Reducing Holiday Stress: This Year, I Just Cared LessEllen Seidman
“WEAR A DRESS! I THINK YOU SHOULD WEAR A DRESS!” I yell into the phone. It’s 5:10 on a Wednesday night and I’m boarding a New York City train; I’ve left work to take my daughter to a holiday party, she’s called me with a what-to-wear crisis and the phone connection is weak.
“What did you say, Mommy?” she asks as the doors close.
“HONEY, I SAID WEAR A DRESS!” I shout into the phone in the silence of the car.
“Mommmmmy, I can’t heeeeeearrrr you,” she says as the call drops. I sigh deeply. Another woman who has that mom-rushing-home look gives me a half smile.
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” the song goes. Actually, if you are a parent, it’s the most hectic and stressful time of the year, this season’s blitz of preparations and activities darkened by the cloud of grief hanging over our heads from the Newtown, Connecticut shootings.
Way before the tragedy, I’d been thinking hard about how I could spend more time this season on what matters most to me: my family. That meant reducing my December to-do list, one that’s familiar to most any mom out there. First, the gifts: dozens and dozens of presents to wrap and buy; we celebrate Chanukah, along with eight nights of gifts big and small. Plus presents for the kids’ teachers; for the ten-plus therapists who help my son, Max, who has disabilities; and for the babysitters. Then there are dozens of holiday cards to address and send, including ones for business acquaintances. Decorations to be put up and holiday parties to attend. Tips to be given to the locals who make my life work—the mailman, the guys who collect the garbage and recycling, and this year, some handymen who helped us out during Sandy.
This year, in order to stress less, I decided to care less. That didn’t mean what I did lacked thought; I simplified when possible, and quit trying to be so damn meticulous about everything. Perfection is generally the bane of motherhood, but it’s particularly so during the holiday time. It was incredibly freeing to release myself of the many “musts.”
* I let my husband and kids deck out the house, which meant decorations went up crooked or not at all, and I refused to care.
* Instead of giving the therapists and teachers distinctive gifts, I duplicated them. I still wrote cards, because expressing thanks is the most important thing of all, but the teachers all got Barnes & Noble gift cards and the therapists all received a cute $9.99 shower radio from Bed, Bath & Beyond. Nobody’s going to compare presents, I decided, and even if they did I would not be The Worst Parent of All Time for giving the same gifts.
* The mailman and locals got a card and cold, hard cash.
* I made a holiday card online and zapped it to people instead of mailing paper cards. (A nice gift for Mom Earth.)
* I put some of the kids presents in gift bags, some in tissue paper, and some I didn’t (GASP) wrap.
* I got creative about what counted as a gift. This fall, I signed my daughter up for one week at a sleep-away camp; she’s going to be 8 soon, and has been begging to go to one. As a present, I gift-wrapped an informational DVD the camp sent—and she couldn’t have been more psyched.
* When my husband called from the mall to say he’d found a great bullet blender to make the super-healthy smoothies he likes, I was all “I’LL BUY IT FOR YOU!” Surprises: so overrated. Especially when your husband has done you the favor of gift-shopping for himself.
* Our family bailed on a big holiday party; instead, we had some nice family time making dinner together (taco bar!) and singing holiday songs to Furby.
One thing I didn’t cut back on was giving back. As usual, the kids and I delivered toys to a couple of local places that hold annual toy drives, and made some online donations. That’s non-negotiable. But all that other stuff? Buh-bye. It’s mid-December and for once, my brain isn’t blinking like some fried string of Christmas lights. I don’t feel like I’m on the verge of a panic attack. I’m actually somewhat calm, even.
As I write this, we have absolutely no plans for New Year’s Eve. And you know what? I’m really excited about that.
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