I didn’t realize, when I became a parent, just how psychosis-inducing the Christmas season would become. All I knew was that Christmas was filled with wonder and magic and sparkles and, while the shine had faded a bit in my adult years, I couldn’t wait for my kids to bring that all back for me.
Uh, yeah. So, turns out, mom is the one who actually makes all that wonder and magic and sparkle happen. And if mom ain’t on the ball, it’s just a lot of crying and darkness and cats choking on tinsel. Magic takes work, y’all.
*Side note, I hear some folks want Santa to be gender neutral and I’m like, he sits on a big cushy chair rocking a beard while other people do all the work, then he puts in one long night and gets ALL the credit. That guy is definitely a dude.*
Every November (and not a SECOND before), I start getting pumped for Christmas. The day after Thanksgiving, I wake up before everyone else and I drag up the giant bins of all the Xmas detritus. I pour eggnog in my coffee, I set the Christmas music to “stun,” and I brace myself for the impending tidal wave of joy.
And then my family wakes up and everything goes straight to hell. The engineer immediately tries to “manage my expectations,” which is a dick-move before we even have a tree, for crying out loud. The kids start fighting over the MOST delicate ornament in the bin, which invariable shatters. “For crying out loud just put on some pants so we can go get our tree!” I finally scream through a clenched smile. I add bourbon to the eggnog in the coffee.
The tradition I most love and look forward to every year is getting the tree. We have a little city-farm-stand a few blocks from the house, just next to the youth-homeless-shelter. This is convenient because there’s a built-in threat if the children don’t behave.
Spoiler – the children do not behave. 2nd Spoiler – apparently you can’t just leave them at the shelter, they have to, like, run away on their own or some crap.
Something sets the Madness off early and she flatly refuses to go. The rest of us are standing outside, bundled up to our eyes, ready to roll the big wagon down to the tree lot. Madness stands on the porch and glowers. The engineer just starts walking away with the little one skipping along beside him because she likes to be aggressively cute anytime her sister is clearly losing her shit. Jo is the master of the PR coup.
So now I’m alone, staring at a glowering ten-ager, as the tree-getting brigade crosses the big street. I’m hyperventilating. The magic is leaving without me! But I can’t just abandon the other kid, we ALL have to be there. It’s TRADITION.
Through a desperate combination of threats, bribes, begging, and just straight up walking away, I get the big kid to follow. She is taking tiny, infuriating steps, scraping her new boots along the street. The wagon is getting farther and farther away.
“I want to go HOME,” she whines. “It’s COLD.”
“It’s always cold; it’s Christmas!” I say.
She stops. More begging, more threatening. She shuffles again.
We get there. She’s miserable the whole time. And I remember something. This is tradition, too. One of my kids is always miserable for this walk and makes me miserable in return. I remember the year we got to the stand and one of them peed their pants and had to walk back, in the snow, with wet pants and wet shoes. Miserable.
Why do I look forward to this field-trip so much? We’ll get back home, one of them will break more of my favorite ornaments. At some point I’ll have too much eggnog and cry…not necessarily in that order. The Engineer will refuse to help because apparently decorating for the holidays is the leading cause of injury for middle-aged white men (or possible the rolling pin I’m checking for heft). It’s probably also the leading cause of divorce, but I don’t have those statistics on hand.
There will be glass shards, there will be tears, there will be an injury. When those things are all but certain, when the pain is inevitable and you do it anyways, that’s how you get a tradition. Magic has its price.
But then you get this face and, next year, that’s all you remember. Maybe next year we’ll go cut down a tree! Maybe next year I’ll get one of those elf on the shelf things!
Happy whatever Holiday you like, guys! I’d just like to say a huge THANK YOU to my moms and my grandmas for all the invisible labor they put in to make me love this time of year so stupid much. Strong work, ladies.
*A brief chime in by Whiskey. Let’s not toss all the dads under the bus. Dads who hide out in freezing cold garages putting together bikes with instructions written by a guy they call “Mad Karl” who has invented his own language and somehow sourced hardware that is neither metric nor imperial. Dads who risked life an limb to hang lights on frozen roof tops. Dads who build incredibly complicated doll houses in secret. Dads who dress up as Santa and manage to stay sober enough to deliver that bike and still not blow the facade.
I mean have you ever snuck into a bar for a quick one to make the in-laws tolerable wearing a full Santa suit? That man can’t buy his own drinks, and everyone wants to give the guy in red a pop on them. I mean its herculean willpower to leave at all and not forget the bike with a bow on it you have with you.
**Milk here: Oh MY GOD, Whiskey, that’s exactly what I mean. One night of effort and you guys expect a round on the house.