The Perfect Holidays
by Lydia Floren
“Hon, how bout I take care of Thanksgiving dinner this year?”, Andrew asked me a couple of weeks before this year’s holiday. I gave him “the look,” – the “are you crazy?” look. I know what his question meant. If he “takes care” of Thanksgiving dinner it means we will go out, very likely to Burger King, his (I’m not lying) favorite restaurant. And then I smiled, because I knew that underneath his question – and he was quite sincere in his offer, BTW – what he was really asking me was to remember not to stress out over the fast-approaching holidays.
Being a mom, especially at the holidays, is hard.
You are the producer for the “biggest show on earth”, creating “memories for a lifetime”. And you also happen to be the director, writer, actor, stagehand, caterer, props person, sound and lighting tech, cameraman, set maker, stylist, promoter, event planner, waitress, cook… and of course, custodian. You have expectations, and standards – your own and Martha Stewart’s – for what “success” at the holidays must look like. And year after year, you throw yourself into the fray, trying yet again to achieve the elusive “perfect memory.”
I have chased perfection many holidays: ribbon-decorated baskets filled with homemade treats for neighbors, wrapped gifts mailed to 20 (count ‘em) different relatives, Christmas cards – complete with letter, personal note and family picture – sent to 100 of our closest friends and family, two dressed turkeys with all the trimmings, matching sweaters for the Christmas Eve service, a personally cut tree piled high with gifts, a lovely party for the office and another for a few friends, the school play and the church musical. Unfortunately I also know the cost of such “perfection”: stress, anxiety, exhaustion, short tempers.
Perfection is an ever-changing specter
It vanishes just when you close your hand around it. The irony is, when you chase after it, you are certain not to achieve it. What happens (and believe me, I know from many years of experience) is that you will miss joy altogether.
I suspect that what you really want this holiday, as I do and as I am sure your family does, is not really perfection, it is joy. Don’t make the mistake of chasing perfection to try to achieve joy. The two are in completely opposite directions. As you neglect everything else in your drive for perfection, you stress yourself out, and stress out the people around you. Somewhere in your head, you reason that those you love must see how important the “perfect holiday” is, and must do everything in their power to help you accomplish it. It is for them, after all. But is it? For them? Or for you, so that you can feel good about yourself for one brief moment in time?
In your drive to “succeed” you are choosing to fail in what you really want most, and certainly what your family wants most: joy, fun, contentment, peace, for your family and yourself.
If you are not careful, the holidays will become something they dread (as you often do) instead of something they look forward to. What you dread is the never-ending to do list, the nagging sense of not ever doing enough, or doing it right. What they dread is the tension, the crabbiness, the rush to finish and do and go and see.
Change your goal of what “the perfect holiday” is. And then change your plans. It won’t be easy. If you thought trying to achieve perfection was hard work, try the work of changing your expectations. It takes intention to reprogram after years of input from Southern Living, Real Simple [boy is that an oxymoron of a magazine], and every TV commercial from October through December. But this is effort that truly pays dividends.
Remember that a “joyful holiday” is not perfect. It is the lopsided tree you got from the lot this year,that someone forgot to water so it turned brown before Christmas. It’s the turkey that looks great on the outside, but is hard as a rock, still frozen, when you tried to slice it. It is the sweet potato casserole lighting on fire. It is homemade presents, and paper chains on the tree. It is ordering takeout on Christmas Eve. It is everyone going to church in whatever outfit they happen to have on. It is the Christmas letter mailed out in January (if it gets mailed out at all). It is gifts from the thrift store, a puzzle with a missing piece, planning meals around football games. Inviting someone new to dinner. Or going out. For dinner. (At least considering the idea.) It is a mom who is relaxed and laughing and having fun. Because just as “when momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” the converse is also true: When momma is happy, everyone else tends to be happy, too.
Burger King for Thanksgiving? No, it didn’t happen this year. Not quite there yet. But I am getting closer.