Tuesday, November 27, 2012

christmas giving

Thanksgiving is over, and it is now safe to admit that I am listening to Christmas music.

As soon as Turkey day passes, I inevitably begin to feel the impending anxiety of Christmas approaching.  My to-do lists grow as my time shrinks. It seems that every year I begin December with great optimism about my ability to do Christmas "right", and every year I exit December exhausted, wondering what happened to all of my good intentions.

I am remembering my final trip to the mall last year, three days before Christmas. My first mistake was believing I could do any Christmas shopping with a 3 year old and a 3 month old in tow.  My second mistake was waiting until the last minute to do it.  Of course, that may have been because I was trying not to make the first mistake. I was armed with the double stroller and lots of snacks.  It seemed that every woman my mother's age and older stopped me to tell me how cute my kids were and how brave I was to go Christmas shopping with two children and then they each had a lengthy, detailed story they wanted to share about the time they had gone shopping with their own children back in the day. While I love women, and love the grandmother age, I began to feel anxious about the ticking time bombs in my stroller. So anxious thinking about all that I had left to do before Christmas and how little time I had left to do it that I could not enjoy the kindly intentions of these women. Instead of shouting, I have about 45 minutes until total meltdown occurs, 10 people to buy presents for, and you are using up precious shopping minutes! I resorted to simply being rude.

Forty-five minutes later we made an emergency exit with a screaming baby, having made no good purchases. It was one thing to feel frustrated at an unsuccessful shopping trip, but another to feel disappointed in myself for the way I behaved. Being rude to women who were enjoying my children did not help me accomplish my tasks.  It only put a damper on my day, and possibly the day of others. (But, seriously, maybe next time these women can hold the baby and play with the 3-year-old for a few minutes while I shop?)

The problem with giving at Christmas is all of the obligation involved.

You see, I love the idea of giving. I love the idea of finding just the right object that will bless the people on my list. As fall roles around I typically get excited about something I am giving to my mom, or someone else in the family.  But by the time Christmas arrives there is always someone (usually a handful of people, usually male) that I just haven't a clue what to get.  This is what I mean by obligation. Suddenly I am not buying because there is something special to give, but instead because I feel the obligation to put something in a pretty package for someone to open. Thus Christmas falls prey to commercialism. It might be why my dad has more than 30 flashlights next to his bed. Though, he does love a good flashlight.

At the heart of Christmas is the spirit of giving, and in itself there is nothing wrong with this. Where I fall short is the way that I give. Going on the mad hunt for presents last minute, spending hours in the mall because it is too late to order online, should not be what Christmas is about. That style of giving actually prevents me from giving in more meaningful ways.

Giving in a meaningful way is sometimes giving a thoughtful gift, but it is also giving a memory... giving an experience... giving a tradition... giving words... giving homemade (though there is no question that this option is NOT a time-saver)... giving food... giving fun... and most often, giving the gift of a me that is present in the moment, not prone to distraction or hurry.

So, my strategy for celebrating Christmas this year with purpose and intention is to minimize the amount of time I obsess over giving just the right gift to someone. And the truth is, as a good friend pointed out, no one gets me the perfect gift either. Why? Because there is no perfect gift! It simply does not exist. And the longer I spend looking for it, the more mediocre, imperfect and generic all of the things around me seem - because they are!  Things are just another imperfect way of saying "I thought of you."

While shopping is going to be a small part of my December, it does not need to play a major role. Part of my strategy for giving it a lesser focus is getting all of the necessary shopping out of the way early (like this week) so that the rest of my December can be spent building memories, capturing traditions, and being the giving-hearted Christmas-spirited person that I want to be, saving time to experience Christmas in all the ways that matter most.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

vacation, re-defined

The concept of vacation has been redefined since having children. My job title is "full-time mother" and somehow that occupation finds me wherever we travel.

Vacation used to mean a long nap on the beach. It meant reading 3 or 4 books, staying up late into the night to finish them. It meant awakening at 10 or 11am, or simply when I felt awake. Vacation meant long hikes or adventurous activities or thrill seeking that justified lazy days to follow.

Those vacations are long gone. I am not going to pretend that I don't sometimes feel bitter and miss those luxurious days. I do. But I am growing to appreciate the type of vacation that includes my children, as incapable as they are of letting me relax the way I used to.

Our vacations are still a break from the hundreds of minute details that stress and distract in any given day. It is vacation because there are no phone calls to return, no urgent emails, no worries about keeping my house clean because a friend may be dropping by. There is no obligation to attend birthday parties or church events or baby showers. There is no one missing from the dinner table, or the breakfast table, or the lunch table. There are no dishwashers that need fixing or light bulbs that need changing. And most importantly, there is no longer a myriad of excuses for why I simply cannot find the time to play with my children.

On vacation we get a chance to focus completely on the relationships in our little family. We see what it looks like to love each other without all of the distractions that contaminate our daily routine. It is a time to practice being a family without all of the regular interruptions.

And while I might periodically fantasize about a vacation from motherhood and all of the parenting responsibilities that accompany it, in reality I would miss these two goof-balls. The experiences would not be the same without them, because vacation now means taking a precious adventure with my family.

I can finally understand why it might not be vacation without them.

Note: My challenge to myself was to get a good picture of both girls together... and please do not go thinking this was an easy task. I have the utmost respect for anyone who can get a decent family picture with small children involved.