I Saw Mommy Stressing About Santa Clause

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Okay, let me start with this: I love Christmas. Really, I do. I love its meaning. I love what it stands for. I love the season, the family, the experiences, the traditions, the giving, the Hallmark movies (which I have already started watching...at Halloween...do, not judge). I love all the feels.

The very things I love about Christmas are the things that give me so much anxiety that I may have already stocked up on lavender oils (and maybe wine) and set up that long overdue appointment with a counselor. The family. The experiences. The traditions. The giving. Even the Hallmark movies. I think what I do (what WE do? I am praying I am not alone) is put this pressure on myself (ourselves) to create the perfect holiday, especially for my children.

I shop (and price check) and work with Santa for at least a month (and kudos to all of you who work this in July. My lavender oil usage and wine consumption would be doubled if that were me), daily and nightly all to see the faces of my boys on Christmas morning as they open their gifts. Hours upon hours. Which all goes up in a poof (and I timed this last year) in 6 minutes. And that is when I have “dragged on” (my kids’ words, not mine), the opening of each gift so that we can all see and appreciate what they unwrapped. SIX MINUTES! And when your kids wake up before dawn to see what is under the tree, that means I am ready for Bailey’s in my coffee nursing an anxiety hangover by 6:00 AM.

Then, comes the experiences: seeing holiday light displays, baking cookies, decorating our home (inside and out), pictures with Santa, seeing some type of Christmas show, trying to get to the Christmas place/event/spectacular without waiting on 1-3 hour lines or mortgaging our house. And the darn Christmas cards. Do we take the family picture in the hayfield/tree farm/old but trendy barn/dunes of the beach and send it out like this is our daily life? Because heaven knows what it takes for us to get ONE picture where everyone is even looking at the camera (more amazing if we are all smiling). And don’t even get me started on what it takes to plan the outfits for the said picture (matching? Coordinating? 4 kids with all different ideas of what “feels good”: loose clothes, fitted jeans, sweaters, tees, no buttons, “I want a tie”, “if I have to put that collar on, I will DIE from choking!”). You guys, it gives me anxiety just typing about it all.

My favorite December nights are the ones where we are all snuggled on the couch, twinkly lights aglow, watching holiday movies, drinking hot chocolate (probably the one tradition that we are able to carry on). So why do I feel this pressure, this RUSH to get the other things in? Is it the Hallmark movie “picture perfect” Christmas season? Is it the pressure of social media showing me what seemingly every other family is doing (and seemingly perfectly) that we are not? Is it the traditions I grew up with that make me want to give my children the same, if not better?

All I know is that my anxiety started at Halloween. The day of my kids’ school Halloween party and parade (which I DID volunteer for...crying emoji), when I was running out of work (later than I “planned”, of course) and thinking of getting to the school in time (praying to not hit any red lights on the way), get back outside in time for the parade to meet my parents and get a good viewpoint (and pictures!), running back in the school for the party for which I totally failed in bringing an awesome Halloween themed snack (or any snack for that matter)- to leave the school in time to get to daycare to watch my 3 year old's parade, to get back to the house for trick or treat. All with the daunting feeling in the back of my mind that THIS. IS. JUST. THE. BEGINNING. The beginning of the holiday season.

Why does a season that I love so much bring me so much dread? Why does a holiday that is embedded in gratefulness cue me to start sweating with the first note of Christmas music that follows it? Am I allowed to love Hallmark Christmas movies without the pressure of recreating one? Yes. I am. But how do I remind myself of that?

I’ve collected 5 tips from my colleagues, friends and even some of you that I am going to try this holiday season to keep me calm(er) and allow myself to find joy among the chaos this holiday season. I invite you to try them with me.

Breathe. Like for real. I have an app on my watch that literally reminds me to take deep breaths for a minute. And I typically tap “dismiss”. How sad is that? I can’t take a minute out of my day to breathe? So I am setting up 3 times a day where I stop and breathe for one minute. But here is the trick: It’s called grounded breathing. I sit in a chair and as I take deep breaths in through the nose, and out through my mouth, I feel the ground under my feet, the chair under my thighs. This helps to get me out of that crazy whirlwind in my brain and back to my body and to the present moment. If I can’t sit, I stand, with my hands on my belly or holding my children’s hands (it helps calm them, too) and feel the connection of my hands to whatever they are feeling.

Create a daily ritual. This is an action that will take just a few minutes to do every day, that will “set” my tone for the day. It’s not something to add, it’s taking something you may even be doing already and doing it intentionally. Mine is drinking my morning coffee. The idea is to actually sit with my first cup of coffee, feeling the warmth of the cup in my hands, the taste of it on my tongue. Eyes closed, eyes open, maybe making my list for the day (see number 3), maybe while enjoying a few lines of a book or listening to music,  Instead of taking sporadic lukewarm sips in the middle of running around getting us ready in the morning (I’ll save that for cup number two!). Your ritual might be a meditation, a prayer, a mantra, your skin care routine or even dancing to a song. Whatever it is, let these moments be purposeful, simple and the signal for you to get ready to embrace the day. On crazy days, you may even do your ritual more than once as a reset your mind and yourself before you conquer the next items on your list.

Make a  list (and check it twice). Don’t run away from this one. I am a TERRIBLE list maker. Scratch that: I am a terrible list follower. I am the person that writes a list, and then at the end of the day adds things to the list that I did do that day (but were not originally on the list), just so that I can check things off. The purpose of this list is NOT to check things off. If you do, that’s a bonus! The purpose is to put to paper all of those “to do’s” swirling around in your head. Writing the ideas down on paper takes the “what if’s” and the “how am I going to do all of this’s” out of the equation. It can help you plan. It often is less taxing to see it versus think about it. And put “breathe” on your list. You can put “pray” on your list. But most importantly, put “be amazingly you” on your list. Because no matter what you get done, anything you DID get you done makes you pretty awesome.     

Create your Family Holiday Bucket List, AS A FAMILY.  Talk to your family. What you may think they will give them a memorable holiday experience and what they think of when they think “holiday” may be two totally different things. Our family made a list this summer of one thing that meant “summer” to each of the boys and my husband and I and that is how we made our little “bucket list”  And it worked! We all were able to do something that had personal meaning and then shares it with each other. This Thanksgiving, my goal is to talk about not only what we are grateful for, but what things give each of us that holiday season feels. It takes the pressure off of me because it’s not about being perfect and it’s about being tailored to us.

Remember why. Whether it is Thanksgiving or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Christmas, bring your mind back to the reason for the season. Right before my husband and I got married, someone suggested to us to stop throughout our wedding day and look around, breathe in the scene, taking little memory photographs so that we would remember the day that would inevitably go by in the blink of an eye. So while you are running and shopping and baking and decorating and wrapping and light-seeing, stop for a minute with me and take it all in. Let’s remember, together, why we are doing this in the first place: the true beauty of the season. The family. The experiences. The traditions. The giving. The love. The meaning.

And maybe in doing that, we can give ourselves a little taste of that Hallmark movie holiday magic.

Julie Spencer