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On Christmas, seeking parental perspective

Have yourself a very merry Christmas Eve panic attack... (Bloomberg)

For those of us who a. procrastinate, and b. live on the East Coast and recently got buried under several inches of snow, the last-minute Christmas panic is even more intense than usual.

"We don't have all the presents! We are notably lacking in the stocking-stuffer department! We don't have all the ingredients we need to make the cookies we just have to bake so that we can share special, unforgettable holiday moments with our children!"

For parents, the holiday season often turns into the time of the have-tos. We feel an enormous sense of responsibility to make Christmas "perfect" for our kids. My mother was that way when I was growing up. Which, I guess, partially explains why I found myself flying through a Toys R Us at 11 p.m. two nights before the holiday, filling a shopping cart with toys to make sure my son's Christmas morning will be as merry as possible. (Side note: all that stuff about Zhu Zhu pets being impossible to find? Total nonsense; I saw roughly 85 of them sitting on the shelf at that Toys R Us in Rockville, Md.)

Of course, I realize that Christmas is not about the presents. When I think back on the holidays of my own childhood, I can only recall a couple of the gifts I got. (The Sindy townhouse with working radio? Awesome. And that goes double for Colecovision.) I remember even less about the things I wanted but didn't get, with the notable exception of the original copy of "The Wizard of Oz" script I specifically asked Santa to bring. (Still don't understand why he couldn't make that happen. If that guy doesn't have Hollywood connections, nobody does.)

What I remember most fondly and vividly is drifting off to sleep on those anticipatory nights before Christmas, my eyelids starting to droop as I gazed at the soft, green glow of the fake candles that stood in my bedroom window. I think about how comforting it was to fall asleep in my own house, knowing that my parents -- and, of course, Santa -- were watching out for my well-being. I think about what a gift it was that I could take all of those things for granted.

So tonight, on this Christmas Eve, when I start freaking out about all the have-tos I still haven't gotten to, I really hope I remember that ultimately, the thing that makes the season bright for our children is our presence. Just being there for them and showing them love -- and, what the heck, maybe a Zhu Zhu pet or two -- is enough to make any Christmas more than merry enough.

By Jen Chaney |  December 24, 2009; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Relationships
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All four of our children will be with us tomorrow and I will have my Santa suit on.

Whatever gifts are there, are a bonus.

What more can a parent want?

Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas

From Fred and Frieda

Posted by: Fred_and_Frieda | December 24, 2009 7:21 AM | Report abuse

DW doesn't think she's putting in enough effort preparing for Christmas unless she totally exhausts herself with the details to the very last minute.

As for me, I like to feel well rested and just relax for a few days in a row.

So while DW is busying herself around the kitchen and going out and about exhausting herself, I'll be kicking back and culturing a deeper relationship with the living room sofa. Sounds pretty lazy of me I know, but it's the closest place to the kitchen to reach the stuff off the top cabinets for DW without getting in her way.

And for the very first time , we are doing Christmas Dinner with no extended family, just the 6 of us. Should be a nice easy day.

So Merry Christmas everybody, hoping everybody has the holiday they've wished for.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | December 24, 2009 8:10 AM | Report abuse

We stay home on Xmas Eve and Xmas Day and ask everyone over, just last night my daughter said that was the best thing about Xmas - being HOME.

Don't get me wrong, they are eagerly anticipating the presents. They made their lists and will get some good stuff but they "get it" with respect to what the season is all about.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | December 24, 2009 8:12 AM | Report abuse

I am an only child, and while I always loved Christmas, it was the one time of year I really felt lonely without siblings. I would open my presents and then have no one to play with, since all my friends were always with their own families.

My kids are still little enough that I haven't had time to make anything like a "perfect" christmas this year (heck, we don't even have the tree up because of the destructo-twins), but once the presents are opened they will have a ball playing with each other. I hope that will more than make up for the lack of decorations or homemade cookies.

Posted by: floof | December 24, 2009 8:36 AM | Report abuse

I gave up on cookies this year, made some choc chip from Nestle pre-made Costco size tub last night and that will have to do. Husband stayed up till 2 am wrapping gifts last night - he is da bomb. What is not done as of 2 pm today is not getting done....and I don't care!

Posted by: cheekymonkey | December 24, 2009 8:42 AM | Report abuse

I am winding down with my last minute 'panic' rituals...Yesterday, I stopped at the local Target on the way to work because I saw that it was open early...I just brought a gift this morning at a store near my office; I have the stocking stuffers all set; most of the gifts are wrapped and will be placed around the tree sometime after midnight.

I am grateful that my children didn't ask for a Zhu Zhu (they don't seem to have even heard of it!), or any other hard to get items. They seems to have been more excited about the snow and days off just spending time with us.

This holiday, I have an Aunt who is in Hospice care with advanced cancer, and another cousin about 5 years younger than I who was just diagnosed with Breast Cancer; so this holiday is wistful and bittersweet. The local classical music station here in DC was playing different versions of 'Ave Maria' yesterday, and I hope they play them again this morning so I can get my tears out while I am alone in my office before heading home to my wonderful family... Merry Christmas everyone...and thank you for what you share about your lives.

Sunflower, I hope that we'll hear all about how your family received the wonderful news about your baby. Have you felt him kicking yet?

Posted by: HuckleberryFriend | December 24, 2009 9:12 AM | Report abuse

Sunflower, I hope that we'll hear all about how your family received the wonderful news about your baby. Have you felt him kicking yet?

Posted by: HuckleberryFriend

Huckleberry, sharing the big news tonight-I set the Christmas Eve table in blue and white and silver. Thanks for your interest-I will report back how it goes! Cute story my Grandma asked me yesterday if it's a girl and I said you know I am not telling you yet and she said, "Well, am I close?" Haha, I said you can't trick me into telling you! It's nice that the family is looking forward to finding out-thanks for your interest. Haven't been sure that I have felt the baby kick yet but have felt some flutters! Merry Christmas!

Posted by: sunflower571 | December 24, 2009 9:37 AM | Report abuse

I announced that if anyone wanted Christmas spirit this year, they were going to have to generate it for themselves. I was not doing it for them.

A few days ago, the honey said that the house was depressing because nothing was up. I suggested we hang lights, he agreed and I brought up the box of lights and said... lets hang em... he said later. 2 days later... he still hadn't mentioned to me that he wanted to do it so I did what I was willing to do - one garland of lights in the shape of a christmas tree - at a time that was convenient for me.

No Christmas dinner here. I told the honey I would make Christmas breakfast. It was much easier than dinner and I have fond memories of breakfast when I was growing up.

He doesn't seem terribly happy but I don't see why I am responsible for making the Christmas cheer happen for the entire family. As a family, the family should be making Christmas cheer happen for the family. It shouldn't be left up to one person to ensure that everyone else is happy while that person flops exhausted at the end of the holiday.

Posted by: Billie_R | December 24, 2009 10:10 AM | Report abuse

Christmas is usually a quiet time for our family. Before kids, we'd go to the movies and out for chinese food (you have no idea how hard that is to do here!!! We used to call several to see which ones were open!). Our neighbor has a Xmas eve party every year, so we go to that, and bring the kids. This year, since it's on a Friday, I thought, hey, I'll invite some friends with kids over, and the kids can watch a movie in the early PM and then we can do shabbat dinner.
Well, my DH's aunt's kids are in town, so she decided to have a little shindig at her well, we'll be going over there in the AM (the last few years I've been making cinnamon rolls, cause, well, they take a LOT of time, and it's the one day we've had to do absolutely nothing, but, not this year). So we have a full evening and day tomorrow! It's pretty funny to me.
It's always been fun to have the world shut down for a day, so that we can have absolutely nothing to do. It's so peaceful and quiet. It's kind of nice, since all that craziness is reserved for other days, for us - but on those other days, well, not EVERYONE is going crazy, so it's not as crazy (if that makes sense).
Merry Christmas to all!

Posted by: atlmom1234 | December 24, 2009 10:19 AM | Report abuse

oh, and when i've been working, well, i've always been the one to be in the office, and that's ALWAYS been incredibly DEAD.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | December 24, 2009 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Oh,,,,,,, Billie,

What you need to cheer you up and put you in the spirit is a pix of old Fred in his Santa suit.

If there were only a place to post it....

Ho, ho, ho!

Posted by: Fred_and_Frieda | December 24, 2009 10:31 AM | Report abuse

Hey Billie, if the thought of Fred in a Santa suit doesn't cheer you up come on over here where we're facing an interesting Christmas Day with DSD. Who had her mother tell us she no longer wanted to stay at our house because she was so stressed about it. Then announced her availability for Christmas Day (wouldn't want to miss out on presents, now would we?), then proceeded to list out in great detail all the evils we had thrust upon her and how we disrespected her.
Interestingly enough, it's been much calmer without her teenage angst casting a shadow over everything here. Still, we hold out hope that she'll make it through this and come out well on the other side -- she does have a good heart.
Meanwhile, Christmas cheer starts out very much internal then you share a little of it and it grows exponentially. But you have all of us to help (don't make me SING).
And congratulations Sunflower, little boys are magical.

Posted by: StrollerMomma | December 24, 2009 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Bille, my husband has never really taken the lead on holiday decorations either, (although he does put up the tree) while the kids and I decorate it. He seems to do better if I ask him to do specific tasks and ask him for his own ideas. (It's not fair to expect him to read my mind.) Then he sits back on the recliner, smiles, and tells me to chill out because Christmas if for relaxing! (Sorry, but you're dealing with the male perspective of what holidays are supposed to be about. Look at what WhackyWeasel posted!)

I only put out a small percentage of simple decorations this year, and I stopped trying to be Martha Stewart long ago.

I think that Christmas breakfast is a wonderful tradition. As for making a grand Christmas dinner, I'll be happy to take that task on when my children are older, but for right now we are lucky to have friends and family who love to host Open Houses. We'll be there, and we will bring the wine!

Posted by: HuckleberryFriend | December 24, 2009 10:48 AM | Report abuse

I gotta give big props to DH this year. Christmas is usually hard for him; he's Jewish, and he has just never liked the holiday as long as I've known him, but instead of sucking it up, he sulks, which then annoys me. So this is when we periodically have the "I make a real effort for your holidays, the least you can do is not be a total d--- for mine" conversation (in a nicer way, of course!).

This year was looking bad; after being dead in the water at work most of the year, I had a client crisis hit earlier this month, and the past two weeks I have been flying to depressing little corners of the country with even more depressing frequency. And, of course, stressing about how I'm going to meet even my own low standards for holiday stuff (some presents, decorated tree, that's about it). Weekend before last, I landed at 11:30 Friday night, we ran around like crazy people all weekend trying to get stuff done, and I flew off again crack of freaking dawn Monday AM, thinking of all of the stuff that we still had to do (like, you know, a tree).

So Tuesday night, I got back home around 11:00. And there, in the middle of my front hall, was a big ol' Christmas tree, set up in the stand and everything. I was completely gobsmacked as to how a tree appeared in my house; I thought, what, did my mom pick me up one when she got hers? DH just said, "I thought I'd take something off your to-do list." I almost burst into tears. I can't even explain how much it meant for him to go do that for me -- his least-favorite chore for his least-favorite holiday.

So that's pretty much my best Christmas present. (well, and the iPod he got me for my plane trips doesn't hurt, either!). :-)

Posted by: laura33 | December 24, 2009 11:18 AM | Report abuse

laura33...just LOVED your sweet story! Thank you for all that you do. I'm sure that you make a difference.

Posted by: HuckleberryFriend | December 24, 2009 11:24 AM | Report abuse

I have no problems with giving specific tasks... he doesn't need to read my mind. The issue is his attitude and accomplishing. After having him bail (and the complaining) on several tasks last year (which put most of the Christmas cheer in my ballpark), I decided that I was simply going to do what I felt up to doing by myself if I ended up doing it all by myself. I ended up doing it by myself but that was ok because it was what I was willing to do with no resentment if I didn't get help. I don't know about anyone else... but it sure improved my attitude towards the holiday.

Posted by: Billie_R | December 24, 2009 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Since we celebrated our Yule on Monday, all the last-minute stresses are over for our family.

Can I just ask everyone here for a little prayer/positive energy/well wishes for DH's nephew? Last week he came home from college with some really disappointing grades. Thursday night he called a suicide prevention hotline (thank goodness he called!) and got an ambulance ride and a couple of nights in the hospital. He's back home now, but still *really* low.

It hasn't been a good holiday season for our up-state NY family. We've kept the specifics from our boys, and they have had a wonderful Yule this year. All they know is that their cousin was having a hard time with college, and their Dad and aunt are very worried about him. This has hit them both really hard, because this was the season when their father committed suicide when they were children.

All my blessings to everyone, and holiday-seasonal-greetings-of-the-religion-or-non-religion-of-your-choice.

Posted by: SueMc | December 24, 2009 11:49 AM | Report abuse

Our Xmas has been low-key this year due to a super tight budget, but still merry thanks to my hubby. He puts up the tree and then we decorate it together. I bake cookies and he does the Xmas letter/cards. It's been a super busy time at work for me this year, so he did most of the shopping too. I'm a bit disappointed that I didn't have time to do more this year, but I have 365 days to do better next year. : )

Happy Holidays to all!

Posted by: gypsyrom1 | December 24, 2009 12:57 PM | Report abuse

OK, I have to confess: no Xmas panic for us this year! I am very relieved that I got everything done early & in time: gifts, tree, cards, decorations, etc!!!

However before you start to dislike me for that-- HERE IS THE DOWNSIDE: DS and DD have been keyed up waiting for Xmas for WEEKS. They are KEYED up. It has seemed to be SO LONG to wait.

There's got to be some kind of balance between organized & early planning and last minute frenzy!!! For those of you still running around, at least your kids have a shorter time to get overexcited!!!!

Merry Christmas to all!

PS If you would like to know how I got organized, it is due to Flylady and her Christmas planner.

Posted by: liziko | December 24, 2009 1:19 PM | Report abuse

Merry Christmas to everyone!! I have enjoyed hearing about your lives-thanks for sharing! My table is set, my house is decorated, presents wrapped, hubby made blueberry cheesecake to go with boy blue we just have to count down the hours until my family is here!! I love this time of year and especially this year!

Posted by: sunflower571 | December 24, 2009 1:32 PM | Report abuse

Laura: incredibly touching story. Thanks. :)
I thought you were working part time, tho...?

Posted by: atlmom1234 | December 24, 2009 1:35 PM | Report abuse

I love Flylady! She has made this holiday so much less stressful, not perfect but I''m not hoping for perfect this year. The family is here and healthy so I am happy. Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Happy New Year! Peace and joy to all!

Posted by: ishgebibble | December 24, 2009 2:36 PM | Report abuse

I hope more people post their Christmas stories today!
DH gets a nod for refinishing a vintage John Deere tractor for currently-tractor-fascinated DS. DD for being so totally into Christmas she makes it magical for the rest of us. And DS for learning to say grace and deciding we all need to do it holding hands.
Sunflower -- any chance you found blue champagne?

Posted by: StrollerMomma | December 24, 2009 2:44 PM | Report abuse

We're almost ready at the AB household, but I'm not stressing. We'll be missing one for the first time - oldest DD is in Germany with a former au pair, still part of her academic year overseas. But the rest of us are pretty much set. And I keep telling the kids that I don't care about presents for me; it's the time with them that counts. Missing the one makes me appreciate the presence of the other three even more. Church tonight; *trying* to sleep late tomorrow (but the 13-year old wants us all to get up at 0600); DW's family here tomorrow for a prime rib dinner; and then down to NC for a few days to see my family. (And a big sigh of relief that this week's massive storm isn't hitting the Eastern time zone.)

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | December 24, 2009 2:55 PM | Report abuse

Sunflower -- any chance you found blue champagne?

Posted by: StrollerMomma

Blue punch-my Grandma can't drink because of her meds.

Posted by: sunflower571 | December 24, 2009 4:26 PM | Report abuse

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