I have always loved holidays and having children makes them even more fun. What is more fun than dressing up in a hilarious costume? Dressing up your little child in one! What is more fun than decorating? Seeing your children’s faces light up when you pull out the decorations. For me, holidays with children are more fun. But they are also more stressful. Much much more stressful. Let’s face it- someone has to buy/create the costumes, dig through the garage to find boxes full of holiday decorations, weed through said boxes of decorations, and spread them out through out the house. Someone has to plan the meals, buy the food, purchase and hide the gifts, remember WHERE said gifts were hidden when it is time to wrap them, plan the parties, and clean the house. That same person is usually busy either working full time or staying home with little children full time…. or sometimes juggling both. That someone is often (but not always) mom.
I have SO MUCH to be grateful for- this holiday season and every holiday season. I worried for years I would not find a partner, and once I did, for many reasons I feared we would not be able to have children. Now our home is filled with three very lively, very energetic, and very loud little boys. And I want the holidays to be special for them. I want them to be magical.
And yet, as I flip my calendar from October to November, my stomach fills with dread. Not only do we celebrate Thanksgiving this month, but next month we celebrate two of my boys’ birthdays, our wedding anniversary, Chanukah AND Christmas. All within the span of a few weeks. And it is stressful. Not to mention- the holiday season are extremely difficult for someone working on recovery from an eating disorder. While delicious treats and family recipes are a foundation to the holidays, behind each piece of pie or chocolate covered oreo are the suffocating comments about New Year resolutions to lose weight. To say it is hard would be an understatement.
Last year I vowed in October that I would NOT allow the stress to get to me. By the second week of December I was in tears, sitting amongst a mountain of presents, trying to decipher which gifts were for Teddy’s birthday, which were for Charlie’s birthday, which were for Charlie and Leo and Teddy for Christmas and which were for Charlie, Leo, and Teddy for Chanukah. I wanted to get my husband a sentimental anniversary gift, but I was so tired I couldn’t think straight. And then there were gifts for siblings, for parents, for nieces, and for nephews. And don’t forget the teachers- those angels on earth that I entrust with my children every single day. I wanted to express my gratitude to them, I wanted to give them something they would love. I wanted them to know how incredibly grateful I am for their care of my little boys. But there are JUST SO MANY of them. Between my three boys last year they had 14 different teachers- and that is not including the administration who provides a safe and nurturing environment for them at school. And so I did my best. I made the lists, I bought the presents, I signed up for the parties, and I tried not to hate December. With each trip I made to the grocery store, with every gift I wrapped, with each performance, class party, and family gathering I got my kids dressed and presentable for- I tried not to feel angry and resentful. All the while, I was managing the first holiday season of my small business. Also, my 2 year old side kick was with me almost all the time and my husband often travels for work. I tried not to hate December. But I am afraid I failed. Miserably.
In the middle of the overwhelming to-do lists it is so easy to become lost and to forget what we are even celebrating. Halloween, one of my favorite holidays, was overshadowed this year by my recovery from sinus surgery. I didn’t plan our costumes for months, I only took out a few decorations, and I did not attend all of the parties and events with the boys. I was sad to miss, but I also found a hint of relief in the simplicity. I had time to take a breath.
I was reminded of the lesson I am learning in recovery every single day- that most of the stress we feel we actually put upon ourselves. Every single day I have choices- I can choose what I say no to, what my priorities are, and how much value I place on other people’s opinions of me. So de-stressing the holidays for me does not mean getting everything done an entire month early. It means identifying what I value most and putting my energy there. It means saying no when I am asked to volunteer. It means buying the dessert instead of baking it, it means skipping the holiday cards all together, and it means saying no to the parties, cookie exchanges, and evenings out that cause me more anxiety than they do fun. It means accepting a messy home and a chaotic life. It means doing my best, and having compassion for myself when my best falls short of what I think it “should” be. It means letting go.
In addition to recovering from an eating disorder- I am recovering from trying to be the “perfect” most pinterest worthy mom, wife, friend, and daughter. I love to make arts and crafts and years ago I made a banner to hang across our fire place. It spelled “GIVE THANKS” in letters I carefully drew in pencil and erased several times before going over them with scissors. I envisioned the “perfect” family photos in front of the mantle every holiday as the years pass.
When I recently pulled out the thanksgiving decorations and strung the banner- I remembered my 3 year old ripped it last year. I must have stuffed the torn banner into the box in a mad rush to put away Thanksgiving and pull out Chanukah and Christmas. I guess I threw away a couple of the letters. My first thought was- “I need to make a new banner. Or at least make new letters. It has to be perfect.” But then, I took a deep breath, practiced some self compassion, and hung the banner anyway. It reads: “GI HANKS” And it is perfectly imperfect. I am going to leave it up as a reminder to myself. It is funny, quirky, and a perfect example of the chaotic place my life is right now. Three little boys under 9 are a handful. My house is loud and messy- but it is also filled with life, with laughter, with energy, and with love. I value love, family, connection, and growth. To me, the holidays, and EVERY day, are about celebrating these things. And when it comes down to it, I have SO MUCH to “GI HANKS” for