ward where I am the only pianist and organist, and in a stake where I am the only organist who is willing to tackle difficult pieces. I love Christmas music, but by the end of the month I want to jump off a bridge. :)

  26. Craig H.
    December 7, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    Rosalynde and Russell,

    I don’t know about community-building being only indirectly about Christ. Seems to me it was his main concern, at least the way I read at-onement and reconciling and how the main purpose of the meetings of early Christians was…fellowship, including a full meal, the Eucharistic meal. The problem is not the activities at Christmas, maybe, but the approach: if the activities are seen as a list of to-do’s, the community ideal is missed or felt to be lacking. I can’t think of anything better to celebrate and promote than community, in the small (one on one, small group) or large sense.

  27. Naismith
    December 7, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    “…and Christmas dinner is at Grandma’s house, so no cooking at all.”

    Except for Grandma, of course:)

  28. Kylie
    December 7, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    Anon (20), thank you for sharing; I can’t imagine how difficult that made your holiday season. My prayers go out to you–your life experience puts things in perspective.

    I am glad for those of you who simplified drastically and had children who didn’t miss it at all. Personally my worst memory of Christmas (besides the one where I got sick and threw up all Christmas day) was when my parents cut the traditions, put the tree up in the wrong room so furniture didn’t have to be switched around, and took us to my uncle’s house for Christmas Eve dinner where we ate greasy roast duck instead of clam chowder. So wrong. I have at least 2 children like me who are more like me: tradition-oriented. I felt loved, supported, and calmed by doing the same things year after year. I even like decorations to go in the same places, which I admit is probably getting a bit OCD-ish.

    Thanks Rosalynde and Russell. You are saying something clearly that rings true to me; I love pulling my friends together with their families and going to the Living Nativity and hot chocolate (simplified to hot chocolate at McD’s instead of hosted at my own home) and when my best friend from 4th grade sends me a Christmas card. There is a sense of belonging and continuity that blesses my life and–I think–other’s. And I think Craig H explained how to do it well: enjoy it and love the moment rather than looking at the calendar and panicking about the “to do” of it all.

  29. December 7, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    Kylie, being a scrooge is quite “in,” don’t you know? Just don’t give a list of things you love about December and you’re bound to get nothing but virtual hugs, nods of approval and empathy, and probably chocolate in the mail. Yum!

    In any case, I think you’re beating yourself up over nothing. Or being a martyr to the holiday gods or something. Not to accused of severly lacking in understanding and sympathy for your holiday needs and birth-order trauma, but why not just do the stuff you like? Do you have Christmas police roaming the grounds?

    I love traditions, but can’t do them all every year. And if I don’t feel like doing something and someone else is in angst about it, then I make deals. First, THEY can take over and do it. Second, I can do it if they do something else I want done.

    How many things can you handle? Three? If so, make a list of your usual traditions and let everyone vote on their three favorite or let everyone pick one or something. Let the rest go.

    I’m a firm believer that:

    (1) If you do something twice it’s a tradition.
    (2) There is no rule on subsequent frequency of traditions. If you do them “some Christmases when we feel like it and when there’s a good day for it and when we have enough money” that’s a perfectly good tradition.

  30. December 7, 2009 at 5:50 pm

    anon #20 amen to that!

  31. Stephanie
    December 7, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    One of my goals this year has been to decide what our traditions for our family are. They are nothing like what I imagined when I was younger. I imagined my house would be covered with festivities, I would bless the community with all my good deeds, my house would smell good with all sorts of baked concoctions. However, I have four really, really REALLY energetic and obnoxious little boys who thrash the house like nothing else. And a new angelic baby girl. My health started deteriorating from the stress of my mom living with us for a few years, and I haven’t been able to regain it yet. So, I decided that we need a few simple and inexpensive traditions for each holiday that we can keep up each year – no matter if DH is in the Bishopric or Bishop or worse, or if I am pregnant (please not ever again), or if I am just so busy with needful demands that I can’t do the wants. Plus, my boys could really give a rat’s behind about most things. I think that is one of the most frustrating thing to me about being their mother. They care about really stupid stuff that I don’t care about, and DON’T care about the things that I find important (like a Christmasy house).

    Anyways (since I am bitter today I’ll just stop now), I’ve taken an inventory of what my kids enjoy and what I can handle and what I feel is enough to bond our family through our traditions. We’ve been whittling down Christmas for years, but this is all it is now: decorate the tree (only got out some of the ornaments this year), put out nativities the kids can play with (I’d like to get them all out, but I just haven’t had a chance), and do the angel tree. That is our #1 favorite tradition that has to happen every year. Each of my children picks a child off the tree. We decide what to get and shop for it. My kids really get into it. We end up spending the same (or more) on the angel tree kids than we do on our own kids. My boys get to choose 3 presents for themselves for Christmas, and they each give 3 presents to another child. I feel good about that.

    And we attend Christmas parties that we are invited to. Someday I would like to host my own party, but it is too stressful right now with all our chaos. Oh, and we listen to Christmas music in the car. My boys LOVE that. And send out Christmas cards.

    That’s pretty much it. I hope that as they get older (and hopefully a little cleaner and more cooperative – otherwise I’ll slit my throat), we can add other things in. But, this is pretty much it for now. (Of course there’s the school holiday parties, presents for the teachers, coat drive, food drive, etc. I do what I can but can’t afford for my health to suffer from doing too much. I pick and choose beyond the basics).

    Like I said, I HEAR YA!!!

  32. Stephanie
    December 7, 2009 at 10:08 pm

    Sorry, that last comment was way too over the top. I am tired.

  33. Rosalynde Welch
    December 8, 2009 at 12:48 am

    Stephanie, huge hugs to you. You are doing GREAT given the circumstances of your life right now. I had my fourth earlier this year, and I immediately descended into a prolonged depression. I died a million deaths of mother-guilt over the many many things that dropped out of our lives during that time, but I hung onto the hope that no single six-month or one-year period of sub-optimal family life was going to ruin my kids. And it didn’t, they have come out the other side with a scratch or two but generally doing fine. I’m mostly better now, still struggling with confidence, but I am able to do some of the things I want to with my kids. And life is long. There will be other years to put into place the traditions and activities you want to—at least that is what I have told myself over and over this year. This year is yours to be the mother of an infant (and four others, too), and to take from your community what it can give you. Another year will be yours to give. Hope you sleep well tonight!

  34. Lupita
    December 8, 2009 at 2:40 am

    “and hopefully a little cleaner and more cooperative – otherwise I’ll slit my throat)”
    Sorry, but I did laugh. Not at the suicidal thought but at my four not so clean or cooperative boys :)
    Fwiw, I’m not sure how essential traditions are every single year. We each remember our own version of our personal history. Whether you work like crazy trying to create a magical holiday down to the last monogrammed ornament or not, your kids will likely enjoy themselves immensely just by being blissfully unaware of all the behind the scenes efforts. Especially if they unwrap a new Bakugan or two :)

  35. msg
    December 8, 2009 at 3:23 am

    I totally agree, Kylie. That’s why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday–
    no presents or much decoration, great food and you’re with family and/or
    I was going to put up more garland this year but I just got tired of it–and then you have to vacuum all the needles that fall everywhere.
    So I gave it away instead! Here’s to downscaling and storing all this stuff.

  36. m&m
    December 8, 2009 at 3:59 am

    I died a million deaths of mother-guilt over the many many things that dropped out of our lives during that time, but I hung onto the hope that no single six-month or one-year period of sub-optimal family life was going to ruin my kids.

    Oh, how I can relate. Oh.

    I will say that seven years of chronic health problems have helped me see that the optimal family life isn’t always about “doing,” but often about the “becoming” going on in the background…and sometimes that comes when life is the messiest.

    I’ve been amazed at how much children can learn, for example, about service and love when mom sometimes can’t ‘do.’

    I think the balancing act is also so different for everyone…so my thought for the post in general is simply to figure out what is right for *you* and then let the rest go. I have found a lot of peace by trying to own the uniqueness in my life and not try quite so hard to fill expectations of others — or what I *think* the expectations are. I think our children can learn a lot as we talk them through some of the reasons we can’t and don’t do it all all the time.

    And for all that the larger community is a big deal (and it is!), I think there is also the need sometimes to hunker down and protect the community within your own home and life and let some of the outside stuff go. Relationships matter all around, but I have found that it’s easy to exhaust family relationships trying to nurture other relationships. Sometimes even extended family or church stuff can be too much, let alone work or school or community activities.

    FWIW for those of you w/ health struggles…I would never wish them on anyone, but in some ways, they have blessed us more than anything I could have done when I had the health to do it.

  37. December 8, 2009 at 6:33 am

    anon, you hit some good points. We buy Chinese take-out for Christmas Eve, have since we were engaged. For a while we had key lime pie for Christmas breakfast, I think I’ll do sweet rolls again this year instead (use breadmachine to make dough, roll out and bake it).

    But mostly I just cherish the time with family. My wife has had years when she felt we needed to do customized gifts for everyone, so she etched their names into large pyrex baking pans. This year we are back on gift exchanges and cards which is as much a time saver as it is a recognition that we all, in our extended families, have too much stuff.

    Not to mention making sure we get enough sleep. Or maybe I’m just tired is always so true.

    I’ve taken an inventory of what my kids enjoy and what I can handle and what I feel is enough to bond our family through our traditions. We’ve been whittling down Christmas for years, but this is all it is now: decorate the tree (only got out some of the ornaments this year), put out nativities the kids can play with (I’d like to get them all out, but I just haven’t had a chance), and do the angel tree. That is our #1 favorite tradition that has to happen every year. Each of my children picks a child off the tree. We decide what to get and shop for it. My kids really get into it. We end up spending the same (or more) on the angel tree kids than we do on our own kids. My boys get to choose 3 presents for themselves for Christmas, and they each give 3 presents to another child. I feel good about that.

    Stephanie, your comments were perfect. I do what I can but can’t afford for my health to suffer from doing too much. I pick and choose beyond the basics and I bet your Christmas is better for it.

    Christmas needs to be a time with a focus, not a chaotic whirl. A chaotic whirl does not build traditions or memories anywhere near as much as a simple, focused event.

    By simplifying Christmas we make it more powerful, more memorable, a better event, more holy and more binding. Too much “stuff” and it becomes only clutter.

  38. Kylie
    December 8, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    Ah, Stephanie–what can I say? It gets better in some ways as they grow and worse in others. I remember well the years when I only decorate the tree at the top (no ornaments for babies or toddlers to pull off) and the years that I couldn’t put out any presents until the day so no one ate or opened them. But there was less running around, then, and that was nice. Of course, some of my running around now is nice, too–free date night is how I look at going to a party since our oldest is old enough to babysit (ah, heavenly). Thanks for sharing your whine; at least we know we’re not alone, right?. I don’t mean to disagree with a GA, but I actually felt much better after posting my whine. A little embarrassed, but better nonetheless.

  39. Stephanie
    December 8, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    Thank you for your supportive comments. I had a thought today related to what m&m said about trials being blessings. Maybe I should embrace the fact that my boys don’t care about all the decorations but do care about the music. I’ve been stressed over the fact that our mantle is bare because we painted it what turned out to be a hideous color over Thanksgiving and haven’t had a chance to repaint it. It has no nice, glass nativity scenes on it. But, it hasn’t bothered my boys one bit. Instead, they run to the radio and turn on the Christmas station and dance around and play with their plastic nativity sets on the fireplace. That’s enough, and I need to be okay with it being enough. What a blessing. It frees me up to do other things that are more important right now (sometime I want those nativity sets back out – they bring me joy – but it is not the most important thing right now). In the meantime, I need to enjoy my kids. As my mom says, “Life gets much better once you embrace the insanity”. :)

  40. Stephanie
    December 8, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    Ha ha, Kylie. I feel the same way. (Of course, “whining” has always been one of my talents. I find I can cope better if I can get a little off my chest.)

  41. December 8, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    Christmas Eve: turkey and stuffing with mash and gravy and assorted veggies.

    Christmas Day: a lavish cheese platter with saltines and fruit. Roquefort Papillon is the best! With chocolate fudge cookie sandwich, of course…

  42. Stephanie
    December 8, 2009 at 11:07 pm

    Lupita, I think there is something helpful about sharing our experiences as they really are. When Elder Bednar gave his talk this last conference, knowing that he and his wife have four sons made it that much more meaningful when he shared how they would “breathe each others’ air”. I thought, “Yeah, he gets it”. And I knew that just being consistent is really going to be enough. So, I like to just tell it like it is. Life is too hard when I am looking around at everyone else’s perfect life (because that it how it is portrayed to everyone else) and wondering why I don’t measure up. I figure that if I am honest with my experience, it might make it easier for others, too.

  43. Lupita
    December 9, 2009 at 12:57 am

    Stephanie, I love honesty :) And other mothers with four boys. Here’s to keeping it real!

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