Best and Worst Holiday Memories

Naturally, our last chat before the holidays needs to be about "balance" during the holidays -- arguably the hardest time of the year to feel at peace with work and family obligations. Please share your funniest, most poignant, most frustrating tales of holiday joy, mirth and disillusionment as you go about juggling work and home during this special and crazy time of year.

Here are a few of mine:

Last December, I ordered an assemble-it-yourself ping-pong table as my nine-year-old's big holiday gift. I was so busy finalizing year-end numbers at work that I didn't have time to open the huge, heavy box until a few hours before Christmas, when I discovered over 200 pieces to assemble; 150 of which were tiny screws. My husband and I stayed up until 2 a.m. outside under our deck in the backyard putting the thing together. We both have MBA's but it's safe to say, zero marketable handyman skills. We cursed each other, laughed, cried and prevailed. I count that night as one of the best of our marriage.

At one company holiday party early in my career, I caught one of my bosses (married with grown children) kissing my arch-rival (married to someone else, with a couple of young kids). I wisely left the company a few months later.

In my family, one of our traditional gifts, invented by my great-grandfather, a lawyer and judge who was always too busy to buy gifts in advance, is getting measured in dollar bills taped together on Christmas Day. Our house has a doorway with everyone's heights marked in pencil. As an adult, I am proud to be eleven dollars tall. When I was five, and about four dollars tall, my dad took me to a toy store the day after Christmas to spend my money. Naturally , I picked out the biggest gift in the store, a black and white stuffed pony hanging from the ceiling like an enormous chandelier. I asked my dad if I had enough money. He paused and then told me I did, although I imagine I was off by a factor of ten. I still have that thing.

Please note that On Balance will be off for the week between Christmas and New Year's Day. We will see you again on Tuesday, Jan. 2.

Based on your suggestions, we will be starting our Virtual Book Club in early 2007. The first book will be John Dickerson's On Her Trail, which we started discussing in A Success At Work, A Failure At Home. So, get the book and start reading!

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  December 22, 2006; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Free-for-All
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Hmmm, I think we're starting the Second Child Christmas Curse. Last Christmas, when my son was 6 weeks old, I came down with strep -- just knew something was wrong, rushed to the doctor on the 23rd. Luckily, my son didn't get it from me.

But now this year my son is sick -- with what I expect is strep. And this morning, my husband woke up and couldn't get out of bed. Whaddya gonna do? REALLY hoping this doesn't become a new family tradition!! (Oh, and should I mention that my sister is stuck in Denver and so won't be making it out for Christmas at all?).

Sigh. But you know what? We have a doctor I can go see this morning. I have understanding clients who won't throttle me because they get the memo first week in January. My sister gets to be safe in her house playing in 2' of snow (jealous there). Baby boy has fallen asleep in his high chair, so I get 10 minutes to check on this blog. :-) And I can already tell that in a few years, this is going to be one of those family stories that you laugh about.

Posted by: Laura | December 22, 2006 7:59 AM

This is my first Christmas where my son can easily walk (run/jump/destroy) without much help, so we seem to be building new memories every time I take my eye off him.

His best trick is hurling a sippy cup at the "interesting" christmas tree ornaments that he can't reach, in an effort to knock them to the floor so he can inspect them further.

The Lesson: Expensive glass ornaments need to be not just out of reach of his height, but further than a 17-month-old cannot chuck a sippy cup. Oh, and the Superyard XT works to keep kids away from something just as well as keeping them inside.

Posted by: Proud Papa | December 22, 2006 8:15 AM

"can" chuck. Its too early.

Posted by: Proud Papa | December 22, 2006 8:16 AM

Laura, we're hosting Christmas IN Denver--our first out here--so we'll see who all makes it! No one's flying til Sunday, so hopefully they'll have the airport cleared out by then--about 4,000 people were stuck out there for almost 2 days. Other relatives are driving; they may have to park outside of our neighborhood if the plows haven't come by tomorrow. We still have some last minute shopping to do, and since post office service was suspended, a couple of people in DC and Michigan aren't going to get their presents by Christmas, but the storm has actually helped us get the house ready. We're still unpacking moving boxes and trying to figure out where 11 people, assuming that they all make it, are going to sleep...

Posted by: niner | December 22, 2006 8:23 AM

Ok, I tell this again and again about this time every year.

When I was little, I was way into horses. When asked what I wanted for Christmas I said "anything to do with horses". Well my dad, being the jokester that he is, took this literal. My last present, usually "The Big Special One" was on the back porch. I excitedly opened it to find-------a box of horse p00p! Would've been funny to one of his friends, but not to a 10 year old. My mom was furious!

The consolation: Several years later they were having a contest on the radio for the worst Christmas present ever and I won a Don Henley CD for it!!

Posted by: Lou | December 22, 2006 8:30 AM

Gee, Leslie, YOU had an archrival? I'm shocked.

Posted by: Btown | December 22, 2006 8:33 AM

I remember how proud my grandfather was to have his family with him for Christmas dinner. My grandmother would put a table cloth over the ping pong table in the basement and put the plastic arrangement in the middle. It was low key fancy and fun.

I look back on Christmas in my childhood with great memories. I only remember one present that was great. That was my banana seat bike I got when I was in third grade. I also remember how much my grandfathers, uncles and father liked Christmas. They were the ones that put up the tree and helped bake cookies and get the kids worked up about santa.

It seems to me that men don't go for Christmas anymore. My husband has no interest in any of it but showning up. At work all the men complain about it too. I wish I could figure out how to make them interested again.

I have no funny Christmas stories with my children yet. They were so gentle with the tree when they were really little. When they talk about past Christmases, I am always surprised by what they remember. It is always the little things. Mostly having family around.

Posted by: down south | December 22, 2006 8:42 AM

When we were kids, my younger brother & I would sleep in my older brother's room and he would warn us that he had booby-trapped the house so that we couldn't sneak downstairs to see what Santa brought. We would set the alarm clock for 5:30 Christmas morning, and then spend 25 minutes watching the clock (we weren't allowed down until 6 - i had smart parents) and Older Bro would tell us how he had snuck down (we'd have forgotten completely about the boobytraps) and told us everything we were getting for Christmas.

Every year he'd tell me I was getting the Barbie Dream House. I've never gotten the damn Barbie Dream House.

This year, his twin 5 y/o daughters asked me what I was getting them for Christmas. I was so good. I didn't tell them the Barbie Dream House.

In a family of gems, my Older Bro is the gravel, I'm already thinking about whether or not to tell them Santa is bringing it for them next year.

Posted by: NCC | December 22, 2006 8:57 AM

For our family, the one tradition that was the best was Christmas Eve communion. We would go to church and our father, who is a pastor, would serve us communion as a family. Then we would go home and tape Christmas Eve devotions. All of us participated, either reading a story or playing a song on the piano or singing. My parents taped these devotions (on cassette) every year. Now when we go home we can listen to ourselves when we were younger. Traditions like these are what makes the holiday for me. I am hoping to start similar traditions with my two young ones.

Posted by: Momof2 | December 22, 2006 8:58 AM

About 15 years ago we were in Ohio for Xmas with my family. They had a screened in porch where we were storing leftovers - it was about 20 degrees outside. We ate dinner, put the turkey on the porch, someone let the 2 dogs out and - yes, you guessed it - dog's destroyed turkey in a similar fashion to the Bumpasses dogs attacking the Turkey on Xmas day in "A Christmas Story." - Love that movie - sorry I mention it all the time. We laughed like crazy - and the dogs had the most incredible gas for the next 24 hours!

Our sneaky but lovable cat Frank Sinatra has knocked down the tree twice - destroying ornaments and making my husband turn red and cuss. That's always fun!

Lastly, when my son was 2 or 3 we went to sit on Santa's lap. He asked him what he wanted for Xmas - he said "A Light bulb" - Santa looked a little confused but told him - ok. Yes, we wrapped up a light bulb and put it under the tree and when my son opened it up he said "See, I told you so!" Man - Santa NEVER lets you down!

Posted by: cmac | December 22, 2006 9:02 AM

We had no family around when I was growing up so we had a tradition of driving around on Xmas eve looking at all of the pretty xmas lights. Then we would come home and my dad would read the Night before Xmas. It was very sweet and I loved it.

Posted by: Marie | December 22, 2006 9:04 AM

"We both have MBA's but it's safe to say, zero marketable handyman skills."

What, no mention of Wharton? Leslie, you're slipping...

Posted by: jim | December 22, 2006 9:05 AM

My mom went on strike one year for Christmas because my father had done nothing but sit on his a** all day at Thanksgiving and watch The Game(s). She told him that if he wanted his children to have any kind of a Christmas, he was responsible for every single part of it -- the shopping, the wrapping, preparing and serving the meals, sending out holiday cards, etc. Every last thing. We got the best gifts that year -- my dad's not a bargain shopper like my mom and he just bought what he knew we wanted without discretion. He also pulled off a decent traditional Christmas meal with prime rib and yorkshire pudding, but he started a new tradition for Christmas eve -- Japanese Tempura. So every Christmas Eve since then, our family has tempura.

I also wonder what traditions other people enjoy with their families during the holidays. Balance in December? I have nothing to contribute on that front. For me, forget it this time of year -- I just try to go with the flow!

Posted by: WorkingMomX | December 22, 2006 9:13 AM

I don't have kids yet, but my favorite holiday memory is of the great Hanukkah fire. One year, my sister opened her presents with such exuberence that the wrapping paper flew into our Hanukkah candles. Luckily, the fire was small and easy to put out, but we all look back at that year and laugh.

Posted by: silver spring | December 22, 2006 9:19 AM

Until I was 15, my family lived in Quincy, Massachusetts. My dad was a firefighter in Boston. On those years where he had daytime duty and had to be in the station by 8 a.m., we'd have Christmas morning at 4 a.m.!!

When I was 15 we moved to Florida. I remember my first Christmas there and my mom crying, saying "It's 80 *&*# degrees here! The a/c is blowing the tinsle off the tree!" So my dad started a new tradition, having a bar-b-que on Christmas Eve.

Dad is gone and mom is in a nursing home, but, weather permitting, I'll be bar-b-quing a pork roast Sunday night.

Posted by: DaninAnnapolis | December 22, 2006 9:27 AM

After one Christmas where my sister and I are in mis-matched pjs opening presents, my mom started giving us matching PJs as gifts the night before (we aren't twins - 4 years apart), so that we'd look nicer in the pictures! It was really hysterical in college when she gave us pairs of feet pajamas!

Samta also left us a book or quiet toy outside our door to our room that we could open and play with until a decent (5:30/6) hour to open gifts.

Posted by: Moira | December 22, 2006 9:33 AM

for some reason that no one remembers, we have spaghetti every year for Christmas Eve dinner. The children insist on continuing this tradition!

Posted by: Anonymous | December 22, 2006 9:40 AM

>

Marie, we must have had the same dad. This is exactly what my family did! I think nothing I've done has made my dad sadder then telling him I'm not going to drive 40 miles each way on Christmas Eve for "A Night Before Christmas" only to do it again the next day.

I don't have kids (yet), but my "balance" holiday story is the place I worked two jobs back. The owner of the small company is from the U.K. and every year, the day after Christmas, he hosts a "Boxing Day" party at his house for all family, employees, friends, and clients. Meanwhile, my husband and I over the years developed a tradition of having the day after Christmas to ourselves and opening our presents to each other on that day. It was hard at first to say "no" to the party, but I've never regretted not caving in.

My best Christmas memory . . . when I was about 6, we had a pretty run-down tree and shabby decorations. (But, as kids, we didn't notice at all!) When my sister and I woke up Christmas morning, the tree -- and the presents underneath -- looked exactly the same as when we'd gone to bed. Santa never came!!! We were just about to go into shock when my dad went into the kitchen to start breakfast and we heard a bird chirping. We followed the sound to the dining room and it turned out to be an electronic birdhouse (too bad it doesn't work anymore) in a brand-new tree with brand-new decorations, with tons of presents underneath!! We flipped. My best present that year was a Superstar Ken to go with my Kissing Barbie, but the amazement and joy of believing in Santa was the most precious gift of all.

Posted by: NYlurker | December 22, 2006 9:45 AM

We have lasagna for Christmas Eve dinner.
It comes frozen and everybody is too busy to cook.

I think our worst Christmas was the one before we checked MIL into Rehab. We'd all become aware of drinking problems, but the intervention wasn't scheduled until a few days after Christmas. She boozed her way through the day, completely unaware of what was going to be happening to her a few days later. The rest of us got through, watching her, knowing that you-know-what was going to break loose in a few days.

Happily the Christmas after that was much, much better.

Posted by: RoseG | December 22, 2006 9:48 AM

I thought everyone had a archrival? Must be just me and Leslie. Anyway, my funniest and worst Christmas memory was when I was about 13 years old. My nephew was two and me, mom and dad went over the hill to my sister's house to see what Santa had brought him.

Unfortunately, Santa forgot to bring him a new dad. My ex-brother in law was still drunk from the night before and fell face first into their Christmas tree. It was hilarious! I almost peed my pants, my whole family was laughing until we noticed that he broke several of my sister's hallmark ornaments. My sister likes to say that the cheating was what made her finally leave my ex-brother in law, but I know it started the day he broke "jingles" and her other ornaments.

Posted by: scarry | December 22, 2006 9:50 AM

In elementary school my art teacher was a odd, red-cheeked lady who acted and smelled a little funny. I never understood it until my mother explained, years later, that it was the alcohol.

At any rate, just before Christmas one year, she told us third-graders that she had a great story about Santa Claus. "Oh, but wait, how many of you still believe in Santa Claus?" Three hands went up, and the kids looked, bewildered, around the room at all the other kids staring at them. No one laughed, it was just too awful. There was silence for the rest of the class. I was further annoyed that the teacher was so devastated by what she had done that she refused to tell the story.

Posted by: Neighbor | December 22, 2006 9:51 AM

My favorite Christmas memory was the first after I graduated from college in 1974. Coming from a large Italian family in Northwest Pennsylvania, tradition was we always got together on Christmas Eve to share good food and company. I told my Mom that, due to my new job several hundred miles away, I would not be able to be home for Christmas. She said she understood, but, of course, was disappointed. My new boss, himself from such a family, told me to take the holiday off and go home. I left late Christmas Eve afternoon, never calling to let anyone know. I went to my aunt's house where the gathering was and when I walked in I never heard my Mom yell, and cry, as she did that night. That really showed me the importance of family at the holidays. I know that when my sons leave, their coming home will be that much more enjoyable.

Posted by: Pennsylvanian | December 22, 2006 9:54 AM

No, not everyone has archrivals. Just those who went to "elite private Eastern universities". ;)

Posted by: Btown | December 22, 2006 10:05 AM

Pennsylvanian - I love your story. My FIL did the same thing when he was 19 and in the Marine Corp - he came from a large family - oldest of 8 - and surprised them late Xmas Eve after getting off his post - this was 1956. He drove from North Carolina to WV in the snow in a borrowed car and had to leave the next morning but he wanted to surprise his mother. His mother - who is still alive and 93 years old, and has terrible dementia - still recalls that day with tears. Truly one of the best Christmas gifts ever.

Posted by: cmac | December 22, 2006 10:13 AM

My favorite Christmas memory was when I was about 12 or 13. For some reason, my father's far flung family decided to have a big family Christmas at my grandmother's huge house in Princeton. My father - who always was waiting for the next weather disaster to happen (many funny stories attached to that) - figured out there was one of those big snow storms that come up from the south on its way. So he dragged us out of bed late on the night of the 23rd and got on the road. We traveled at the front edge of the snow all the way up to Princeton.
My aunts, uncles and cousins all gathered and we had a wonderful time. Sometime during Christmas Eve night, the brownies and elves put up the tree and decorated and put all of the presents we'd piled in the hall under and around the tree. On Christmas morning, the youngest waked the next oldest by singing the family Christmas song; then those two woke the next older with the song, and so on, until all of us gathered outside my grandmother's room and sang ... in harmony, no less!

My aunt got a new apron from someone. It had a large cartoon bird printed on it. While she was out of the room, one of my uncles told the joke: What does a 500 lb canary say? ...CHEEP, CHEEP (loud and deep voice here). So every time my aunt walked into the room, her brothers would say CHEEP, CHEEP. Of course, all of us children thought that was a riot. I'm not sure anyone ever told my aunt the joke.

Posted by: Pam | December 22, 2006 10:13 AM

Easily the worst was 2004. The day after, my stepsister came over and all of us got together to exchange gifts. I casually mentioned that if I have kids, I won't spank them. I quickly learned that you NEVER, EVER tell insecure parents, especially those whose marriage is on the rocks and whose son has a mild developmental disorder, that you plan on doing things differently than they did. Through their hysteria, they won't give you a chance to explain that you don't necessarily think different equals better.

This year is going to be rough for my family...my uncle is now unemployed and in the full throes of alcoholism, his wife and young kids left him, he's living with my poor feeble grandparents, and his wife's boyfriend, who was supporting her and their kids, recently got into a terrible car accident and is comatose and paralyzed at least from the chest down. Funny thing is, this guy was my sister's high school boyfriend and I remember him as a fairly nice guy. It's a shame. Pretty much the only ones that are going to have any fun are the kids, because they get presents.

I'm a little ashamed of myself for going off to Vegas with my boyfriend's family and having fun with them while my own family is down in the dumps. I'll be going there on the 27th, but I'm sure it won't be the same. Still, the selfish part of me is glad I'm going. I'm glad to be opting out of the Christmas thing this year; it might be a nice change.

The best memory? I really don't remember. Our Christmases usually came courtesy of the Salvation Army, and as an adult, all I get is "make Laura hold the baby! Oh my god, Laura's holding the baby! Someone take a picture! Laura, you're next, you know! You have to have BAAAAAAAYYYBEEEEEES!" Never mind that I am not married and haven't finished my education; these things are of little consequence.

Sorry to be a downer, but the good news is, I'm still looking forward to the holidays. I mean, I get to go to Vegas, stay at a great hotel, be with my boyfriend (we have a cross-country thing), and get a lot of time off from work. So I'm actually enjoying the holiday spirit thing this year. I hope everyone else has a great holiday season too! :-)

Posted by: Mona | December 22, 2006 10:18 AM

My parents moved to the Orlando area when I was a senior in college. One year my parents waited for my sister and I to come with our significant others to get their Christmas tree. We went looking for it as a family on a 70 degree day and wound up at "Grandma's Christmas Tree Farm". A family lived on the farm in their trailer and were all sitting outside waiting for customers to pull up. Not many came other than us.

Once we picked out our tree we strapped it to the top of the family van and headed home. Trees in Florida tend to have a bit of Spanish Moss or something clinging to the limbs. So an added step in the process of getting it from the van to inside was my Dad breaking out his leaf blower and blowing out the build up while my sister held the tree.

Little did we know that this tree would be a lot better than the one my parents would have a few years later. My parents noticed that this other tree had no pine-like smell associated with it and the needles were falling off with ease. It wasn't until after the holiday that my Dad realized they had bought a dead tree spray painted green for $80. Ahh...Christmas in Florida...

Needless (or is that Needle-less?) to say, my parents have moved back North.

Posted by: Brad | December 22, 2006 10:22 AM

No, not everyone has archrivals. Just those who went to "elite private Eastern universities". ;)

Ha, I must either be really special or maybe I am the archrival of the elite prep schooler and not the other way around because I went to a state school! :)

Posted by: Anonymous | December 22, 2006 10:23 AM

This is the first year I won't be with my family in CT. My dad passed away last year (I always stayed with him and now the family house is gone)and my other CT relatives are going to visit friends all over the world (prob last trip for 86 year old uncle).
My best memory is of my little brother who was always very curious. One year when my mother was making the gravy for the roast beef dinner for the family of about 25, my little brother asked here where gravy came from. She told him that as the meat cooked the juices/blood from the meat dripped into the pan and those are what she used for the gravy. He was fine with that.
As we sat down to eat he sat up straight and said "I know where gravy comes from". Of course all the adults egged him on to tell us. As we were all getting ready to eat he announced that "it's cooked blood". We all knew what it was but somehow hearing a five year old tell us was funny (and a bit of a put off too).

Posted by: KB Silver Spring | December 22, 2006 10:25 AM

Heavens, I was so poor the year after I left my now ex-husband that we taped together large pieces of recycled paper and drew a Christmas tree, under which went our paltry present collection. Now of course, I've got salad days nostalgia, and look back on that tree, with its taped-to ornaments, quite fondly.

The past two Christmases, years seven and eight post-husband, the fatigue was never ending. This resident Santa Claus nearly failed in her efforts to sprinkle holiday magic over night. Once I nodded off, I just barely managed to get back up. Lets hope this Chrismas Eve I'll do better.

On a positive note, its been delightful to create our own traidtions, to not travel anywhere, and to get a few days in a row together where we had nothing else on the agenda. And nothing yet has beat the bevy of school-made and home-made gifts my girls have made for me over the years.

Posted by: Dignity for Single Parents | December 22, 2006 10:30 AM

Nope, no archrival here, although maybe an ex-friend I used to work with could have qualified. (at least SHE thought I was competition...)

My 10-year-old has a neighbor boy (age 9) that she likes to call her "arch enemy". They have a very teasing relationship but are really friends and one day this not-too-bright daycare person at the busstop saw her "teasing" the boy and reprimanded her for it. Absolutely nothing malicious about the teasing and he gives it back to her as she dishes it out.

Sad that a 9 and 10-year-old can understand subtlety better than a grown woman...

As for holidays, this year and last have been tough since it's been the 1st anniversary of the death of my FIL and my best friend.

It just doesn't seem the season without them...

Posted by: librarianmom | December 22, 2006 10:32 AM

Each year of my childhood, my grandmother always gave my mom the same Christmas present: a bottle of Shalimar.
My grandmother died in May several years ago. That Christmas, my grandfather gave only one present, and it was to my mom, and it was a bottle of Shalimar.

Posted by: worker bee | December 22, 2006 10:47 AM

My favorite holiday tradition: Every year we spent Christmas Eve with my Grandparents. My grandmother would gather all the kids around her rocker and read us The Night Before Christmas. It was the halmark addition, and had pop up pages. I still have the book, and the rocker, I can't wait to do it with my kids!

Posted by: karme | December 22, 2006 10:50 AM

I always buy my two daughters (now 24 & 21) the same present every year, tacky, loud colored, cheap scuffies. They always complain about them and how cheap dad is. (One seems to forget the 4 year private college that I sent her to and the other the new car that I bought her in August.) I have not bought the scuffies yet, the 21 yr old was wrapping presents that I have already bought. She has already complained, "Where are the scuffies?"

Posted by: Fred | December 22, 2006 10:55 AM

Another nice tradition that my mom always did when I was little was tell me that on Christmas eve the animals got to talk. She said it was god's gift to the animals. I don't know where she came up with it, but I would always try to stay up and see what the cats and dogs had to say. Needless to say, I always fell asleep, but it was fun.

Posted by: scarry | December 22, 2006 10:58 AM

My favorite Christmas memories have to do with my ex-husband's family. They are Italian (I am not) and they would have the seven fishes gala on Christmas Eve. So much wonderful food! So much work! My in-laws lived very close to their brothers and sisters, who would all stop by at one time or another during the evening. My ex's dad and uncles would sit around the table drinking expresso and Sambuco and telling what I would call "New York stories", because they grew up in what is now Spanish Harlem in Manhatta. The "New York stories" would be about their childhood and the characters they knew growing up - all of whom had nicknames like Joey Chingabetz (phonetic - it means "change of a five" because he was always looking for change of a five dollar bill.) It has been 20 years since we broke up, and I smile when I think of the Christmas Eves with his family.

Posted by: Lawyermom | December 22, 2006 11:01 AM

I am sorry to go off topic, but my DD went to the pediatrician this morning with what we thought was a UTI. After running three tests and spending 2 hours there, she admits that she lied. She wanted attention. When asked why, she reveals that her brother (who is potty training) gets attention in the bathroom and she wanted it to. This is the second time she lied about health related issues and we have been dealing with little lies too. She is 5. Any suggestions on how to curb the lying? I will also deal with the lack of attention issue but to me its a separate issue., If she feels she is not getting attention she needs to say it. I want the lying to stop and stop now. Any suggestions would be appreciated -- thanks -- merry christmas :)

Posted by: Marie | December 22, 2006 11:04 AM

We always have Chinese take out on Christmas Eve (from my mom's upbringing in south Phila.-not sure how that connects but it always tastes better on Christmas Eve!)
We also take the kids for a long walk on Christmas Eve to see the neighborhood lights and read The Nativity Story pop up book before bed (which I read as a kid).
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah and Happy New Year to all!

Posted by: awb | December 22, 2006 11:05 AM

BTW, I have never bought sage green scuffies!

Posted by: Fred | December 22, 2006 11:06 AM

My favorite Christmas memories involved one time when my parents gave us very few presents. Money was tight that year and all we got were some clothes. My dad then pulled out his wallet and gave each of us some money for Christmas. I was about 7 years old and a $5 bill for my very own was like a gold ingot to me. I can hardly remember any of the presents I got while I was a child but I still remember that year I got the $5.

Posted by: John | December 22, 2006 11:22 AM

Fred,

What are scuffies?

Posted by: scarry | December 22, 2006 11:28 AM

Worst Christmas memory (WARNING, not politically correct): I spent one Christmas with some extended family members when I was 7 or 8 years old. The hosts (two older cousins) were volunteers at some sort of a group home for mentally retarded teenagers, and had invited them to spend Christmas at their house. So I spent Christmas staring at the boogers hanging from this 18 year old's nose while he prattled on about Santa Claus. TERRIFIED me.

Posted by: StudentMom2Be | December 22, 2006 11:29 AM

Scuffies are bedroom slippers. You know, dearfoams.

Posted by: Scarry | December 22, 2006 11:31 AM

Fredia ALWAYS has pink scuffies, no other color for her!

Posted by: Fred | December 22, 2006 11:33 AM

Btown- do you enjoy being spiteful and insecure? Here's hoping that the stocking full of coal you'll be getting will cheer you up!

Posted by: high school grad | December 22, 2006 11:36 AM

Marie--

I don't know any magic trick to get a 5 year old to stop lying immediately. I think the best you can do is show her that lying, especially about her health (since it can endanger her safety) has immediate negative consequences. What are the consequences for this lie?

Posted by: JS | December 22, 2006 11:40 AM

Favorite memories from Christmas past include being at my paternal grandparents house and having Christmas breakfast after opening the presents one at a time so everyone can enjoy Christmas a little longer, going 'light looking' with my parents around town (always had to stop by the house with the giant outhouse and Santa's sleigh parked next to it), being at my maternal grandparents and trying to figure out her antique bubbler lights on the tree...

I had two cousins that really did do the 'socks over the shoulder' thing like in "A Christmas Story", spontaniously, before the movie came out. I also remmeber going to one of Dad's concerts on Christmas Eve at a big public square on the river in Florida and marvelling at the idea that Santa would have to put on waterskis to deliver to the houseboats moored nearby.

Christmas memories for me are always about my grandparents' houses, not my parents (poor parents with little housekeeping desire or ability, so no one came to our house). Somehow, though, they're always about the warmth and the knowing I was loved and with people who were happy that I was there. More than my birthdays, which always depress me (although not for the expected reason), Christmas is always a happy time. Now if I could just get my family to let me make spaghetti with cole slaw on the side like Gran always does on Christmas day, I'd be a happy camper!

Posted by: RebeccainAR | December 22, 2006 11:40 AM

My favorite Christmas was one where my mother and I went Christmas shopping together, and spent a marathon day shopping. It as kind of weird, we each picked out our own gifts but paid I paid for hers and she paid for mine. Then we took the gifts home and wrapped them up together. When we opened presents on Christmas, we each exclaimed in mock surprise, "Just what I wanted." And it all was just what we both wanted. The really fun part was shopping together for that long day. This was before I was married and had a child, and I think that day marked the beginning of a new adult relationship between us. I was no longer the rebellious kid, and she was no longer the authority figure. After that, we have just been friends.

Posted by: Emily | December 22, 2006 11:49 AM

Christmas 2004 is one of the best in recent memory. It was the first Christmas I got to spend with the love of my life. A few months later, he proposed. Christmas 2005, we were engaged and a few months away from marriage. Now, for Christmas 2006, it is the first that we are married.

We have started discussing forging our own traditions, since neither of us had the best family experiences around the holidays as kids.

We have agreed--first and foremost--that on Christmas Eve, it will always just be us. No matter where we need to run around to or whatever we need to do on Christmas Day-Christmas Eve is solely ours to savor and reflect for just us as a couple.

Posted by: J | December 22, 2006 11:52 AM

that is very sweet, really. Just be careful--"always" is real hard to maintain and you don't want to set yourself up for disappointment if life gets in the way and you have to go see your in laws that night or something. (or one of you have to work)

Posted by: for J | December 22, 2006 12:06 PM

I forgot! In all my complaining about the season, I forgot about the sparkling grape juice! ::slaps forehead:: Every year, without fail, we got sparkling white grape juice, and we'd put it in champagne flutes and feel all grown-up. Even our parents did it. It was great. One year, after we'd all moved away, me north, stepsister south, sister in the same town but married, there were no bottles of grape juice. Every single one of us asked "What happened to the grape juice?!" My mom just scratched her head, looked befuddled and stammered, "I just thought since you were all grown up..."

The next year, she learned her lesson and bought us each a bottle. My sisters and I had "thought ahead" and decided to make sure we had grape juice by also buying us each one (I bought two for each, to make up for last year). So each of us had five bottles of grape juice that year! No scurvy for us! :-)

Posted by: Mona | December 22, 2006 12:07 PM

When I was about 7 years old - and my sister about 9 - we each got a Christmas card from "Santa" that was a fold-out card with an illustration of Santa in his sleigh with the reindeer. Where the bells on the reins should be are slots where you put dimes. There are 10 slots so the card holds $1. My sister and I are now 36 and 38 years old and no Christmas has gone by without Santa bringing us our "Christmas Dimes". Even when I was posted overseas my parents made sure to mail me the card, complete with dimes. The cards are worn now and the slots held together with tape but they never fail to delight us and remind us of our wonderful childhood memories of Christmas.

Posted by: L | December 22, 2006 12:11 PM

Well, the idea is that we'll never give up that day, for anyone. This is our carved out time in the holiday that's just us. His parents go to church for most of the night, and my mom is understanding that we'll see her the next day. True, jobs could get in the way, although that is not very likely, given the type of work we both do. In fact, for my company, I have today off since Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday this year.

Posted by: J | December 22, 2006 12:20 PM

Marie, you claim that your daughter told a lie about a UTI to get attention, I say she told the truth and I have to commend your daughter how well she knows herself.

The best way to get a child to tell the truth is to make it easy for them to do so. This means that you have to try your best not to express anger when you catch her in a lie. For example, if your response was along the line of screaming into her face:
"You bad girl! Do you know how much time, money and effort I wasted because of your stupid little lie!!! Now go to your room until I say you can come out and if you EVER lie to me again you are going to get the spanking of your life!!!",
expect communication between you and your daughter to deteriorate into mental illness.

I'll use another example with a missing cookie instead of the UTI. Suppose you noticed the last cookie gone from the cookie jar. This is how I handle stuff like this:
Me: Son, I noticed a cookie is missing, have you sceen it?
Son: No!
Me: maybe the cat ate it. Have you sceen the cat over by the cookie jar?
Son: I don't know.
Me: Well, Go find me the cat.
[Son goes off to find the cat]
Me: Smell the cat's breath and see if it smell like an Oreo cookie..
[Son smells cat's breath]
Me: Hmmm. I wunder if you smell like an oreo cookie? Come over here, I want to see if you smell like a cookie.

Usually, if a child has not been traumatized by a past incident with lieing, they won't have a problem telling the truth. If they get away with one, say nothing, your disappointment about the situation is usually punishment enough. Remember, your relationship with your 5 years old will eventually grow into a relationship with your 16 year old. The better you can communicate with them at that age, the more truth you will hear from them and that is the ultimate goal.

Posted by: Father of 4 | December 22, 2006 12:24 PM

Well, the idea is that we'll never give up that day, for anyone. This is our carved out time in the holiday that's just us. His parents go to church for most of the night, and my mom is understanding that we'll see her the next day. True, jobs could get in the way, although that is not very likely, given the type of work we both do. In fact, for my company, I have today off since Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday this year.

Posted by: J | December 22, 2006 12:25 PM

Well, the idea is that we'll never give up that day, for anyone. This is our carved out time in the holiday that's just us. His parents go to church for most of the night, and my mom is understanding that we'll see her the next day. True, jobs could get in the way, although that is not very likely, given the type of work we both do. In fact, for my company, I have today off since Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday this year.

Posted by: J | December 22, 2006 12:25 PM

Not to sound crabby, but the thing I am liking the most about these stories is that so far, everyone seems more "normal" to me - not the "spoiled rich people" I sometimes find myself trying NOT to see/react to :) No one yet has posted a story I can't relate to (and in all truth, the worst/bad stories are WAY worse than anything that's happened to me)!

When we were kids, decorating the tree was definitely the highlight of the season - we always insisted on playing the Avon Christmas album (which cracks my mom up to no end) and singing all the songs as if we were making our Broadway debuts while dancing around the living room and arguing about our favorite ornaments, which are all a hundred years old - a few years ago, my mom wanted to get rid of some of the older ones and we all just about had cows, so instead they were "redistributed" to us kids and now we can keep arguing about our favorites :)

and so glad to hear we weren't the only ones who went ahead and got started on the madness by 6 am!

Posted by: TakomaMom | December 22, 2006 12:25 PM

Not to sound crabby, but the thing I am liking the most about these stories is that so far, everyone seems more "normal" to me - not the "spoiled rich people" I sometimes find myself trying NOT to see/react to :) No one yet has posted a story I can't relate to (and in all truth, the worst/bad stories are WAY worse than anything that's happened to me)!

When we were kids, decorating the tree was definitely the highlight of the season - we always insisted on playing the Avon Christmas album (which cracks my mom up to no end) and singing all the songs as if we were making our Broadway debuts while dancing around the living room and arguing about our favorite ornaments, which are all a hundred years old - a few years ago, my mom wanted to get rid of some of the older ones and we all just about had cows, so instead they were "redistributed" to us kids and now we can keep arguing about our favorites :)

and so glad to hear we weren't the only ones who went ahead and got started on the madness by 6 am!

Posted by: TakomaMom | December 22, 2006 12:25 PM

Not to sound crabby, but the thing I am liking the most about these stories is that so far, everyone seems more "normal" to me - not the "spoiled rich people" I sometimes find myself trying NOT to see/react to :) No one yet has posted a story I can't relate to (and in all truth, the worst/bad stories are WAY worse than anything that's happened to me)!

When we were kids, decorating the tree was definitely the highlight of the season - we always insisted on playing the Avon Christmas album (which cracks my mom up to no end) and singing all the songs as if we were making our Broadway debuts while dancing around the living room and arguing about our favorite ornaments, which are all a hundred years old - a few years ago, my mom wanted to get rid of some of the older ones and we all just about had cows, so instead they were "redistributed" to us kids and now we can keep arguing about our favorites :)

and so glad to hear we weren't the only ones who went ahead and got started on the madness by 6 am!

Posted by: TakomaMom | December 22, 2006 12:25 PM

Hi,

Re: the 5 yr old lying. She may very well know that her lying is wrong, and feel embarassed about it. She did admit the reason she did it - making me think she's pretty self-aware and aware of the issue behind it.

When I was 5, I "stole" several lipsticks from my mother's purse. I felt HORRID (but was not caught). For years as a child, I debated how exactly to apologize and admit the AWFUL thing I had done. It was not until I was about 20 that I realized that my mother probably knew I stole her lipsticks.

I would give your lessons to DD about the wrongness of lying - and just as important, explain how she can get done what she needs, without resorting to lying (DD, please just ask me "Why does brother get attention in bathroom? I feel jealous.").

That she is as self-aware as she is speaks volumes of her capacity to figure out these moral areas.

Posted by: DD | December 22, 2006 12:32 PM

Oops - sorry for the multiple posts - my computer stuck, and when I refreshed, there it was, three times - I'm rather embarrassed, actually ...

Marie, I am not any kind of lying expert (my son is notorious, and doesn't get caught nearly as often as he should), but I kindof agree with Father of 4 about how much of a lie it was - it's impressive she confessed and then was able to articulate WHY she lied, and because you discussed it, she will be better able to ask for what she needs next time, instead of using lying as a tool to get it.

Posted by: TakomaMom | December 22, 2006 12:32 PM

Worst Christmas memory: coming home from my first semester in college to hear that my mother wanted to divorce my dad.

Best memories involve going to my grandparents' homes to hear the uncles tell funny (and very richly embroidered) stories about their childhood, and eating my grandmother's cooking!

Posted by: wihntr | December 22, 2006 12:46 PM

This isn't my memory, but when my mother was growing up her parents put all the kids to bed on Christmas Eve and then put up the Christmas tree, decorated it, got out all the presents and decorations, etc so when they woke up in the morning the house looked completely different. Now that I'm a parent I can hardly believe they had the energy to do that!

Posted by: Massachusetts | December 22, 2006 1:11 PM

It happens almost every year when I visit the inlaws. There is a glut of gifts under the tree, about 10 adults, 20 excited kids jumping up and down just ready to gush in and tear into their presents.

And then one of the inlaws cuts in and self promotes herself as the kid-queeny and tries to make the gift giving session a lesson in teaching kids patience by using that voice that sounds like she has a clothespin on her nose and says, "Now we are all going to calm down and open our gifts 1 at a time." Typically she will put her chair right in front of the tree and plot her over-controlling, holier-than-thou down ass down on it.

That's where I come in and say, "Aw come on, Christmas if for kids, let them decide"

"So kids, is it 1 at a time, or SHARK FEST!!"

Then the guys will egg the kids on by chanting " We wanna shark fest! We wanna shark fest!"

So what do you all think is funnest, 1 at a time or shark fest?

Posted by: Father of 4 | December 22, 2006 1:17 PM

sharkfest! kids can't do one at a time.

Posted by: scarry | December 22, 2006 1:40 PM

My Christmases were almost all the same growing up, but I do have fond memories of them. We did not have any family in the area. My parents tried traveling with us one time (700 miles each way, by car, with two little kids, and with presents stuffed into the trunk around the suitcases). After that trip, they said never again! After that, the four of us always stayed at home. On Christmas Eve, we'd curl up in Dad's lap and he'd read 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. (I think we were still making him read it when we were teenagers.) On Christmas morning, we'd open our stocking stuffers while the cinnamon rolls were in the oven. Then, we'd have breakfast together and open our tree presents. We were a one-opener-at-a-time family, Fo4, but it wasn't such an interminable wait with only two kids and two adults! After the presents were open, we'd call all of our grandparents and talk to them about what we got for Christmas and thank them for our gifts.

My husband and I don't have kids yet, but I hope I can help them make memories as good as the ones I have.

Posted by: FutureMom | December 22, 2006 1:41 PM

Sharkfest all the way!

Archrivals make work much more interesting. Try it, you might like it!

So much alcoholism in these stories. I've got a lot of that going on, too. Much worse at this time of year. Try giving a local AA meeting list as a Christmas present...

Posted by: Leslie | December 22, 2006 1:47 PM

My best Christmas was December 1984. I had just given birth to my first child -- a perfect baby boy -- on 12/5/84! That perfect baby boy is now a grown man at 22 and he still brings his mother much joy.

Posted by: Ms. Pooh | December 22, 2006 1:48 PM

Hey, high school grad, maybe you haven't been around long enough, but you should know that Leslie likes to drop little hints about how she went to an elite private Eastern university (i.e. Wharton) and let us know how "elite" she is.

So, I figure, if she can dish it out to us, I just want to dish right back to her.

Posted by: Btown | December 22, 2006 1:49 PM

Leslie is right about the archrival thing. Sometimes you just can't help it if someone is competitive with you. I actually like to call my archrival, my nemesis.

Posted by: scarry | December 22, 2006 1:53 PM

When I was very small, my father would take me up to the roof patio of our apartment building in Washington D.C. to scan the sky for Santa and his sleigh on Christmas Eve. I can remember vividly the cold, dark night, the stars and my dad's warm overcoat keeping us both warm. I feel *sure* I must have seen Santa flying through the sky those nights.

Posted by: BarbaraEllen | December 22, 2006 1:53 PM

Worst Christmas ever: I been living far from home for almost 10 years now, and I'm used to a celebratory vibe when I visit. Generally, it works out nicely. No one wants my rare visits home to be family disasters. So, about 8 years ago I went home and my brother's wife was moving out of their house on Christmas. For some reason, they didn't have the cops there to make sure everything went smoothly, so my sister and I were going over to keep my brother calm. The whole ride over there, all I kept thinking was, there are going to be brains all over the house, there are going to be brains all over the house. My blood pressure must have been 200/150. When we got there, fortunately my SIL was almost done getting her stuff out, and my brother wasn't there. He eventually showed up, but we ended up in the back bedroom calmly talking while she finished up. Now I think of that as my first "adult" Christmas. I'm the baby of 3, and I've been relatively protected from the family "uglies," of which there are many. I got a "fun" phone call from my sister today about the latest crisis. I used to think I missed being near my family, but I think I like the infrequent visits better. My poor husband's family is only slightly less screwed up. The good news is that we literally can't do any worse with our kids!

Happy holidays to all those threatened with butcher knives by grandma and to all of those praying for blood-free Christmases!

Posted by: atb | December 22, 2006 1:59 PM

Thanks everyone -- great ideas -- her punishment thus far (and maybe all of it) is that the 2 and half hours at the doctors was her time with me today to play games and goof around. I have a ton of other stuff to do to get ready for Xmas so she will have to play by herself. I do need to talk more about expressing her feelings. I was just so mad. And FYI, I did not yell at her at all at the doctors (or after). I told her I was disappointed etc. But thanked her for telling the truth when she did.

Posted by: Marie | December 22, 2006 2:02 PM

re sharkfest!

You're so right, Fo4! My sister's in-laws insist on the 1-at-a-time nonsense. We absolutely HATE it. I refuse to take my family over to my sister's until dinnertime on Christmas day, in hopes of avoiding the whole excruciating debacle--but they usually STILL haven't finished by dinner. Kills me every year.

Posted by: VAtoddlerMom | December 22, 2006 2:04 PM

Something we've done the last few years with our daughters (now ages 6 and 11): they write Santa a thank you note and leave out a healthy snack. Santa snarfs down the snack, and then usually uses the same piece of paper (though last year he borrowed our laptop) to write a thoughtful personal (and often droll) note back. As the older one began to catch on to the Santa thing, she's enjoyed these missives all the more.

Posted by: BarbaraEllen | December 22, 2006 2:04 PM

quick! someone say something snarky to get this going again

Posted by: lurker | December 22, 2006 2:59 PM

Wouldn't work. Most people are getting ready for Christmas.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 22, 2006 3:04 PM

Some of us are actually working.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 22, 2006 3:08 PM

Is anyone else actually still at work? :-)

Posted by: FutureMom | December 22, 2006 3:08 PM

I love the Sharkfest! It's so much fun!

I hope you all have a wonderful, happy Christmas if you celebrate it and a wonderful, restful long weekend either way! We're enjoying our 2' of snow here - as I type the view out of my office window is completely blocked by the mass of snow hanging down off the roof - it's actually very distracting as I keep waiting for it to finally fall.

Posted by: Megan | December 22, 2006 3:08 PM

Oh man, have I missed all the fun? We had appointments this morning so I'm just getting to work. FutureMom, don't leave me!! :0

Posted by: Megan | December 22, 2006 3:10 PM

Don't worry, Megan! I'll be here until at least 4. I'm trying to decide how much beyond that to stay. I pretty much set my own schedule, but that means there's no benevolent boss going around telling everyone to take off a couple of hours early on the company.

Posted by: FutureMom | December 22, 2006 3:14 PM

Worse: a card that says "I thought that you would like this gift."

Posted by: Billy | December 22, 2006 3:15 PM

Some of us are actually working.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 22, 2006 3:15 PM

FutureMom, I have that same situation, as I work from home and have flex hours. Although I think my boss is a little tweaked that our office was closed for two days because of the storm, so even though I worked those two days while everyone else had snowdays, I think I better work the afternoon today too!

Posted by: Megan | December 22, 2006 3:19 PM

I HATE healthy snacks. Mrs. Claus makes me eat them the rest of the year. Give me whole milk and fatting cookies.

Posted by: Santa Claus | December 22, 2006 3:19 PM

Sharkfest! Sharkfest!

Survival of the fittest. When you had seven brothers, it was the only way!

Posted by: Fred | December 22, 2006 3:21 PM

"You're so right, Fo4! My sister's in-laws insist on the 1-at-a-time nonsense. We absolutely HATE it"

I think it depends on how many children and how long it takes. When we go to my sister-in-law's house, it is a sharkfest and I have never seen the children's reaction to the gift we gave them. Takes away some of the fun for me, but not enough to complain and ask anyone to change. In my house, it's one at a time for the two kids. I like watching their eyes light up.

On my side of the family, where my children are the only children and the only adults my mom, sister, husband and me, the gifts are opened about 10 minutes after we arrive at mom's. On my husband's side, everyone has to visit for a few hours and then eat before they can even think about opening anything. I guess they really need the sharkfest at that point.

Posted by: elf | December 22, 2006 3:23 PM

Best Christmas memory - each year my grandparents gave my brother and me an ornament. When we moved out, my mom gave us a box each for our first "adult" Christmas tree with our ornaments. I still have them and love to hang them, remembering the kid Christmas when they were received. Now my mom gives an ornament to each grandchild (and I still get one each year from my Grandmother who will be 90 on Jan. 1). Best yet, I inherited the angel who tops our tree each year and my kids love to see the photos of my early years with the same angel on top. Can you tell I love traditions?

Posted by: Stacey | December 22, 2006 3:24 PM

Large govt agency. My friend's division sent everyone home, but my division is working full day.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 22, 2006 3:25 PM

Yup, Megan. I understand! I usually can't work from home. It's all about billing the proper number of hours, so I can work 10 hours one day and 6 the next if I want to, but I still have to get in enough hours. If I had wanted off this afternoon, I would've had to work more hours earlier this week, and I decided it wasn't worth it.

Posted by: FutureMom | December 22, 2006 3:25 PM

I love a sharkfest too, but I'm pretty sure it's adding to the materialism of the season. Isn't the point of a gift to cherish and appreciate it? To thank the giver and acknowledge him/her? To be able to see the joy in the recipient's face when he/she opens your gift? I find it hard to believe that kids are incapable of appreciation and gratitude, but maybe I'm out of touch. Then again...maybe people just give their kids too many presents if they're so overwhelmed that they can't control themselves.

Sorry to be such a downer. I'm guilty of it too, but sometimes I just wish we took the holidays a little less seriously. It's weird to be in a group of people, doing my own thing and hear, "Thanks, Laura!" and I don't know who it came from or what they opened from me, but I'm just grateful they took the time to read the "from" on the tag.

Posted by: Mona | December 22, 2006 3:29 PM

I will tell you guys a little secret. When I was 6 or 7, I once wrapped an empty box and in crayon wrote to Jesus. Well, my parents found it and opened it and asked me why I gave Jesus and empty box. I told them I was giving him my love. Well all the adults loved that and told me what a wonderful kid I was. Big brother was so jealous he kept kicking me under the dining room table. Well for a couple of days, I heard my parents tell all their friends about this. Like I was some extra kind hearted kid. Well the truth was, I read a story about it in a book. The kid in the book did the same thing but I sucked up all the credit! Gosh, I am probably going to end up you know where. Funny story though. I don't think I ever told my brother the truth. Maybe I should one day.

Posted by: foamgnome | December 22, 2006 3:39 PM

FutureMom, I hear ya!

Mona, I see your point about the sharkfest, atlhough I feel like in a sharkfest there's more emphasis on the fun of opening presents and less on what you actually got, which can really go either way. My SIL's family is way into one-at-a-time, and also into really extravagant presents. My family has always been more of a sharkfest of small, fun presents.

With our toddler though, the fun is really just in watching him open stuff - he doesn't really care what's inside, he just likes to tear the paper off and be surprised.

Posted by: Megan | December 22, 2006 3:42 PM

foamgnome, that's hysterical!!!

Posted by: Megan | December 22, 2006 3:43 PM

Marie--

Basically, your little girl feels that lying works for her (and it does). So, figure out some other behavior or habit that she can do that will work for her when she wants attention. Maybe you can work out a code word that she can say, that only you two know.

Even if you can't give her the attention she wants right then, she can give you the code word, while knowing that at a later time you will give her the attention, or a hug, or whatever you can agree to do (ahead of time).

Basically, she's doing what works, and at 5, she doesn't have any evil intentions. She's just trying to get her needs met.

And, for a 5 year old, it's just not so simple for her to explain all that's going on with her and her feelings. But maybe it's a good opportunity to talk about feelings before you get to the issue of lying.

I didn't work with my first child on how to identify and deal with feelings (I was never taught to do so either). My daughter, bless her heart, learned it at preschool, and now that she's older, can really tell you me how she feels. But the fact that she can identify what she's feeling first is the real issue.

As it is for most of us!

Merry Christmas!

Posted by: Kate | December 22, 2006 3:48 PM

My mom is responsible for both my best and my worst Christmas memories. When I was very small, my parents used to have a huge party every Christmas eve, and Santa always visited to distribute gifts to the kids. Thos years were great.

In later years, things went downhill badly. One year, she tore down the tree in a fit of pique. And every year, she'd pick a huge, screaming fight with my dad, making sure everyone spent Christms quiet and sad.

The worst year, though, was the first Christmas after I'd left home (under hostile circumstances). My family and I had recently tried to mend fences after an entire year without speaking, so I went home for Christmas. Unfortunately, that year my grandfather was sick and in the hospital. My mom, predictably, was stressed and picked a fight. I refused to give in to whatever was going on (I can't remember what exactly the issue was), so she kicked me out of the house again. My dad drove me to the train station late on Christmas Eve, and told me that perhaps it would be easier if I just didn't have contact with my family anymore. I don't think I've every cried so much in my life, either previously or since.

Posted by: NewSAHM | December 22, 2006 3:59 PM

NewSAHM, what a sad story. I'm so sorry to hear about it. Best of luck to you and yours, and hopefully your husband's family can provide good grandparents for your little one(s).

Posted by: Mona | December 22, 2006 4:08 PM

NewSAHM, I'm so sorry! I hope you've been able to build a happy family and make some new and good traditions for your Christmas celebrations.

And here I was all excited to write in that the shelf of snow outside my window finally fell! It was awesome.

Posted by: Megan | December 22, 2006 4:13 PM

NewSAHM:

I'm so sorry for your experience. I'm convinced that the holidays bring out the worst in some people. My Grandmother was ALWAYS unhappy around the holidays. To this day, I'm not sure why, but there were many that weren't pretty.

I don't know if it's because she was abused in some way as a child--particularly around Christmas or what, but that was a particularly extra stressful time of year in our household.

To this day, I'm still convinced that she had a personality disorder of some sort. Based on my very fundamental psychology courses, I think she displayed classic symptoms of split personality disorder. Of course she was living during the time when this was all kept behind closed doors. It was shameful.

Who knows why we're dealt the cards we're given. To make us stronger? Maybe. I know that it has made me determined to forge new traditions and customs during the holidays--and all year round, for that matter.

Life is too short.

My best to you and your family.

Posted by: J | December 22, 2006 4:22 PM

Thanks, Megan, J and Mona. Things are actually much better now -- my mom is enchanted with her grandchildren, and has actually gone out of her way to see my daughter and stuff. It's a huge change, and it's been nice.

And in any event, my in-laws ROCK. They're wonderful grandparents, and my MIL is like the mom I always I wished I had. So Christmas is very happy these days. I'm so excited to begin making new traditions with my little girl and with the sibling that will be here this time next year.

Posted by: NewSAHM | December 22, 2006 4:27 PM

To NewSAHM

The comment about mental illness struck home to me when I re-read your post. It could very well be that your mom is suffering from something. Saw something posted on the Hax chat that might help a bit. This was in reference to a husband who was in treatment and getting seemingly worse:

"For Midwest: Somewhere under the fluctuating moods is your husband, the man you love and married. These moods are not him -- they are his illness. Tough to deal with, I know, but they are not -him.- He's in there somewhere, and eventually, with a good doctor and the right meds, will emerge, but in the meantime, it might help to keep in mind that the sadness and the meanness are NOT him but are his illness instead."

Underneath it all, maybe the mother of your childhod still exists. Hopefully one day both she and you will rediscover her. Both for your sakes and for your poor father's.

Posted by: R | December 22, 2006 4:34 PM

I love the barbie doll dream house story. Sounds like something my brother would have done to me. :)

Posted by: foamgnome | December 22, 2006 5:00 PM

My oldest niece was a New Year's baby. As her first Christmas approached, my mother began to worry about how the tree would survive an inquisitive toddler. After some thought we realized that our wood-paneled ceiling my provide an answer. I drove three eye-hooks into the celing, we kept the short tree well watered in the basement until two days before Christmas. The tree was hung upside down. We thought we were pretty clever until we tried hanging tinsle on an upside down tree. It kept slidding off! Since my niece was named Christine, we called it our Chris-mess tree.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 22, 2006 5:54 PM

Re your mom's holiday grumpiness, it could be Seasonal Affective Disorder. I have a mild version; it goes away right after Christmas. Full-spectrum lighting may help. Good luck!

Posted by: Mona | December 22, 2006 6:54 PM

Laura-with-the-cat-named-Mona,

Congratulations on your good news! If American's where you want to go, happy relaxation knowing you've got the letter you care about. If it's not your first choice, isn't it wonderful to know you're definitely going to law school . . . somewhere? That first letter was quite a relief to me because otherwise I'd have had to come up with another life plan and I was all out of new life plans at the time.

I hope this Christmas is at least a great vacation for you. Have a very, merry Vegas.

Posted by: NC lawyer | December 22, 2006 7:45 PM

Our second child arrived on Christmas Day. She's just turning two so she doesn't yet get that this is a somewhat unfortunate turn of events. #1 was only 2 1/2 when #2 was born, so she wasn't traumatized by the absence of Mommy and Daddy for Christmas. It was kind of nice actually. Once we got back from the hospital, we opened a few presents a day until New Year's.

Posted by: Rockville Mom | December 22, 2006 10:25 PM

I love a sharkfest too, but I'm pretty sure it's adding to the materialism of the season. Isn't the point of a gift to cherish and appreciate it? To thank the giver and acknowledge him/her? To be able to see the joy in the recipient's face when he/she opens your gift? I find it hard to believe that kids are incapable of appreciation and gratitude, but maybe I'm out of touch. Then again...maybe people just give their kids too many presents if they're so overwhelmed that they can't control themselves.


Everything is not always about you!

Posted by: Anonymous | December 26, 2006 7:52 AM

Is n e one out there?

Posted by: atlmom | December 26, 2006 9:52 AM

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Please note that On Balance will be off for the week between Christmas and New Year's Day. We will see you again on Tuesday, Jan. 2.

Figures. The world has to stop when the sprogs are off of school. What a joke.

Posted by: whatajoke | December 27, 2006 12:30 PM

I don't think Leslie can balance work and kids being out of school.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 27, 2006 4:03 PM

Figures. The world has to stop when the sprogs are off of school. What a joke

The reason why there is a blog to begin with is because of the sprogs. Get it through your heads; this is not a blog for single, childless people.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 27, 2006 6:41 PM

"The reason why there is a blog to begin with is because of the sprogs. Get it through your heads; this is not a blog for single, childless people."

Hm, that's funny! Considering breeders think that they're entitled because they've squirted a few out!

Posted by: whatajoke | December 28, 2006 10:01 AM

Hm, that's funny! Considering breeders think that they're entitled because they've squirted a few out!

What an ass you are. What's wrong, didn't you have a nice holiday? Are you lonely?

Posted by: Anonymous | December 28, 2006 10:05 AM

I am a married working mother of two who are out of school this week, but I still have to work. Leslie complains about balance, but has a lot more flexibility (and money to pay for additional help) than most of the working women in this country.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 28, 2006 11:14 AM

Why is your personal life Leslie's problem?

Posted by: Anonymous | December 28, 2006 11:21 AM

It isn't. Just pointing out that Leslie can't relate to regular working parents, just the elite working parents.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 28, 2006 2:11 PM

Sounds to me like you are jealous of her and all she has accomplished. Whether she can relate to you or not is irrelevant to her blog. Maybe she isn't on the blog this week because someone is sick or she needed a vacation? I guess she is not allowed to have balance in her life because she is some rich, elite white woman.

God, get over yourself. The life you have is the life you make.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 28, 2006 2:23 PM

"What's wrong, didn't you have a nice holiday? Are you lonely?"

Quite the contrary. Sprog-free and just me and the hubby--as it should be!

Posted by: whatajoke | December 28, 2006 2:33 PM

"What's wrong, didn't you have a nice holiday? Are you lonely?"

Quite the contrary. Sprog-free and just me and the hubby--as it should be!

Good for you! So, why are on the parenting blog? Your inability to have children doesn't bother me one bit. I am happy that you are happy without them, but why so much anger?

Why the nasty words and the need to come and check the mommy blog once again. Maybe you aren't so happy with your choice after all.

Posted by: so sad | December 28, 2006 3:06 PM

Are the other WaPo blogs on vacation this week? If so, then I don't see why On Balance should be any different.

However, it would have been a good time to talk about balancing work and kids being out of school for a short period of time (as opposed to summer when there are more options for camps, etc.)

When Leslie was on vacation last summer, there was a series of guest bloggers - or maybe it was blogs she had written ahead of time? "Vacation" usually isn't a reason for a columnist to not appear in the paper, or a talk show to not appear on television - they run columns written ahead of time or re-runs of past shows. That could have happened here as well, for those who simply cannot live without it.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 28, 2006 3:33 PM

We all know that Leslie is really addressing the needs of the elite working woman. She and her husband are all very rich MBA white-collar execs, high-powered. Sometimes she comes down from her pedestal and throws us average folks a bone that is relevant. Usually, it's whining about affordable child care, more tax breaks for the rich for childcare, more workplace benefits for childcare..... It's all about getting someone to pay to look after her kids so she can make more money and be a bigwig at work. That really sums up this blog.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 28, 2006 4:44 PM

"Good for you! So, why are on the parenting blog? Your inability to have children doesn't bother me one bit."

Correct me if I'm wrong but I thought On Balance was a work-life balance blog. Life doesn't necessarily involve kids, nor does family. There are lots of childfree people who read this blog and they are often welcomed. You don't have to have kids to have family or balance problems, and I for one have learned a lot of great things from a lot of great people on this blog (kudos to you all). Second, why assume that the poster is unable to have children? Many women can but choose not to.

Posted by: Mona | December 28, 2006 5:49 PM

NCLawyer, thanks! It IS a huge relief. American's a good school, but it's not my first choice...here's hoping I get into my first choice! :-) And I did have a great holiday. I hope everyone here did too!

Posted by: Mona | December 29, 2006 1:20 AM

Mona you are wrong. Go look up what this blog is about. I also didn't see you correcting the nasty lady who was calling children sprogs. You are very conceited so I am sure that you think the blog is all about Mona and people like Mona, but that is just not the case.

Posted by: mona,mona,mona | December 29, 2006 8:27 AM

Moan... mona, this blog serves Leslie's agenda, not yours. It exists to further the cause of professional white-collar working mothers. They are the ones who need the least help yet are clamoring for the most public and private assistance.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 29, 2006 8:49 AM

Really? I thought Leslie was rich and didn't need help.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 29, 2006 9:01 AM

Give me a break. I see a lot of parents who think its all about them and their kids all the time. Entitle-moos and duhs are everywhere.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 29, 2006 9:15 AM

Same can be said for single people who talk all the time about their lives.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 29, 2006 9:27 AM

Jealous?

Posted by: Anonymous | December 29, 2006 9:30 AM

Not at all, but you seem jealous of little kids and how sad is that. Pretty pathetic.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 29, 2006 9:32 AM

How exactly do I seem jealous of kids?

Posted by: Anonymous | December 29, 2006 9:37 AM

"Give me a break. I see a lot of parents who think its all about them and their kids all the time. Entitle-moos and duhs are everywhere"

Need I say more.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 29, 2006 9:40 AM

I think they are jealous of parents. They are the people who get mad at baby showers when the mother gets all the attention.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 29, 2006 9:46 AM

Well it is the truth. I don't see how that makes me jealous, but whatever. I think it's funny when people assume that because I say I don't want kids, that I really do. And I visit this blog because *some* of the issues that are discussed here don't just pertain to those who have kids.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 29, 2006 9:47 AM

I hope you don't have kids with your nasty attitude. You are probably the same single person who almost knocked over an old lady on the metro the other day because you some how think you are more entitled to the seat or the one who got annoyed by a class of school children at the zoo.

See you are not the only one who can make nasty stereotypical comments

Posted by: Anonymous | December 29, 2006 10:56 AM

Christmas Report, 2006

My wife worked until midnight Christmas eve, so once again, I got stuck with the kids, and a very nice dog that a friend of mine dropped off for a week as he went to visit his nephew out of state. We walked the dog about 5 times that night. For the first time since I can remember, I made the kids go to sleep in their own beds. Also, for the first time, I bagged the Christmas cookie, carrots for reindeer, "fool the kids into thinking Santa was here last night" routine.

I got up around 3:00 am as usual, and my annoying son got up at 4:00. He was told that the opening of presents would not begin until Mom had woken up after 6.

We started a new game this year called Hide the Pickle. This is where a small, plastic pickle is hung in the branches of the Christmas tree, and whoever finds it first, gets to open the family gift. so my son got his brother and sisters up to play the game. He won. Probably cheated.

Everybody went back to sleep, except me and my annoying son, who counted down each minute. To pass the time, I gave him chores to do which he complained about. 60 minutes left, set up the radio for Christmas music. 45 minutes left, take out the trash. 30 minutes left, put some dishes away. 20 minutes left, give the dog a bone. 15 minutes left, brush your teeth. 10 minutes left, let me check on Mommie. 2 minutes left, annoying son falls back asleep. So did I.

9: 00 am. SHARKFEST! Let the ripping, tearing, shredding begin!!! For the next hour, I got shot with at least 100 foam bullets. I can tell, my sons love me.

Cookies for breakfast. What a treat!

Finally, it was time to go to church. Great music! Got a nice nap in during the serman too.

Remember the couple I mentioned a few months ago where they scheduled the induction so the baby could be born before the dad went on travel? It was off to there next. Maybe I'll post a little on that later..., after my nap. It's a little slow around the office today.

Posted by: Father of 4 | December 29, 2006 1:05 PM

Hi, happy new year. Just back from vacation in Florida. Veeery nice to have a break.

See the Leslie-bashers were at it again. I am what I am, can't argue with them on that, or the fact that I've worked hard my whole life to get here. Silencing "elite" moms is pretty twisted in its logic (don't often hear people clamoring that educated MEN shouldn't be listened to)plus it's not going to do any moms at any income level any good at all to argue that well-educated, successful moms should be ignored. It's just another form of misogeny, as I see it. But hey, we're all entitled to our opinions. And I'm glad to say part of the payoff of having working so hard in school and at work for the past three decades is that I can avoid having to work for or otherwise be contolled by people with such ignorant views. Yahoo!

Posted by: Leslie | January 1, 2007 12:24 PM

Leslie,

This whole blog is a paen to misogeny, sexism and meanness. People who are nice on other blogs come here to vent hostility. You have the largest cast of snarky, self-righteous regulars on the web!

Why is that, what can YOU do to salvage it? Or doesn't it matter because the numbers are okay?

Posted by: 12:55 | January 1, 2007 12:57 PM

Leslie,

This whole blog is a paen to misogeny, sexism and meanness. People who are nice on other blogs come here to vent hostility. You have the largest cast of snarky, self-righteous regulars on the web!

Why is that, what can YOU do to salvage it? Or doesn't it matter because the numbers are okay?

PISS OFF

Posted by: Anonymous | January 1, 2007 5:19 PM

I rest my case.

Posted by: 12:55 | January 1, 2007 8:11 PM

Kumquats.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 1, 2007 11:05 PM

Leslie,

I wish I had read this the day it was posted. I opened the ping-pong table box at 12:00 on Christmas Eve and was mortified when the first package of 200 screws fell out! My husband set to it while I finished wrapping, then we worked on it together until, finally, at 4:30 we went to bed! At least it is something we all use - and frequently - so I won't resent my lack of sleep for years to come!

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