When I was growing up, I was one of six kids and my father owned a toy store in Hackensack, New Jersey. What I learned as a teenager, was that his leftover inventory became our Christmas presents. While I slept, the delivery truck from his store would back up the driveway late Christmas Eve. What I remember most was the volume of presents, each of the six of us would have a huge mound of gifts. Mostly oddball toys, that were often bad ideas: stilts, minibikes and Barbie mathematician, to name a few. My father would have worked for 30 straight days and when the Christmas shopping season was over, he would be around and far more relaxed. So, emotionally I fused Christmas with a huge pile of presents and a relaxed father. I realize now that what I valued most was having the adults in the house relaxed along with traditions that I could count on.
Sadly, I took all of this into my own kids experience by mindlessly making sure they too had a huge “pile” on Christmas morning. It is hard to break away from the expectation of a “pile”. Reflecting on the holidays, and if I could give advice to myself as a young mother, this is what it would be:
- Radically simplify, which requires asking what we want from the holiday season. What makes sense and what makes us crazy? Is what I am doing also what I value or I am setting myself up for frustration, crazymaking and/or resentment?
- Create white space: Traditions must be flexible, or they begin to suffocate when we remain too rigid. I would consider the holidays a time to STOP and have free time, go hiking or connect with friends we rarely get to see.
- The 3 gifts: I would have started from the very beginning getting each child three gifts that showed I put thought into what makes them feel loved. A need, a want, and a book. Since I created the expectation of the “pile” it is fraught as I try to de-escalate. To mix a metaphor, the road to hell is paved with expectations.
Happy Holidays to You and Yours.
If you are one of the millions of people who may be feeling lonely or grief-filled, my wish is that you notice the chorus of kind people all around this harsh world and to remember that despair is universal and not everlasting.