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December 20, 2012

The Grinch That Stole Mommy

Image: Flickr/Sarah Ackerman

Image: Flickr/Sarah Ackerman

Originally posted  December 1, 2009 

By: Jenny Runkel
Avoiding the Grinch spirit at Christmas and embracing the real spirit of the season.
I hate the Christmas season. Ok, maybe hate is too strong a word. That’s the problem with being a writer. Everyone pays really close attention to your words and if you’re not careful, they come back to haunt you in one way or another. So which word really pinpoints my feelings about Christmas? Bitterness? Melancholy? Cynicism? Dread? Hmm…that has a nice ring to it. Yes, I think that just might be it. I dread Christmas.

Sad, but true. I dread “the most wonderful time of the year.” I should be traipsing around town spreading cheer and drinking Peppermint Lattes, but I just can’t. To tell you the truth, I feel more like curling up into the fetal position and trying to sleep my way through the craziness. There is just something panic-inducing about the month of December. I have never sat down to try and outline what makes me so anxious whenever I hear Bing Crosby dreaming of a White Christmas, but with another yuletide quickly approaching, it’s high time I did just that.

Maybe it’s the catalogs that arrive before I’ve even finished sneaking the KitKats out of my kids’ Halloween bags. Those things are relentless. The catalogs, I mean. They clog my mailbox daily, promising lifetime guarantees on “gift solutions that make life easier.” Let’s think about that for a moment. Does a chocolate fondue fountain really make my life easier? What about a hand-held gnome that repeats phrases you give it in a “gnome accent?” You know what would really make my life easier? Not getting any more catalogs! Maybe it’s the supermarkets. I went to the grocery store on November 1st this year to do my weekly shopping. I expected the Halloween candy to be on sale and I knew Thanksgiving trimmings would greet me at the door—stacks of cranberry sauce, perhaps even rows of Indian corn. What I didn’t expect was to be hit in the face by Christmas. Literally. A gigantic inflatable Santa smacked me in the head just as I walked down the greeting card aisle. On November 1st! The clerk hauling Jolly St. Nick to his appointed spot apologized profusely, saying that she didn’t see me around the corner, but I know better. I saw the look on Santa’s face as they headed down aisle 14 to meet up with the candy canes. He was definitely smirking.

Maybe it’s the magazines lining the checkout counters. While I’m wrestling my kids away from the Skittles (and remembering that one of them hasn’t had a dentist appointment in ages), I’m faced with photos of darling children in precious Christmas sweaters making their own ornaments and baking cookies while Mom is scrapbooking the moment as it happens. AUGH!!!!

And then it hits me. I don’t really dread Christmas itself. It’s the pressure of the Holidays that make me woozy. All the glitz and glitter that the stores and commercials try to sell us has left me feeling empty and small. Real holidays, at least the holidays I’ve experienced, usually involve hurt feelings and awkward conversations. The catalogs, stores, and magazines don’t show you that side of things. They show the plastic side of Christmas.

It’s not the decorations or shopping that make me crazy, it’s the expectations that I’ve attached to those things. I’ve been listening to my inner “Should” without even recognizing it. This voice tells me what I’m supposed to do, how I’m supposed to look, how my children are supposed to behave. Apparently, it doesn’t stop there, though. It also tells me what the Holidays are supposed to be like. It tells me that I should bake cookies and put up Christmas lights. I should get the perfect gifts for my kids’ teachers, crossing guards, and coaches (not to mention friends and family). I should decorate the house and create a warm, cozy environment. I should write the perfect holiday letter and take the perfect holiday photo. I should catch up with all my long lost friends who send those same perfect letters and photos to me. I should record all these fantastic moments for eternity with pictures and videos. And I MUST do it all in precious Christmas sweaters.

I’m exhausted just thinking about it all. I am paralyzed by the sheer volume of things that need to be done. What am I doing to myself? To my family? This is Christmas, not the Mommy Olympics. Although sometimes it feels like it, there is no one watching my every move and waiting to give me a score, The loud echo of The Should doesn’t have to govern my actions and attitudes

No more! I am a smart, successful woman. I have the power and ability to overcome the lure of The Should and start enjoying the winter wonderland along with the best of them. From now on, I will listen to a new voice in my head. One that is a little more gentle, a little more wise and a lot more sane. I will call this my Maya Angelou voice. She sits on a windowsill in my mind waiting to comfort me with a smile and a nod. When I feel the urge to deck something other than the halls, I will hear her say to me in her warm, buttery voice,
“It’s ok to say no. You don’t need to attend all those parties and volunteer for every activity.”

“Put your feet up and take care of you for a change. When’s the last time you had some peace and quiet?”

“You are not alone. Just about everyone gets stressed around the holidays.”

“Be creative. There is not one right way to do everything. Revel in your unique approach.”

“Work smarter, not harder. Figure out what you’re not great at and let someone who is lend you a hand.”

“Enjoy the little moments. You will one day miss the way your child furrows her brow when writing to Santa.”

“Be gentle with yourself and with others. That is a gift worth giving.”
My inner Angelou. She makes me feel better already. There’s one problem with my plan. The Should won’t go away easily. It’s comfortable in my head. It’s been there for a long time and if I’m not careful, it will choke out Maya at the first sign of stress. I’ve got to think up a way to take that annoyingly persistent whine out of my head before it ruins yet another Christmas.

An epiphany! I know what I will do. I will order the Talking Gnome. I can give my Should another home and this time, instead of sounding like me, it will have a “silly gnome accent”. Maybe that Gnome really will make my life easier, after all.

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