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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

My Annual Christmas Bitch Session

December 13, 2013 1 comment

I’m walking a tightrope, stretched between two Christmas trees, taut with the pressure of time, money, and expectation.

On the one side is the me that loves Christmas. Loves! The hype, the decorating, the giving, the madness, the merrymaking. The stories, the movies, the traditions, the magic. Did I mention merrymaking? I buy in. I believe.

Christmas cookies aren't  one of my strengths. Party tricks, on the other hand...

Christmas cookies aren’t one of my strengths. Party tricks, on the other hand…

On the other side is the me that loathes the tremendous hassle involved in making it all happen. And by all, I mean all. Food, decorations, charity, presents for the world at large. It’s a lot for one sister’s shoulders.

As I teeter on this thin wire, below me is the pit of despair, experienced in Christmas’s past, that I can fall into if things go awry. Trust me, it’s not fun down there. Life does not imitate art. If the Grinch steals all of our gifts, or Santa or I fail to deliver the coveted items on their list, my children will not hold hands in a circle and sing.

Oh no.

Yet I somehow magically order things the day after they can guarantee delivery to Canada by Christmas. Never the day before or, say, weeks in advance. Who thinks of this shit in November? It’s much more exciting this way. Will it arrive, or won’t it. My legs quiver with anticipation, and that pit is looking uncomfortably close. Back ups are stashed. And then I forget what I’ve stashed. And where. This is life on the edge, right here.

Come December, I could use thirty-hour days. Because while Christmas must be extraordinary, still, life goes on. Which is why I lost it when my children remarked on the cleanliness lacking in my car yesterday. Something’s got to give – a trashed car over myself, ideally.

Obviously, there is room for improvement in the process. In my world, best case scenario means Christmas Eve is purely for stocking stuffers. And a rum and eggnog-infused search for that thing I know I bought, but likely won’t find until Easter.

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without that special feeling – that I’m losing it.

Notice the wrapped presents? I'm impressed, if you're not.

Notice the wrapped presents? I’m impressed, if you’re not.

BiChristmas, by God – Will the True Holiday Spirit Please Stand Up?

December 14, 2012 6 comments

When the inflatable Santa appeared on my neighbour’s lawn on November 1st, eclipsing even the towering Douglas Fir behind it, I knew it was coming. For not I, the Grinch, Hurricane Sandy, or the war-torn Middle East could stop Christmas from rolling into town and dominating the lives of those that celebrate it.

There’s much to say about this season in the snow, people love it or abhor it, everyone has a shopping tip, drunk staff Christmas party story, or recipe to share. But in the same way my hunger instantly disappears when faced with an All-You-Can-Eat buffet, I’m stymied; am I in the love or hate camp? I’m not sure. On any given day, at different moments, I could be either.

I’m biChristmas.

I love the idea of giving my kids something they will be over the moon excited about, but hate the fact that this dream necessitates me tearing around the city and stalking malls everyday of December. (I know, I shop online too, but still need to grab most of the stuff in person. Call me traditional, but I’m saving a fortune in shipping fees.)

It’s a Wonderful Life. Elf. Christmas Vacation. Charlie Brown’s Christmas. Yeeeeeesssssss! Frosty the Snowman. Santa Buddies. Nooooooooooo!

Cover of "Santa Buddies"

Make it stop.

Invite me to a party and I will be there – I happen to be gifted at merrymaking. The constant low-grade headache I have throughout December is another matter.

The memories of my childhood eyes seeing Santa through the crack of light in my door are precious; the ghosts of boyfriends past I could live without.

I hate the rain that is inevitably present in our city, but the snow on our mountains? Sign. Me. Up.

My joy of giving starts out strong early in the season, but by the time I’ve found a box of chocolates for the piano teacher, my daughter’s other best friend, and the barista that occasionally remembers my name, it snaps from joyful to snarly.

I held back tears of pride at my oldest daughters’ first Christmas concert; ten years and two kids later they are tears of boredom, and frustration that the tallest father in the school sits in front of me every year.

My children are not sure if they will return from school to a mother baking shortbread while cheerfully singing the incorrect lyrics to Santa Baby, or one savagely Gorilla-gluing the gingerbread house together (because why, for the love of god, does my roof always cave in?) When it comes to Christmas, I’m fifty shades of grey, fifty shades of red and green.

Love it, hate it, or Switzerland – what’s your verdict on Christmas?

writing prompt: flawed

Welcome to the family/RIP, Cookie

December 29, 2010 5 comments

My daughter was adamant: she wanted a new sibling for Christmas, and failing that, a dog.

I love my child dearly and would unthinkingly throw myself under a bus for her, but I have my limits.  We settled on a fish.

They say the key to effective parenting is consistency.  Fittingly, I have been carefully consistent in my message that I am finished with having babies – if I smell that coconut body butter that you slather on your extended belly to avoid stretch marks one more time I can’t be responsible for my actions.  As for the dog, I’m conveniently allergic to fur.  I am, of course, lying through my teeth about this allergy, but it is the simplest and most effective way of quelling their pleas that surface biweekly.  I sleep at night, despite this tiny white lie.

I have been resistant to bringing any pet into our home for obvious reasons, the inconclusive list including odors, noises, and upkeep.  But there is another major problem: they die.  As much as I want to avoid the trauma for my children, it is me who I am most worried about.

I have been there, and it’s not pretty.  The day we brought our family’s puppy home ranks among the most incredulous of my childhood.  We loved Buffy, despite the fact that she barked ferociously day or night if anyone stepped foot on our property.  She was a beautiful sandy colored cocker spaniel, with freckles on her nose and bottomless eyes with the eyelashes so long and seductive they needed to be trimmed regularly.  As much as she loved our large family, she passionately hated strangers or any other thing that moved, so walking her was an exercise in restraint, literally, and not for the faint of heart or weak in stature.

Buffy during Christmas 1981

Buffy lived a long life, but her death hit me hard.

In the same way I can’t watch Animal Planet lest an antelope become an afternoon snack for a Cheetah, I can’t stand the thought of any pet under our care meeting its maker, be it gerbil, cat, hedgehog, frog or fish.  Besides, I watched Finding Nemo; it is the ultimate nightmare for any fish to be resident in tank cared for by a nine year old girl. Yet I was feeling guilty for denying my child the pleasure of a pet, so I caved.  We got her a fish tank for Christmas, with the promise she could pick out her fish on Boxing Day.

She was over the moon excited.  She skipped into our house with her plastic bags containing her carefully chosen protege, three small fish that if cared for properly would double in size over the next year.  She had already named them: Elmo, Ernie and Cookie (as in Monster).  We were pet owners for all of five minutes when disaster struck: Cookie got caught in the fish net during the transfer into its new home.  Cookie appeared to be traumatized, if not physically marred by this procedure; we weren’t sure (he?she?) would last the night.

We waited on edge for Cookie to make a comeback.  “Cookie’s gone!” she shouted, which I immediately assumed meant he had been eaten by the other healthy fish in the tank, weakest link theory.  Half an hour later she reported a Cookie sighting – “I see him! He’s floating on top of the water!” – which caused my husband and I to exchange wary glances;  I knew this day would come, just not so quickly.  But Cookie was indeed swimming on top of the water, although slowly and like Nemo, missing a fin.

The news report in the morning: Cookie lives. We narrowly dodged that bullet, now it becomes a waiting game.  If I was a gambling girl, I would put my money on a funeral conducted toilet bowl-side before the New Year.  Meanwhile, I will try to remain detached from Cookie, and hope my child fares better with pet mortality than I historically have.

Categories: Parenting Tags: , , , ,

I’m dreaming of an intoxicated Christmas

December 27, 2010 8 comments

At the risk of sounding like a lush, Christmas dinner is just not Christmas dinner without a glass of Viognier – my favorite turkey pairing wine- or at the very least, some liquid containing alcohol, be it moonshine or cognac.  Like Art Garfunkel’s lackluster solo career without Paul Simon, turkey dinner is bland and tasteless without wine, and my mood is certainly not as festive.

That I have married into a family that does not drink is a source of considering wrangling, not to mention countless thoughts of “what was I thinking?”.  Imagine, if you will, spending an entire day trapped within the confines of your in-laws house, a pack of sugared-up children squealing in delight as they chase each other around, and no rum for your eggnog in sight?

Without beer goggles, hopelessly mundane conversations become unbearably hopelessly mundane.  That story about the time my sister-in-law was doubling her Barbie on her bike, and turned to watch her hair blowing in the wind causing her to fall and break her wrist is not as charming the tenth time around.  With a glass of wine in hand I suspect I would be more patient.  I consider weighing in with my own memories of the time I mistakenly drank my father’s glass of whiskey – I was pretending I was in the Flintstones, I was Betty, Wilma was giving me medicine, incidentally – and my 5-year-old self drunkenly fell down the stairs in front of my parent’s company.  I keep this memory to myself – this would be akin to blasphemy.

Years ago, when I got myself into this mess, remaining sober on celebratory occasions was not a big deal.  Back when my social life was in full swing (another way of saying pre-children), waking up without a hangover, or at the very least that sour taste in your mouth, was a welcome respite on Boxing Day.  Those sweet stories of my betrothed’s childhood were charming the first time around.  But as my family has grown, so has my need for a cocktail once the clock chimes five.  My social life now null and void, occasions like Christmas can provide the perfect excuse for even earlier cocktails.

Alcohol causes nothing but trouble, my in-laws argue.  Admittedly, alcohol has gotten us into some hiccups along the way in my own family (a family where the question is would you like a dash of eggnog with that rum?).  There was the time my teenaged brother fell into an alcohol induced sleep with a cigarette burning on our ottoman, and we narrowly escaped our house being burned down.  But for the most part, spirits add festivity and fun to our gatherings.  Those tiring stories become riotously funny.  Tongues loosen, guards drop.  Very rarely, scores are settled.  Always people are teased mercilessly.

The hard stuff adds color.  Christmas dinner with my in-laws is conducted in black and white, and yields ho-hum, stilted conversations.  For instance there is much discussion over the done-ness of the turkey. The conundrum of keeping the white meat moist while cooking the dark meat properly has been dissected and debated to the tiniest detail.  The hours spent on this topic would surely have produced world peace had that been the debate.  This year my in-laws barbecued the turkey: a whole new day dawned.  The teetotalers were so enamored by this progression that the lumpy mashed potatoes and dressing (with or without raisins – always good for a fifteen minute discussion) were scantly noted.

If you happen to be my mother-in-law, I’m sorry to be disrespectful, but offer me a glass of wine next year and I guarantee you will prefer my slightly intoxicated state.  If this makes me an alcoholic, then so be it; the first step is admitting it.  Next year I’m bringing a flask.

A Christmas Miracle

December 24, 2010 2 comments

‘Home for Christmas’ takes on new meaning to a family who has had a child in the hospital for the last few months.time passes slowly in the hospital

I call my nephew, Brennan, a child, but at sixteen he is caught between being a child and being a man.  He still has the innocence and nonchalance of youth, but the wisdom that age brings for understanding medical terms and diagnoses.  These combined characteristics have made him a dream patient for his team of doctors and nurses, but what a nightmare these past seven months have been for Brennan and his family.

Under normal circumstances, he has been a picture of health.  A terrific athlete at anything but especially baseball and basketball, he was hoping to add football to his list by trying out for his high school football team this year.  But last May he became ill with what seemed a lethal stomach virus, and dropped 25 pounds off of his already thin frame.

Since then he has bounced around from emergency rooms to x-ray rooms and has seen the inside of every imaginable department in the Isaac Walton Killam Hospital in Halifax.  What ailed him seemed like a guessing game to the medical community; diagnosis ricocheted from a bad virus, to celiac disease, to Crohn’s disease.  Finally, they settled on lymphoma.  The game ascended from bad to worse.

Brennan has endured being a human pin cushion with heartbreaking stoicism and a shrug of the shoulders.  He learned the hard way that you never know what a day might bring.  He was deprived of food for what seemed an eternity under the Crohn’s blanket. The new, updated lymphoma diagnosis meant he could eat, but the lethal chemotherapy drugs took the pleasure out of food altogether.

Brennan finished his last round of chemotherapy last week, and the prognosis is finally looking positive, this nightmarish chapter of his life hopefully closing.  He came home for Christmas and, fingers crossed, forever yesterday.

Santa came early, anything else that happens this Christmas is extraneous.  Merry Christmas Brennan, and to all a good night.

Home for a daypass in the summer

Chistmas is killing me

December 13, 2010 2 comments
MD-80 by a Nose

Image by caribb via Flickr

I had the most vivid dream last night: I was standing on an island at the water’s edge.  Not so far away, a 747 was taking off in my direction.  I stood, transposed, as this magnificent beast lazily lifted first its nose, and then slowly its rear, its huge bulk improbably hanging in mid air.  Suddenly, in a horrifying twist, its nose turned downward and it was heading straight towards me.  This prior magical moment, full of wonderment at the marvels of modernity, turned into the shock of modernity causing my death; there was no where to run.

And so it is with Christmas, another altogether beautiful, mass market, man made beast.  It has become an industry that spawns an entire collection of movies, its own section in book stores and the library, encourages even the most gifted of musicians to cover Christmas classics (as if anyone could improve on Nat King Cole’s version of Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, but still, they try).  Most importantly, it is the crowning glory of everything retail; spend! spend! spend!, advertisements tell us.  As the days of December tick quickly by, the nose of that 747 has taken a nasty downward focus.

The internet has supposedly made shopping easy: one click and it’s on its way.  Yet I am paralyzed.  I have not bought one gift for my best customers, my children.  The lights are too dazzling, the smell of pine intoxicating, the wrapping paper too varied, the choices of gifts both big, small and insignificant, overwhelming.  I am frozen by the sheer volume of my growing list, and now it is too late to order online.

As the mother who wears the purse, if not the pants, in this family, I am the unspoken provider of Christmas.  I have three little girls who fully expect Santa to bring them a boatload of presents on December 25.  We are working our way through the multitude of Christmas movies Hollywood has faithfully produced, all with the same message: you must believe in Santa for him to come.  Yet, try though I may to believe (dutifully, like all of the cards shout from my mailbox, Believe!), this higher being has yet to materialize.  It will be me trudging through malls this week, battling frantic shoppers who are decidedly not in the holiday spirit as they beat me to parking spots and dash in front of me in long checkout lines.

I know this; I have been out there already.  I haven’t bought one present for my family, but I’ve been trying hysterically to keep up with the other demands of Christmas.  My daughters are each doing Secret Santa gift exchanges at school, at gymnastics, and now, they tell me, since they are so much fun, with their friends.  They are collecting money for coaches and teachers, to give them gifts, and since it is all about giving, who can argue with that?  Each of their classes are putting together a gift hamper for families in need – the most useful gifts I will purchase this season – but adding three more to my list.  For every party they attend (classroom, school play, gymnastics, soccer) they bring items for the food bank, so my pantry is disappearing before my eyes, and I’m also expected to bake and decorate cookies for these events, as if the twelve other plates of gingerbread men are not enough.  There are dresses and shiny shoes to be purchased,  snow boots and ski suits that must be upgraded for the impending weather.  I’m exhausted and broke and I haven’t even started on the list that includes my own family.

sporting their finery during Christmas 2009

Our tree is up, but my children are begging for more decorations, more lights, more everything.  When, they keep asking, will the presents be under the tree?  Oh yes, those elusive presents.  Telling them I’ve been a bit busy doesn’t fly: doing what? they ask.

The ten shopping days remaining are reduced to five for me, since school vacation starts at the end of this week, at which point I morph into camp director, shepherding my children to the skating rink, ski hill,  indoor pools and playdates in an effort to entertain them.

The nose of the plane is now closing in on me, I am deafened by the roar of its engine.  Should I run or swim, I wonder.  It really doesn’t matter, since it is landing on top of me in any event.  Just as the Grinch discovered, you can’t stop Christmas from coming; but unlike those gracious Who’s in Whoville, my children will not peacefully gather around a tree without presents underneath it, singing carols.

all smiles Christmas morn '09 - no pressure!

Christmas vacation plans, anyone?

December 9, 2010 2 comments
a commercial christmas in hawaii #4

Image by nayrb7 via Flickr

It’s starting already.  Whenever a school break looms, the calendar days gapingly empty and devoid of the regular nine to three tolling of the school bell, that question: “So, what are you up to for the holidays?”

If you pay close attention, this question comes almost exclusively from those who actually have vacation plans for the upcoming break, since posing this question provides them with a segue into their plans after you answer, “Not much, how about you?”.

This is a tad facetious, since holiday plans are not a bad conversation starter, especially among those whose answer to the question might be “We’re going to Kauai for the first time, have you ever been?” and they are off to the races talking about the pros and cons of islands in Hawaii.

These lucky soon-to-be vacationers obviously have travel on the brain, having had to load up with sunscreen or ski goggles, as the case may be, in preparation for their trip, so innocently may think everybody flies off to exotic destinations when faced with two weeks of having no teachers to babysit their children.  Let’s face it, the alternative is not so rosy.   After the first day of sitting around in your pajamas watching old Christmas DVD’s, the kids start getting on each others nerves, which gets on the parents nerves, which makes us all throw on our boots and coats and head out into the miserable rain or snow or slush and then things really go downhill.

I am sensitive to the topic of actually going somewhere on your school break, since my parents chose to have numerous children instead of implementing a holiday budget (luckily for me since I was the last of the nine kids, I got life whereas my siblings never got Disney World).  We never went anywhere.  I hated that first day back after spring break where classmates would show up sporting tans and even worse, stories of their travels.  I was green with jealousy.

Inadvertently rubbing salt into my wounds, my family finally planned a vacation, but it went awry.  When I was in high school, my parents announced we would be going to Quebec’s Winter Carnival for spring break.  A twelve hour drive, but still, a great destination.  I was jubilant, overjoyed, and ran around asking all of my classmates what they were doing for their break, barely letting them answer before blurting out “well WE’RE going to the Quebec Winter Carnival!”  However my mother contracted a brutal case of the flu on the road, so we holed up in Edmundston New Brunswick for the week.  My dad did drive us over the Quebec border, so we could say we had been there.  And the Edmundston Ho Jo had an indoor pool where I learned my back dive, so it wasn’t a complete disaster.  But I have been careful not to gloat ever since.

Likely I am marred by my childhood experiences, and overly sensitive to this question, when people are just saying what first comes to their mind.  I should grow up, not be so judgmental, be happy for them.  I know this, and will tell my own children to do exactly this when they complain that we are not going anywhere.  I will tell them to think of all the people who have so little, and be happy for what we do have.

After all, it is the most wonderful time of the year; there are good times to be had without leaving your house; magical moments abound. But unabashedly I would rather be having these moments in Mexico; and news flash for all of those who pose the question: so would we all.

So please: if you have holiday plans and I am in your midst, put a lid on it.