— “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas”
I’ve had enough of cookies, glittering lights, sparkling ornaments, and long unstructured days with the family — I’m ready for a return to routine. Sounds Grinchy, I know, but honestly? I’m happy that the holidays are over.
Before you start thinking my heart is a fist-sized lump of coal, let me explain. I enjoy seeing my four-year-old son brimming with joy and excitement from presents and visits with family and friends. Flip these emotions, though, and you get exhaustion and stress from an anticipation that’s so huge, it becomes overwhelming. Felix is a sensitive kid who feels things deeply, and in big ways. He tends toward frenetic, physical, outward expressions of his inner-space. When frustrated, he hits or throws. When lonely, he hugs and curls into a ball. He’s still developing filters and ways to manage his feelings, and so the buzz of holiday excitement becomes, by Christmas morning, too much for him to handle.
This year, while working on the LEGO train set that Santa brought him, he ran to the bathroom every minute or two to pee. My wife worried that he had a bladder infection, but as the day went on it became clear that he was nervous with excitement, anxious that the holiday he had been counting down for a month had finally arrived. Of course there was an uptick to his tantrums and clinginess too, which persisted throughout the holiday week.
While I’m describing emotional issues specific to my child, I’ve heard from other parents about the pressures of spending time with their extended family, the burn-out of too-much enthusiasm, the way that kids, after the big day, don’t know what to do with themselves. I wonder if we’re not making too much of Christmas. Adults complain that the proliferation of holiday music and commercials which begin around Halloween is annoying, but what about the impact these holiday images have on children, the way that they create an aura around Christmas so impossibly large and wonderful that our kids are taken out of the present moment, washed away in a tsunami of enthusiasm? No actual Christmas can ever live up to these Hollywood-esque ideals.
Perhaps we should be striving for a simpler, smaller approach to the holidays, one with less toys and fewer disruptions to the regular flow of life. Or maybe that’s a stupid idea, antithetical to what the holidays are all about, which seems to be a time of year when the normal is put on hold, when the mundane is banished and the decadent embraced.
What I am sure about is that my little guy has trouble handling the hugeness of the holidays at this point in his life, and I do as well. For a four-year-old and his neurotic father, there’s a pleasure to consistency, to knowing what each day is going to bring — a few hours of school for him and writing for me, followed by time spent with one another in small chunks. We don’t tire of one another’s company or get on one another’s nerves. We follow a good schedule of sleep and exercise. And we don’t eat too many sugary treats!
Less can be more, I think, and there’s a lovely, special magic even within mundane, day-to-day routines. So I’m happy that the holidays are over for another year, and that’s its time to put away the tree and take down the lights, and settle back into the usual pleasures of life.