Who Nurtures the Nurturers?

What is it about Christmas that Makes Women Go a Little Crazy?

Don’t You Dare Say Anything About Hormones . . .

Every year from Thanksgiving to Christmas, I go into this mode that drives everyone around me more than a little nuts. It’s my holiday mode, and I have decided that I don’t like it any more than the rest of my family, but I truly cannot help myself. So let me explain . . .

It all began when I was actually quite young. I remember when I was a teenager that I started to put up the tree for my mom. She was all for handing over the responsibilities of tree duty. That was how most things were in our house since I was an only child. Little by little as I grew up, I took on more and more responsibility for things. Because our home was so dysfunctional in a lot of ways, I found myself trying to be the nurturer out of the three of us as my mom and dad grew further and further apart.

So I started to develop habits about Christmas that I came to depend on to get me through the holidays, and with my OCD, it had to be done this way every year. I sent out cards, wrapped the packages with ribbons and bows, never just a stick on bow, decorated the house throughout with candles, a nativity set and creche, my set of nativity-setsSantas, my various snowmen, my Santa boot with candy canes that no one ever eats, even a special angel candle holder in the bathroom.

Then there are the lights. I put lights in the windows, just single candles with clear lights, and then icicle lights on the roof and some lights on the bushes, not too many. I used to have a couple of white wire trees and a couple of reindeer, but I think that they have somehow disappeared in the great cleaning out of things in the attic. At one point in time, I used to climb the two trees in the front yard and wrap the limbs with clear lights, but the trees got too tall, and I couldn’t climb them any more. I’ll admit that I really enjoyed doing that, but I didn’t enjoy taking them down, so my daughter used to climb up in the trees and complain the entire time that she was taking them down that she didn’t understand how I could get the lights up so high in the branches. I used to tell her that I had monkey toes and I could climb really high if I wanted to.

And then every year except for this one, I make a homemade wreath. I buy a fresh wreath, and then I add cones and bells and ribbon and a bow. I like to leave the wreath up pn the front door as long as possible so that we still have the smell of a fresh tree since we don’t have a real tree in the house because of allergies.

And of course, there are the homemade stockings. It started with the stocking that my mom made for me, and then she made one for Alexis when she was born. I made one for each of the boys when they were born. I asked my mother to make one for Caitlin even though she didn’t make it to Christmas. It’s never been filled, but I like to hang it each year in remembrance of her. I made one for Corey when he joined the family, and the dogs have their special stockings, too. But the fun part is finding new things to put in the stockings every year: special chocolates, gummi bears, miniature games, picture frames, maybe special jewelry. I stay on the lookout during the year for things for the stockings.

Doing all of these things brings me a lot of pleasure, but at the same time, I get very stressed out because I still am very much of a perfectionist  about getting all of it done, and Corey just doesn’t get excited about Christmas in the same way that I do. Not that he has to because everyone has different histories with Christmases, and granted, my need to do all of these things didn’t necessarily grow from the healthiest of sources. But I can’t help but get testy with him because he doesn’t get filled with the same childlike, over-the-top, isn’t all of this wonderful spirit that I do, instead of the, ‘do we really have to do this again this year’ kind of exasperation . . .

I don’t really do any kind of baking any more. When I taught at Old Dominion University, I used to bake homemade cookies for my students before the end of the fall semester when everyone went home for Christmas Break. I would bring in huge batches of cookies for them to eat during exams. I would also make some for home as well. Those were fun times.

But just about every woman I speak to around the holidays asks the same questions: Are you ready yet? And the answer is always the same: No. I’m running behind. How many men do you think actually ask each other that question? I mean, Corey likes to shop. He likes to shop for clothes for him, and he likes to shop for clothes for me, but he gets tired of shopping in general, and when I start to ask Christmas shopping questions such as, do you think so-and-so will like . . . he starts to wander into men’s jeans. If I start to look at Christmas decorations for the house, I get looks like, ‘are you seriously going to add one more Christmas figurine to our over-crowded house?’

So even though I want to do this, it becomes the bane of my existence for about six weeks, and I work myself into a stress-induced kind of mania. So who cares for the emotional nurturers when they are walking bundles of stress? When they are ready to snap at the least little thing? When they will consider taking their 17-year-olds to Wal Mart and ask for a return or exchange because Wal Mart agrees to take anything back even without a receipt?

Well, I’m pretty lucky. In my case, it’s my Grinch of a husband. Even though he’s not big on the whole idea of Christmas, he’ll still take me shopping, and bring me home and pull off my boots for me, and make me a cup of tea on top of everything else. And he’ll do that even when it’s not holiday season, so men may not want to talk about Christmas, but they can be nurturers.

Unfortunately, too often, and I know this firsthand, we have to be our own nurturers. We have to work eight to ten hour days, come home, fix dinner, go shopping for presents, send out the cards, decorate the house, play Santa, and nurture our kids’ hurts by ourselves. And sometimes this leaves us short. The cup doesn’t have enough on some days, and we find ourselves short: short on patience, short on time, short on all of the necessities we need to be good moms and still take care of ourselves in the process.

painted-toenailsOn those days, we might fall into bed with our make-up on and our feet hurting and wonder why life can be so unfair, wonder why we can’t get a fair shake, why we can’t find the time to paint our toe nails (oh, I painted my toe nails every time I went into labor before I went to the hospital. Oh yes. Believe me). I remember nights when I would curl up in bed with a dog and think with regret what a bad mother I had been that day because I didn’t take the time to play with one of my kids when he asked, or I skipped the bedtime story because I was too tired.

We can be so hard on ourselves. Years pass, and we still remember these things. Christmases come and go, and we still try for that perfect holiday. Is it because of what we see in magazines? For me, probably not. I stopped trying to live up to Victoria and House and Garden years ago. I did finally realize that my living room was never going to look like those pages, and my children’s rooms were never going to have toys neatly stacked in quaint little nooks.

Being a mother can be one of the the most difficult jobs in the world. We need to stress less, truly learn from our mistakes, and like most everyone else in our lives, be more forgiving of ourselves.

More later. Peace.

O Christmas Tree

Ms. Claus Has a Dilemmasmall-christmas-tree

I have nowhere to put my Christmas tree this year. The living room still has the new bedroom furniture in boxes in front of the fireplace, which is where we normally put the tree—to the left of the fireplace in the corner. However, there is no access to the corner because of the huge boxes. The only other possible place is the space between the living room and the dining room. However that space is currently being occupied by what I like to call an art nouveau sculpture: a chair on which is perched precariously a box, another box, some file folder, various papers; behind the chair is another box containing mysterious content; next to the mysterious content box is what I believe to be an old CD holder, some more file folders, possibly some office supplies, and other colorful pieces of unidentifiable stuff, for lack of a better term.

The sculpture is being held together by a substance known as dust, which, when left alone for months at a time, becomes very durable. No one has tried to move this sculpture because we have become so used to its presence that it is now a part of our daily lives. We walk around it, reach over it, and occasionally add a new piece to it in an attempt to expand its essence. Even the dogs give it a wide berth.

I have lost several items over the past year, a few books, a sweatshirt, some sunglasses. It is entirely possible that they have been absorbed by the statue. I have no doubts that it has begun to take on a life of its own, which is why I no longer have any interaction with it. It is slowly moving towards the table on which the printer sits. I expect it to mind meld with the dining room computer at any time. In a way, it reminds me of the plant in Little Shop of Horrors. Any day now, I fully expect it to demand to be fed something or else it will devour the Jack Russells.

Nevertheless, until someone tackles this mass of clutter disguised as art, I will have no place in which to set up a Christmas tree. This will not be a good thing for all involved, believe me. I keep to myself for most of the time, have given up the living room and the big screen HD television to those who use the XBox. I don’t use the dining room computer because I have my own nice wide screen right here in the bedroom. But when it comes to Christmas and the Christmas tree, that’s when I have to draw the line. That’s my holiday, and I refuse to budge on this issue.

Even though I stress myself out completely in the attempt to create a wonderful Christmas each and every year, I still go through the madness. I want the house decorated inside and outside. I want the tree up, and I want all of the lights on it. To add to the madness, my OCD about Christmas lights is one of the things that I have not relinquished. I wrap the lights on the branches, not just around, which means that I end up putting about 12 strands of lights on the tree, and I won’t give this job to anyone else because no one does it the way in which I want it done. Admittedly, when I’m finished, I am not pleasant to be around, so we usually decorate the tree in a two-step process: lights on one day, ornaments on the next. I do lights, everyone else does the ornaments.

I do the cards and most of the wrapping. Brett has started to help with the wrapping, which is nice, but even he can’t understand why I get to OCD over wrapping presents. Why three strands of ribbon instead of one? I love to make presents look beautiful even if no one really notices. It’s just part of the tradition that I’ve created over the years, a tradition that albeit is more stressful than anything else, and one that I refuse to let go of even though it sends me off the deep end. If you are trying to find logic here, there is none. Believe me, Corey has been trying for years, and he has finally just accepted the madness rather than try to understand it.

Truthfully, I think that really it’s my last connection to doing things the way in which I used to that I just cannot let go of, no matter how much it costs me. I love Christmas. I love the lights. I love the trees. I love the packages. I love to give things to people I love. Corey doesn’t love Christmas in the way that I do, so he doesn’t understand my compulsion about all things Christmas. I want him to love Christmas in the way that I do, but he doesn’t. I try to understand that not everyone likes the holidays, but the kid in me wants to pout and make everyone love this holiday.

I’ve thought about it a lot, and I’m sure that it goes back to my childhood. Being an only child didn’t necessarily mean that I got a lot for Christmas because actually, I didn’t. But as far back as I can remember, we always had nice celebrations at Christmas. In England, Father Christmas would come to school, and we would have Christmas pudding and sing lot and lots of carols. When I was about eight or nine and my dad was out to sea at Christmas, we would spend the holidays either at Great Bridge with all of my cousins, or we would go to Winston Salem to spend the holidays with my mother’s other sister and my cousins there. So it was always a time for family. My mother always made sure that I was surrounded by lots of people when Dad wasn’t there, so I have very warm, loving memories of Christmas as a child.

It was never about the presents. It was about the season. As I got older, I carried that with me, and I created my own traditions, and I don’t want to let go of these. The boys have always gotten up really early and cheated by looking in the gift bags, which is why I wrap about half of the presents. We always unwrap presents as a family so that everyone pays attention to what other people are getting. There are always presents from Ms. Claus and from the dogs, too.

Everyone has homemade stockings, and filling the stockings is as important as the presents. No one ever knows what might show up in their stockings. And of course, when the kids were younger, we left a plate of cookies forgrinch Santa and some milk. The boys asked me if I ate the cookies, and I could honestly say that I did not becaue I didn’t.

I suppose, in the end, for me, Christmas is still magical. I am still filled with wonder and hope, which is why one day very soon, someone in this family is going to have to kill the beast that has grown in the dining room so that I can have my Christmas Tree. Otherwise, the Grinch may take up residence until the problem is fixed, and that just won’t be good for anyone. We’re going to have my Christmas, dammit, even if I have to kill everyone in the process.

More later. Peace.