Alright, so you (my ten or so readers) may have been deceitfully hooked by the title to this post, thinking that I have the answers on how to be some kind of angelic, high energy, ‘joyfully get it all done before December 25th without the use of narcotics’ parent. Well, don’t bother to take notes. This is not a “how too” lesson.This is instead a few festive thoughts from a well-seasoned maniac. You can judge me without walking in my shoes. I’m okay with that. I don’t even walk in my own shoes most of the time. I prefer either sprinting or going barefoot, which brings me to my first holiday survival tip…denial…
…it is very important to get yourself into full denial as early in November as possible, like when you are looking at your bank statement and it is clear that perhaps the $42.32 that you have managed to save for the Christmas season is not going to be enough to buy presents for six children (or, even more realistically, for you saner people, TWO children). Simply be cheerful that you have made progress and hum a lot (but don’t hum Christmas songs, it’s much too early for that… hum something like “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC, or maybe a bible song, or any Johnny Cash stuff… “Ring of Fire” comes to mind) and think: “Wow! Progress! $42.32 is SOMETHING after all!”
Side note: this is one example of when a time machine would really come in handy. I could zip back in time and reverse a few ‘poor choice’ purchases. Take for instance the $300 that Grant and I spent at the health food store on a cleanse/weight loss system that was supposed to work miracles (because we were both feeling a little more than chubby and summer was approaching and we thought it would be cool to have hot bods). It actually made us both feel kind of sick and head-spinny on the very first day, causing us to abandon the plan immediately and head to the Swinging Doors for a chicken fried steak breakfast and two double Bloody Mary’s each to get our systems feeling normal again, thereby spending another $52.00 (including tip) and then $20.00 on pull tabs with the idea that we could win it all back and erase the memory of having been so stupid when we know full well that that shit doesn’t work when you are not willing to FULLY commit. I would dial the time machine to the day before this particular poor choice day and write a note to Grant: “Do not listen to Heather when she suggests going to the health food store tomorrow. Go instead directly to the Swinging Doors, spend $72 on mood leveling food and drink, then secretly stash $228 for Christmas, which will STILL not be enough to buy presents for six kids but will be better than $42.32).
So yes…huge digression…back to the denial idea…practice early on in November staying “PollyAnna Positive” that you will come across a big wad of cash before December 24, otherwise you will go in to a panicky tail spin that is very, very unproductive and bad for your health. It’s important to blissfully remain in full blown denial because this helps you to be your best self as you roll into to Thanksgiving…
…which leads me to the important role of Thanksgiving in preparing for holiday mania…Thanksgiving is the MECCA of all holidays…it is a charge your batteries, four day feel good weekend, beginning with that blessed day when you get to eat yummy food full of tryptophan (a mood leveling chemical that helps with denial), drink a bunch of booze (further promoting denial), watch football (excessive denial, especially with the Steelers playing this Thanksgiving) and generally sit on your ass in sweats and chillax…UNLESS YOU ARE IN CHARGE OF COOKING THE MEAL. Way back, twenty years ago, Thanksgiving used to stress me out, big time. Mainly because I am a crap cook and the pressure of putting on a full holiday spread was just too much for me. I thought this was woman’s work, and fought for that role for several years of my early married life, because I was a cranky, stubborn moron.
Enter (after several years of a lot of bad, bitterly performed cooking on my part) “The Weber” (pause here for dramatic magical background music…maybe something from one of the “Lord of the Rings” movies) and witness a husband whose real life work is about making the world a better place with his amazing ability to cook any kind of meat on said Weber, especially the glorious Thanksgiving-Day Turkey, full of special, yumilicious “Grant Stuffing”. (Pause for more music here: maybe “Magic Man” by Heart). This is when I realized that I could make the world a better place by just being the “Mashed Potato/Pumpkin Pie Side Kick”. Any moron can make mashed potatoes (I have only screwed it up two or three times in the last twenty years) and you can BUY pumpkin pies at the store. This was a huge moment for me, realizing that not being in charge of this meal did not devalue me as a woman, in fact it made me better, stronger, and more able to CHILLAX and watch football and let the master-baster do what he does best: joyfully (mostly) put on an incredible holiday spread. So for many years now, I have looked at Thanksgiving as my time to store up energy, rally my creative mojo, and pray for wads of cash to show up…super soon.
Which brings me to the subject of Black Friday and all the other potential shopping days up until the Saturday before Christmas…here are my thoughts on these days: IGNORE THEM. Carry on with your life, business as usual. Maybe throw up a little garland and let the kids tape snowflakes made from coffee filters on the windows to let them know you KNOW it’s almost Christmas and that you will probably not let them down. But other than that, just hum a lot (Christmas songs are okay at this time, it adds to the festive mirage), ignore the calendar and shun all your friends who have their shopping done by December 1st. They are not real friends; they are braggers who just want to make themselves feel superior to you. Do not let them put even a teeny chink in your armor of denial.
After years of coaching from my husband, a.k.a. “The Procrastinator”, I finally accepted the fact that it’s silly to shop early. First of all: kids change their minds…a lot. Sometimes that super cool “Presto Magico Turn Old Broken Crayons into Cool New Crayons shaped Like Cars, Animals or Aliens Machine” that you bought in June for $44.00 (because a certain couple of little boys decided that this cool potential money making machine was going to be number one on their Christmas Wish List) gets crossed off said list in December when something cooler comes along. Unless you intend to cut out cable and the newspaper so that your kids don’t see any commercials/ads touting the latest have-to-HAVE-to-go-on-living thing, ignore everything they say about Christmas gifts until about December 10th. Second, it is standard (at least in my household) that the wads of cash have mostly not shown up yet.
The last Saturday before Christmas is the day that Grant and I do ALL of our shopping. I know. I just heard a couple of you gasp. But we have it all very carefully choreographed. By December 15th the kids have written their carefully crafted letters to Santa (Mitchel even once taped a St Christopher medal to his ‘plea for football cards and not coal letter’ because he knew bribery was his only hope that year) and they KNOW there is no going back on those letters. We do request that they let us read them so that we know exactly what NOT to buy for them, since Santa has our back on these items. It also gives us time to draft counter-attack letters to Santa and send them priority mail should there be any requests for pets, drum sets, or a $600 X-Box One. It’s all about redirecting those kinds of requests with something more suitable to the recent behaviors and/or attention span of said child/teenager (though most of the teenagers in our household have learned early on to NOT take advantage of Santa’s generosity).
We then carefully compile our own list, checking it twice, or ten times (that’s my job) and gather all of our cash from various places: my “found it in the laundry so it’s mine” stash; Grant’s spare change cup-holder in his work truck; my giant jar of pennies I have been saving for the Penny Drive at the school; a little bit of Plasma donation; a couple trips to the pawn shop and a small loan from our “we really need to save for a new dryer” envelope and we are just-that-quickly armed with what is not exactly wads of cash, but as always, enough for some thoughtful gifts and a couple of “I need to rest every two hours during this ‘why in the shit did we wait until the last minute’ shopping trip from hell ” toddies, which definitely help with denying the fact that we are morons…
…and we head out, the Saturday before Christmas (it is never allowed to be on Christmas Eve-that’s pushing it even for the “King of Procrastination”, plus Christmas Eve is ear-marked for our traditional McDonalds dinner and Christmas Eve Mass, which helps us get into the spirit of the real reason for the season: the proud owner of the BIGGEST BIRTHDAY of ALL TIME: JESUS, plus French fries are fun too)… and we leave the house all positive and giddy and this is without having consumed any kind of narcotic (just a bunch of coffee laced with bourbon (AND!) NOT having had to rob a bank (though one year we actually wrote out a plan, and may have gone through with it had it not been for a miracle last minute Christmas bonus that saved us from potential jail time) and we just go get it done, laughing all the way…about what morons we are.
Sometimes we don’t find everything on the list (on account of the fact that everyone else got all the good stuff because they are goodie-two-shoes smarty pants early bird people who don’t know how to take RISKS). This is where creative gift certificates made from printed internet pictures (showing what you WOULD have had under the tree if your parents had it all together, but it will for sure be here by at least your birthday) come in handy. We also have been known to wrap up last minute items like cans of green beans, cases of top ramen and old tennis shoes when the number of packages is not equal per kid under the tree. Our children are pretty well-schooled to only expect one or two really good things and a few really weird and/or possibly icky items. Duncan once got an old ham bone wrapped in a deceitfully beautiful box with a bow. (We have an envelope marked ‘therapy money for our children for when they are adults and can’t figure out why they have trust issues” but we are probably going to have to borrow from it this year.) Anyway, it’s really all about (well besides Jesus) the initial presentation under the tree, which is easy to make quite stunning when you have six kids and large imaginations. And I guarantee that our kids will remember with great fondness the quirky gifts (one mystery kid is going to get a half-eaten box of chocolates this year which I am currently working on, so don’t call ME a procrastinator!) and talk about these gifts with their therapists, more than they would if they got an X-Box One which actually works out great for everyone.
So you see, good people, we have learned through the years the art of denial, the value in the healing power of Thanksgiving and all its lovely role reversing, tryptophan glory, and have the adventuresome ability to condense all our holiday worry into one tradition filled Saturday. We drink, we eat, we come together in merry solidarity (that kind of rhymes) which is helpful during the holiday season, and we get that shopping shit done! This leaves a bit of of extra time after our shopping date to procrastinate a few things, like putting up the Christmas Tree and sending out our annual holiday letter full of exaggerated tales of how great we all are and (more importantly) make plans, should that really big wad of cash come our way (which by then would thankfully be too late to go into “spoil our kids a bunch more mode” and completely (not just kind of) wreck them for all of humanity”) to apply the money to more important things like feeding the poor, putting a bit away for college (insert silly snort here) and maybe having a little left over for investing in a nice January Detox at the health food store. Ha!