I’ve missed writing. So much so that it’s midnight and I should be going to sleep, but instead I’m sitting down to write, just because it’s been so long and I miss it so much. This month has nearly kicked my ass. My kids LOVED Christmas, and I have reveled in seeing all the happy traditions settling into their heads as our young family figures out where we’re getting our tree, what we eat and when, and (most important) when we open our presents.
But no matter how wonderful, joyous, adorable all that is, the truth remains that it’s a sprint. (I started earlier this year, so the sprint felt more like a marathon.) More to the point, it’s a sprint for someone else. We parents are used to working for others. Change the diaper, wash the clothes, make the dinner. But I’m not used to working only for someone else, with no energy left for myself. I usually have the end of the day, after they’re in bed, to unwind and talk about whatever with my husband. I have a few minutes after breakfast to check emails and surf the Web. And my favorite, my weekly night off to go to a coffee shop and write.
But December, oh, December. It started out great. Christmas shopping is so fun! Especially from my computer! But it did take up all my free moments: making wish lists, planning my budget, searching for sales. The only writing I was doing was of the volunteer variety, helping out the local school with a grant application. Then came the end of school hoopla, with cupcakes and cookies to make, holiday concerts to attend, teacher thank you cards to orchestrate.
Then bam! Stomach bug. People throwing up every 10 minutes. Piles of laundry. Alternating puke buckets. Grumpy husband taking too much time off from work to take care of entire barfing family. We limped toward Christmas, making modest attempts at recovery. Then my husband’s exhaustion got the best of his back and laid him out, down for the count. Batches of cookies for coworkers were interspersed with intense back rubs involving my elbow.
At some point I came to and remembered all those presents Amazon had kindly shipped to me. They now had to be shipped to other people. Quick, schedule a box pickup! But wait, I slept too late and missed the pickup window. Drat, throw the kids in the car without shoes to race to the post office before close and drop off the package! Crud, they’re closed. Leave kids screaming in the car. Poke your head around the accordion wall and use your sweetest voice to persuade them to let you drop the box off! Finally, success . . .
What seemed like only moments later but was probably actually days, it occurred to me that if you’re going to buy a zillion presents for Christmas, you can’t wait until the night before to wrap them. And if you have giant Costco train tables in the garage that need assembling, don’t be so dumb as to be married to a man whose back has rendered him immobile. Sooo tired. Falling asleep on Christmas day, in my soup.
Somehow, we’ve survived. But the whole thing has taught me a lesson. Too much for everybody else, not enough for me, makes me an unhappy person. This whole month has been all about giving to other people. Time, energy, presents, cookies, kids, grant applications . . . and not once did I spend any time by myself, recharging. Giving is great, but there has to be a balance. I need that time for myself or I turn into a crazy lady. And nobody wants that.
I don’t know how to fix this the next time December rolls around. It’s hard, because I want to say yes to all those things. It’s not that easy to know what to cut. I already skipped Christmas cards this year. My annual pretend gingerbread cookies were canceled due to stomach bug. I’ve never been as good as my friend Brooke who prepares little packages of yummies for all her neighbors. What more can I cut? I don’t know, but I’ll have to do something. My bah-humbug husband says the Christmas season entails a month of work for a one-day payoff. In my beaten-down state, I’m beginning to think he has a point. Maybe I’ll just cross my fingers and hope for no stomach bug next year. It’s either that or—no offense, Jesus—we’re switching to Festivus.
© Amy Daniewicz and Beneath the Trees