Growing up, I was a child who, generally speaking, could barely contain his excitement. The night before my birthday, I’d lie awake in bed anticipating what might be under my pillow when I woke up. I would call Toys R Us every day after school to ask if Zelda II: The Adventures of Link had been released yet, so my dad could pick it up on the way home from work. If I’d saved up enough money to order a Starcom vehicle from the Sears Wish Book catalog, I’d watch outside the window for four to six weeks waiting for the UPS truck to turn into my cul-de-sac. But, no less enthusiastic was the anticipatory excitement expressed than in the December run-up to Christmas.
The first of December, Advent calendars would appear – those little cardboard windows of daily excitement. Decorations would come out, the tree would go up, my brother and I would search the house for gift stashes, and play I Spy with the embroidered objects on our dad’s stocking. As presents appeared beneath the tree, we’d hold the wrapping paper up to the light, trying to peer through the tissue paper to ruin any hint of surprise that might wait in that thoughtful gift.
This excitement would build until I’d wake up at two o’clock on Christmas morning and watch a VHS copy of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure on repeat for five hours until the rest of the family woke up.
Now I’m the dad of two daughters, but all I want to do come the winter months is hibernate. I want to eat an excessive amount of berries, curl up under a blanket, and have someone wake me up in mid-March. My daughters are nine and six – prime holiday excitement ages – and I’m ready to enter a state of Netflix torpor as soon as the temperature drops below fifty degrees. I want to give them every opportunity to have a great holiday season, but most days I feel that I just don’t have it in me.
I know staying in the house isn’t necessarily good for me or my family, so I have to work up the will to get out and do things. Some are fun once I get there (like the Dominion GardenFest of Lights at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden), and I just have to get over the hump to leave the house. Some I’m never going to personally enjoy (like the Dominion Christmas Parade1), and I just have to try my hardest to not be a grumpy pants while I’m standing uncomfortably in weather slightly cold enough to make me complain about it, watching people I don’t know walk by slowly and wave. And there are probably several other Dominion-sponsored events that fall somewhere in-between.
Sometimes, my hermetical tendencies are exactly what my family needs. I’m looking forward to cuddling under a blanket, for example, and reading the next Harry Potter to my girls on a cold, dreary day. My best December day will be the day we decide to order a pizza and watch Elf. And eventually, my girls will be old enough to watch Love Actually with my wife and me, and we can awkwardly pretend that the R-rated content isn’t happening.
The trick is that these decisions need to be made as, well, decisions, not as what’s left over because I didn’t make any effort to determine my December destiny. I don’t want my daughters to feel like they missed out on something just because their dad defaulted to playing Yahtzee on his iPad all day. It’s one thing if we decide as a family that it’s okay if we don’t go to the Grand Illumination at the James Center because we’d rather have a quiet evening in. It’s another if everyone else wants to go, but we stay home because I have anxiety that parking might “be hard.”
So this December, I’m going to be mindful and not be the Scroogey Grinch Grump of the holidays. I’m not going to over-plan our time together, but I’m also going to try and say “yes” to as many things as possible. Is there an interesting holiday event at the library? Let’s give it a shot. Is there a great exhibit at VFMA? Let’s go check it out. We have the freedom to do whatever we want, as long as I keep an open mind and force myself to actually do a thing. I love my little family of four, and to provide my children a breadth of experiences, I have to know myself well enough to know when I’m not serving them, and push myself to be a better human so I can be a better parent.
The good news is that my daughters don’t have any expectations based on what my childhood was like. Our family’s traditions can be whatever we want them to be; we can make them our own. The kids will make their own excitement and memories. If I don’t take them out to an event they’ve never heard of, they won’t know that they’ve missed anything. If we decide having a dead conifer in our house isn’t worth the trouble, we don’t have to have one. And if the family decides we’re going to have tacos for Christmas dinner, that, too, is a-okay with Scroogey Grinch Grump.
1 I was in the color guard in marching band. Nothing ruins you for parades (forever) like having to march in them, sometimes behind horses.