In the last twelve years, I have had quite a few “bad mommy” moments. Most of them were forgotten shortly after they happened, but there are a few that I consider lessons learned. Those I keep around so I can pull them out when I need them.
A couple of years ago, I was running around in my usual frantic checklist of tasks to be accomplished before Christmas. I will admit – I am a bit of a scrooge around the holidays. Christmas joy feels like one more thing on my to do list that starts in November and goes through the New Year.
I think many moms feel that way. Most of us are the family taskmaster, making sure that no one is forgotten, gifts are “just right”, teachers are appreciated along with the mail carrier, trash collector, and paper delivery. Each child has the right clothes for the festivities, cookies are baked and set out for Santa, and no one misses a party.
On top of all that, gifts need to be wrapped and hidden, trees purchased and decorated, dinners planned, and the house clean for unexpected visitors. Most weeks, I am overwhelmed with the usual household, work, and parenting tasks. Needless to say, adding an additional list to my already full plate doesn’t always make for a happy mommy.
That year, we were “late” getting to the tree lot. I flew into the room where my husband was peacefully reading a book, interrupted the kids’ playtime, and announced that we had to go out and get a tree immediately. I was impatient with their boots, crabby about putting on their mittens, and decided that it wasn’t cold enough to bother with snow pants.
There was no joy in choosing the tree. I vetoed the first ones as too small, too fat, and too many bald spots. The kids trudged grudgingly behind me as I marched forward, barking orders to the tree lot attendants to find me a narrow, evenly spaced, 8-foot fresh tree.
I had the tree bundled, paid for, and tied to the top of the car before they even had a chance to pet the Golden Retriever on the lot. My drill sergeant manner continued at home as I told my husband exactly where the ornaments were stored, and impatiently directed where the lights should be strung.
When it came time to put the ornaments up, both children ran into the living room and started unpacking. I cringed as they hung the lamb with the missing leg on the front of the tree, bit my tongue as I noticed the clump of red bulbs three feet off the floor, and tried really hard not to yell when one of my Grandma’s ceramic Santas lost a mitten.
I hovered over the tree, choosing to move things around rather than hanging the ornaments still in the box. Some I moved up higher, some I spread out, and some I put back in the box.
I thought I was being discreet. Until a few minutes later, when I realized that I was standing at the tree alone. My son was back to his legos, my daughter was drawing a picture, and my husband had just simply disappeared.
“If no one is going to help me with this stupid tree, then we just aren’t going to have one!” I exploded. “I can’t do everything by myself, and it isn’t my responsibility to make Christmas happen!”
That was when my son, without even looking up from his legos, taught me a very important lesson about life.
“But Mom, we were helping…… but it seemed like you just wanted to do it yourself. You were moving stuff all around to the way you wanted it.”
Out of the mouths of babes.
I sank to the floor next to him. “You know what? You are exactly right. I haven’t been much fun today, have I?” I kissed his brown curls, and pulled my daughter over onto my lap.
“Let’s start over…… I will turn on some Christmas music, and since you do such a great job decorating, I will let you put the ornaments on.”
Fortunately, children are very forgiving. The rest of the afternoon passed, the tree was trimmed – albeit a little unevenly – and Christmas came just like it always does.
That was the year I gave up on “perfect” – as least for Christmas. For the past three years, we have had a mismatched tree that includes handmade play-dough candy canes, half functioning light strands, elves missing a foot or two, and sparkly bulbs in primary colors. Fortunately, the kids are getting taller, so the decorations made it to the top this year.
Some years, cards make it out. Some years they don’t. We appreciate the gifts and greetings we receive, even if we can’t reciprocate with any more than a warm hug and sincerest wishes.
My exasperated words about responsibility have become my holiday mantra. It is, in fact, my responsibility to make Christmas happen – through spreading love, joy, and kindness. And that starts at home.