At last. The Time That We Wait All Year For is over, packed up and put away for another twelve months. Don’t get me wrong, I really do enjoy the festivities – the lights, the carols, the cheesy decorations, the magic of sharing it all with my five favorite little people (I would like it noted, however, that I absolutely DETEST the Elf-On-The-Shelf, and all the “cute” little shenanigans mothers with too much time on their hands make him appear to do. Seriously. If you have time to dump out and then clean up a substantial amount of flour onto your floor so it looks like your toy elf is making snow angels, you might want to consider volunteering. Or a job. Or perhaps just a nice prescription for Valium so you sleep away the hours you would typically spend making the rest of us “less ambitious” types look like the World’s Worst Parents.) It’s just that a heightened awareness that this season is supposed to be the Happiest Time On Earth, coupled with the condensed time frame and the pressures to be perfect sort of, well, irritate my anxiety. Just a bit. So every year I give myself this little pep-talk, and I say that this year I won’t get so stressed out about little things. This year I won’t fight with The Dude about how many strings of lights are necessary for the tree to be properly lit. This year I won’t spend two hours sitting on my driveway, talking myself down from the proverbial ledge because child #2 broke an irreplaceable ornament that commemorated the birth of #3. This year will be different.
So on Thanksgiving day I did my positive self-talk. And it seemed to actually be working…until about 10 AM when I found myself seriously pondering how much bleach I could purchase at one time without arousing suspicion because I was honestly going to murder my kids. Yes. I was washing the dishes and all five of them were doing something annoying. And I realized that I had two options: Option A involved the aforementioned bleach, LOTS of cleaning, and the very real possibility of having to spend my declining years in the Pen. Option B, while not nearly as entertaining, incorporated the use of what I like to call my “android face,” which is a cross between Mommy Dearest’s “No more coat hangers!!!” and the clown from “It.” I find it extremely useful in circumstances where I want to spank some serious bottom but there are too many security cameras/watchful strangers around. I chose Option B. Within minutes, child #4 appeared in the kitchen, wearing her FOURTH outfit of the day. So I simply turned to her with my dead eyes and frozen, psychotic smile and I swear I saw a shiver go down her spine. Yes, I freaked her out. No, she did not return to the kitchen. Sure, she may have been quietly rocking herself into an oblivion of sweet forgetfulness, but guess what? I didn’t yell! I didn’t loose my temper! I maintained the sanctity of Thanksgiving Day! We were gonna celebrate and eat this damned turkey with smiles on our faces if it killed me!
About an hour later, we watched the Macy’s parade. All of us. In one room. And somehow, for about thirty minutes, bliss reigned in my house. The Dude and I with all five, curled up on the couch watching the marching bands and giant balloons. No one tooted, or hit, or took someone else’s toy/book/Pokemon card. No one tattled or complained. It was really wonderfully sweet, and I thoroughly enjoyed every single moment…but then it was time for dinner.
Getting five children between the ages of 9 and 2 to sit at a formally set table is a bit like trying to round up cats. Just when you think you’ve got them all situated, someone decides that now, this very minute, they absolutely MUST poop. Or they drop their fork. Or the baby knocks over a glass with the toy truck you gave him in the hopes that he would just stay seated for five seconds already!! It wasn’t pretty, but finally we were all ready to dig in and enjoy the scrumptious smoked turkey that the Dude had been working on since 4:30 that morning (and it was delicious. I mean, it was completely smothered in two of Nature’s Five Most Perfect Foods – mayonnaise and bacon – the other three Foods being, of course, croutons, avocados, and cheese.) No sooner had we said the blessing, though, when the thin veneer of calm that I had just barely been maintaining started to crack. Child #2 only wanted a roll and turkey. Child #4 wanted Every. Single. Item on the table, and yet would most likely eat none of it. Child #2 said he was only going to eat a roll, and child #5 took one look at his plate before high-tailing it to his box of trucks. As I was desperately attempting to return to Android Face Mode, I hear The Dude’s voice say, “Can anyone tell me why we celebrate Thanksgiving?” And my heart just absolutely sunk. I realized that I had gotten so caught up in the doing, the baking, the cleaning, the need for perfect holidays, that I completely forgot the reason I was doing it at all. My little private pep-talks had failed. I had failed. So I did what any reasonable working mother of hormone-producing age does when the realities of life are simply too much to bear: I drowned my sorrows in sweet potatoes, Parker House rolls, corn casserole, two kinds of pie, and, of course, The Dude’s Turkey.
The rest of the holiday season went just about the same as Thanksgiving – a lot of mundane, daily activities like work and cleaning and laundry, sprinkled here and there with bursts of deep contentedness, and the occasional flash of white hot rage (“Um, can someone tell me why in the hell our backyard is littered with BRAND NEW red Solo cups????) But what I realized is that this is how all of life is – the day-in, day-out grind of ho-hum lives – occasionally (and mercifully) interrupted by fleeting moments of happiness, and the holidays are no exception. A turkey and dressing or a tree and stockings don’t make life more meaningful. There is no reason to feel that those dates on a calendar must be problem-free, must be total departures from normal life. It is precisely because life is terribly mediocre that those brief moments of joy which we experience throughout the year are special, and it is those which we should consider to be perfect.
But if the Elf-On-The-Shelf shows up, I swear I’m exercising Option A.