By Gail O'Connor
December 17, 2014

Hang on to your Santa hats, mamas: Christmas is one week away. One week! Maybe you're among the women who are cheerfully baking, excitedly wrapping, and gleefully counting down the days to next Thursday. Or, you're a little more like me: You're still doing all those things (and then some), just minus the happy adjectives.

I have so much to be grateful for this Christmas, and I bet many of you do, too. I want to love this holiday, particularly for the sake of my young children who can't wait for it. But every year, a sense of dread creeps up on me the closer we get to the 25th, as a list of tasks to complete—so many tasks—fill my calendar and rattle around my brain.

This year, I tried harder to love Christmas: I made good on a promise to myself to get a head start on the holiday, thinking it would help make it more manageable and enjoyable. I ordered my cards early. I shopped ahead of time. I got stocking stuffers in November! Yet no matter how prepared you think you are, I find that for me, at least, there is always something left to do. Just one more person to buy for or holiday tradition to squeeze in. As I write this post, a friend messages me how tired she is, "and now I have to go put tinsel on the tree. Argh."

Christmas. Argh. You said it, sister.

With seven days until showtime, no one is safe around me right now, especially my husband. He hasn't done anything to deserve my ire, but that's part of the problem: So much of Christmas falls on mothers. And my husband does a lot for Christmas. (Truly. I'm not the one stringing lights all over the tree or outside.) But, like that fictional mouse with the cookie, Christmas always demands more. Even if you don't go all-out on Christmas and try to keep it fairly simple, there's a never-ending checklist attached to this holiday. It drains energy. It empties wallets. It saps time. And so for the next week, I am in The Zone. I've got presents to wrap! Elves to move! Out of my way, people!

It's an icky thing to feel possessed at a time when you're supposed to be merry and bright. My complaints hardly qualify as problems. Knowing that not only makes me feel like a Grinch, but a guilty one. I felt relieved when a coworker, also a mom, admitted to me that "out of my way!" is her motto this time of year, too.

When I was a child, I loved Christmas. (And now I know why: My parents did everything!) I'm glad to be making this holiday memorable for my own kids--they're only little for now, and we need to cherish their sweet, wide-eyed view of Christmas while we can. But I could stand to get some of that magic and innocence back for me. That's why I said yes to a cookie exchange at a friend's home this weekend. That probably sounds like a martyr move: With a holiday dinner to prepare and so much else I claim I have to do (wah, wah), how can I complain if I have time to melt chocolate and crush candy canes with a rolling pin because, Must Make Peppermint Bark? But if I don't do the good stuff with my kids, then what is there to enjoy about Christmas? (Besides, have you tried peppermint bark? It's good.)

So, we'll feed carrots to the chubby sheep at the live nativity scene at a local church. We'll make the time to send gifts to a family in need. I'm pausing to appreciate the holiday cards that arrive daily, which I can enjoy without guilt now that mine have been mailed out. I'm taking off from work today, to attend my preschooler's holiday singalong concert, and if that doesn't melt my frozen heart, well, I sorely need a Christmas intervention. Watching this video every year with my kids, and hearing their giggles, also puts an instant smile on my face.

Next year, I really want the days leading up to Christmas to be different, though. My friends and I complained to one another at pickup, and that helped: just knowing we're not alone in our grinchiness. ("This smile on my face? It's hiding the utter panic I feel inside," one mom said to me, only half-kidding.) We all know our kids' smiles will be worth our efforts Christmas morning, and no one's going to put coal in our stockings, we hope, for being a little cranky right now.

How do you keep your good cheer, without feeling burdened by all that there is to do?

Happy holidays!

Image courtesy of Shutterstock


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