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Another Side of Christmas

Wait, what just happened?  For a very long time, that’s what I asked the first week of January, when the holiday season was finally, thankfully over – or at least those lights at the end of the tunnel weren’t Christmas lights anymore.

The season of grace and giving had become such hard work that I actually remember muttering, “How did I do all that?” before mercifully settling into the February funk that some people call seasonal affective disorder.

I will confess to being a Christmas stickler. Okay, control freak is more accurate. There were things that needed to be done a certain way at a certain time, and the only person in the house aware of these absolutes was me. I decorated the house. I bought the gifts. I wrapped the gifts. I planned the activities. I baked the cookies. I prepared the teacher treats.

And I burned out.

Flamed out is more like it, and I can point to the specific moment of combustion, almost to the hour. On December 25, 2008, at approximately two o’clock in the afternoon, my husband – and the loving father of the three children for whom I had labored so dutifully over the previous two months to create the perfect Christmas – had dared to take a nap.

Let’s face it, some people are nappers. And on this fateful Christmas afternoon, while exhausted Mommy played Hyper Slide on the floor (an obnoxious electronic game that involved sliding colored plastic discs under an arch about fourteen inches wide) with three women-children who neither requested this game from Santa nor had any interest in it, my husband slept – presumably in heavenly peace – despite my attempt to wake him with Hyper Slide’s volume now at the top of its scale.

“The taking of the nap by the husband” can be identified as one of two crucial elements in my Christmas conversion that year, also known as the process by which Karen finally realized she didn’t have to drive herself crazy to have a perfectly lovely Christmas with her family. The other element shall forever be known as “the mother-in-law factor.”

Those of you who’ve never had your mother-in-law visit during the ten days preceding Christmas should know that she really does want to help. She is perfectly capable of reading a book to a child, wrapping a present, and yes, even hanging an ornament on the tree, or placing a decoration on a shelf. And although Mom might not be down for baking any cookies, she is more than happy to eat some of them. Which is fine, because they’re yummy and you made them so your family could enjoy them, remember?

As I read this month’s strategies on organizing for the holidays in Home Space on page 39, the very first tip inspired me. And I mean profoundly. Professional organizer Kathy Jenkins says to try to make decorating for the holidays a fun family tradition. She goes on to recommend designating specific tasks to different family members. You need to read it, because the other seven ideas are fabulous and very helpful and I have to say, I was kind of proud of myself for already employing some of them (recovering control freak pats self on back), but that first one summed up my Christmas conversion.

For me, crossing over to the more relaxed side of Christmas coincided with the women-children getting older and truly wanting to help with all of the fun stuff that makes the season the most wonderful time of the year. So designating specific tasks like baking Grandma’s pineapple cookies or making other Grandma’s candied pecans was much easier. Today, putting presents in boxes, taping them shut, and having my teenaged elves show off their wrapping skills is another holiday tradition. Maybe you can look at your 3-year-old’s beaming face, hand him a shatter-proof ornament, and let him hang it wherever the heck he wants to. Or let your first grader do those homemade gift card holders for her teachers this year.

Either way, this December, we all have an opportunity to let go of a few things and perhaps, hold onto a few people more closely, as we invite them into our perfect Christmases. If you’ve been micromanaging the holidays, consider this a wakeup call. And if you’re so inclined, you might even take a nap on Christmas. Well, maybe New Year’s.

Karen Schwartzkopf has her dream job as managing editor of RFM. Wife, mother, arts and sports lover, she lives and works in the West End with her family, including husband Scott, who not coincidentally is RFM’s creative director. You can read Karen’s take on parenting her three daughters – Sam, Robin, and Lindsey, also known as the women-children – in the Editor’s Voice.
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