What just happened?
It’s over now for another year and for me, it’s the best time to reflect upon how the season went.
I’m happy it’s over because I’m one of those who struggle to cope with the stresses and chaos of Christmas.
I enjoy the days between Christmas and New Year more than most. No gifts to wrap, no shopping, lots of left overs so very little cooking, no worrying about whether or not the children will like their gifts. Relief.
The relief that descends after Christmas is really what I look forward to the entire month of December.
Like all parents there are aspects of our childhood that we don’t want to repeat. Things that we don’t want our own children to experience. Stress at Christmas is one of those things for me.
The ghosts of Christmases past continue to haunt me. Growing up with a parent who suffered from mental illness, Christmas as a child was stressful. It is after all, the darkest time of the year.
Every December my own emotional baggage combines with the Christmas retail frenzy to bring me close to the edge. I look at my children and I see history repeating itself. I realised a few years ago, that if I didn’t make changes, my own children will be writing a similar story in twenty years.
Last year was the first break through. It was the first since my marriage ended and I was focused like never before on navigating the festivities peacefully. I narrowed it down to what would really make it happy for my children. A calm Mother being top on my list.
I put forward a plan to my children’s Dad. We divided the day in three. The breakfast and opening of Santa gifts was done all together. The remainder of the day was split between Dad and Mam. They lunched with their Dad and had dinner with me. I felt that children need above all their parents on Christmas day.
This plan meant that both sets of Grandparents had to wait until after Christmas to see their Grandchildren. I tentatively explained to my parents. They amazed me. They decided to just recreate Christmas day on the 26th or 27th. It worked for the children, what child doesn’t want two Christmas days?
Having no in-laws for the first time in ten years contributed to the peace. My poor Ex had the arduous task of explaining the new arrangements to his own parents.
With just me and two children for Christmas dinner I figured there was no point spending the entire day preparing food. The one thing my children were definitely not going to remember about this Christmas was exotic hors d’oeuvre and lemon scented stuffing.
I kept it simple. The kind of food that my children normally like. It was interesting how many people, my own Mother included were shocked by my choice of a small pre-stuffed chicken instead of a Turkey. Who knew that the difference between two birds could cause such consternation? That’s Christmas for you.
This year I tried to follow the same formula since it worked so well last year. I thought I had it figured out. But it was not easy.
I tried where possible to keep away from the shops, the online delivery from our local supermarket was a life-saver.
I ran out of milk. A minor thing really in the great scheme of things. But minor things often trigger major ones.
My anxiety was more or less under control so I planned the trip to the supermarket with careful caution. I knew it was a risk. Going into a full-blown supermarket so close to Christmas.
There was so much aggressive promoting of products and discounts and panic-inducing merchandise. And lots of loud, thought-interrupting music. I tried to stay focused.
An internal panic ensued. I became distressed. There was a huge elaborate stand with fancy dairy stuff. I suddenly realised something.
I didn’t have any Baileys cream. In that one moment, the absence of Baileys cream was going to ruin my Christmas. Who did I think I was? Facing into Christmas without Baileys cream. It couldn’t be done. Shouldn’t be done.
I felt I had let down, myself, my children, and most especially the retailer who was trying to persuade me. I was a falling. Why had I not thought of the Baileys cream before now?
I had committed myself to coming into this shop to buy milk, just milk. I thought I was strong enough to carry it off. But the retailer knew me better than I knew myself.
I was flung into a dilemma. I had to have the cream, but I also desperately needed to not give in to the panic-buying. I lingered around the dairy section trying to focus on the advantages and disadvantages of buying the cream.
I had to have the cream. I just couldn’t have it on my conscience. I ran out of the shop, cream in one hand milk in the other.
Ten days later I stood over the bin. The pot of Baileys cream in my hand. I reflected upon the process that brought me to that rubbish. A pot of unopened, unwanted, stupid cream.
And then it happened. Realisation.
The pot of cream was unopened. We had actually survived Christmas without the damn cream. My children had been happy, I was relaxed and had fun.
I only thought I needed the cream. I felt safer having it in the fridge. Just in case.
The fear of being without. It’s that, that fear that drives me into panic every Christmas. Prompts me to behave like a squirrel, to hoard, to buy things I didn’t really want.
Everything I really needed was already available. My children, my time, time to just be, time to play, my health, my harmonious home.
It’s only now when it’s all over that I can really look at my festive season and reflect on the small successes and make sure that they outnumber the panic buys and stress of next Christmas.
That’s my New Year’s Resolution.