MB note: Loving this post from MotherBoard blogger Lindsay Watson for its honest look at the holiday madness. A must-read for those of us who have struggled with the family photo (true confession: I have only managed holiday cards for one of my nine seasons as a mom)… for those who are lucky enough to have a mom or best pal to back us up when it’s just too much… and for those who know that the real magic is in the little moments.
Last year, I decided to send out an unconventional holiday card to all our friends and family. It began as a failure, and ended up being one of my all-time favorites- and not for the obvious reasons.
To me, prepping for a family photo shoot mimics much of what life is like. You pick the location, plan and coordinate as much as possible, put some candy in your pocket to sweeten up potential sour moments, and then hope for the best. Last year’s family photo shoot was a “memorable” experience to say the least. With 3 kids, ages 10, 7, and 2- I was well aware that my odds for the perfect “holiday picture” were stacked against me. But still we tried. And from the moment my 2-year old daughter saw that camera, I knew I was going to lose. Refusing to give up, my husband and I tried every imaginable parenting tool to no avail. It got so bad at one point, we all just began to laugh. And later when the proofs arrived, they were just as disastrous as you can imagine. Each picture was a child psychologist’s dream as it depicted the entire dissection of a full blown 2- year old tantrum and how this family handled it. And as I anticipated, not one picture displayed my dream of 3 delightful and coordinated children along with their adoring and smitten parents. But upon closer inspection, one proof caught my eye. It was ridiculously flawed, and profound all at the same time. As I stared at it, I saw more than just mishap on each of those faces – I saw the essence of family and how we handle the chaos of the holiday season. In short, that picture represented all that is magical about this time of year.
During the holidays, I definitely feel additional stressors related to being a mom, let alone a working mom. However, my household reflects what many current studies suggest. The household chores are divided more evenly than in decades past, but still much of the “magic-making” task is delegated upon my shoulders. I usually spend my last wakeful hours either online shopping, decorating, RSVP’ing to a multitude of holiday parties, or on Pinterest saving a variety of holiday crafts and recipes which are never completed. However, I think most would agree that added holiday stress isn’t exclusive to just women. Men feel it too, but author, Leslie Bella, says that men and women differ in their expression of it. In her work, “The Christmas Imperative: Leisure, Family and Women’s Work,” Leslie states that, at this time of year, women experience an intense “family making” urge to create timeless rituals and lasting traditions. Furthermore, a study by The American Psychological Association says that of the general population that reports increased stress at the holidays, women experience on average 11% MORE stress than those male counterparts. But why? Is it self-imposed? Rather than attempt to answer that complicated question, I prefer to tell a story.
This past week, I caught a bad cold and refused to succumb to it for fear my “Christmas To-Do List” would grow even longer. On my day off of work, I crammed in as many errands as I could within a 3-hour window while my daughter was at preschool. When it was time to pick her up, I began to realize I had overextended myself as I was feeling worse. I decided to call my mom and see if she would help me complete my “finishing touch” Christmas decoration- a kitchen table centerpiece. While my daughter ate her lunch, my mom and I worked to recreate a Pinterest-perfect centerpiece complete with holly berries and greenery. Once we were satisfied with our creation, my mom said she would be on her way and so I casually thanked her as I departed upstairs for my daughter’s nap. As I sniffled and coughed my way through, “Goodnight Moon,” I started to realize I was really feeling sick. And rather than plan for a much needed nap for myself, I chose to plan another list of household chores I MUST complete BEFORE I would let myself rest. After tucking her in and walking back downstairs, I gasped at the sight as I turned the corner toward my kitchen. My mom was still standing there in the middle and had somehow completed 1-5 of my unspoken list. I swallowed hard and noticed freshly swept floors, an empty sink that once was brimming with dirty dishes, and the centerpiece was now perfectly accented with ornaments she had brought from home. As she unloaded the last of the dishes from the dishwasher, she quietly smiled in my direction. The scene was simply pure magic.
In that moment, a flood of emotions hit me and brought me back to my center. In this season of expanding waistlines and diminishing bank accounts I remembered what is often forgotten at this time of year. The magic is in the little things. Within those small deeds is true greatness, and upon which life-long memories are made. At this time of year, women appoint themselves as “Ministers of Magic,” because they often inherently know that even the smallest gestures can have the greatest impact. In my mom’s quiet smile, I saw some of myself and also her years of effort for me, often times unannounced and unnoticed. A mom’s work may be a thankless job at times, but in that moment, the gifts of those deeds came brimming to the surface.
So Moms, take a good long look at my ridiculous holiday card photos. I hope you see a bit of yourself in it too. I hope you see the mother in the back, reluctantly laughing at the calamity before her. She may have failed at creating magical perfection, but still she tried. In this season of “Not So Calm, But Mostly Bright,” I hope you thank the person who laughs with you and feeds your spirit, whether it be your mother or anyone else. In this season, women are working even harder behind the scenes to create magic from the mundane. In that picture, I hope you see that additional stress may be an unwanted side-dish, but it’s worth the gift of the buffet!