Faith Gong: Holiday hullabaloo makes for tired mom

We were just between the main course and dessert of our Thanksgiving meal, when my daughters asked when we could start decorating for Christmas.

Once I’d convinced them that it was not appropriate to begin ripping down the Thanksgiving gourds, turkeys, and autumn leaves and to retrieve the Christmas boxes from the basement immediately, they began happily making plans for the Advent season in between bites of apple pie.

“Oh, I can’t wait to make the Christmas cookies!” my ten-year-old exclaimed.

This, while we were still shooing the dog and cat away from the turkey carcass on the counter, before we’d even spooned the leftover sweet potatoes into Tupperware, at the tail end of a holiday that my husband calls “24 hours of cooking for 30 minutes of eating”—it was a little too much.

While I’m charmed that my daughter has fond memories of making Christmas cookies – something that’s become a family tradition based entirely upon memories like hers -- my own memories are slightly different. When I think about making Christmas cookies, I recall scrubbing frosting off of the kitchen table and sweeping innumerable sprinkles up from the floor. The resulting cookies are so laden with both frosting and sprinkles so as to be entirely useless as gifts; their beauty lies only in the eyes of their creators. And even their creators lose interest in these complex sugar bombs after a few days. The Christmas cookies spend the remainder of the holiday season wrapped in foil atop the refrigerator (out of reach of the dog and cat), forgotten until we find their stale remains in the post-Epiphany clean-up.

Still, even knowing that all of this is coming, I also know that we’ll make Christmas cookies again this year. My daughters outnumber me four-to-one, their sense of tradition and celebration is strong, and they don’t celebrate any holiday by halves. I am virtually powerless against the tide of their holiday observances – and those observances stretch me far beyond Christmas cookies.

According to my daughters, every holiday needs to have either a party or a play attached to it. This applies even to minor holidays like Mother’s and Father’s Day, each of which involves a musical production about the parent in question.

The plays aren’t so bad, really. My daughters are old enough to write and produce them independently, and the scripts have improved with time. This year’s Thanksgiving play, for instance, was a witty tale about a turkey saving his species during the first Thanksgiving by ordering up pizza for the pilgrims and Native Americans.

The dark side of the plays is the explosion of costumes (I’m still picking feathers out of the carpet from the Thanksgiving drama), the time and printer ink that I’m asked to expend for printing scripts and programs (this year’s Thanksgiving script ran 16 pages), and the need for me to mediate the inevitable sibling squabbles that happen when our eldest daughter (usually the scriptwriter and director) gets frustrated with her sisters, who are rebelling against being bossed around.

Far more challenging for me are the parties that my daughters want to throw to celebrate holidays like Halloween and Chinese New Year. Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not a curmudgeonly hermit. I like a good party as much as the next person. It’s just that, left to my own devices, I would choose to throw a party just about…never. I’m a natural introvert; parties deplete rather than energize me. I also grew up in a home where hosting people involved a great deal of stress over cleaning the house until it shone; while this is simply not an option in a house with five children, a dog, and a cat, old stresses die hard.

So, when my eldest daughter told me that she’d invited five friends to a Halloween party at our house this year – a party that would involve games, refreshments, and a haunted house – I was speechless for a few minutes.

My daughter looked at my gaping mouth, and – because she’s known me for all twelve years of her life – scrambled to anticipate my anxieties. “You don’t have to do anything, mom!” she reassured me. “We’ve got it all planned out. You just need to buy the food and take people through the haunted house.”

And guess what? She was right. My daughters planned the games, made the decorations, and took charge of all the setting up and cleaning up. It was a lot of fun to see how happy this little party made them and their friends. And my investment, after my initial anxiety, was minimal.

George A. Moore said, “A man travels the world over in search of what he needs, and returns home to find it.”

This holiday season, I’m thinking that my children may know what I need better than I. Through their irrepressible desire to celebrate every holiday to the hilt, they are teaching me not to fear messes, to open up our home to others, and to embrace creativity. So, this Christmas I am resolved to embrace the Christmas cookies, the Christmas play, the caroling through our field in the truck bed, and whatever other celebrations they have planned. If I end up with frosting in my hair and sprinkles under my fingernails, it’s a small price to pay for the memories.

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit director. She lives in Middlebury with her husband, five children, assorted chickens and ducks, one feisty cat, and one anxiety-prone labradoodle. In her "free time," she writes for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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