I sparked my family by taking on a new December holiday tradition -- we began doing less. The arrival of wide open, unplanned hours meant that when a spur of the moment great idea popped into one of my kids' head, I had the freedom to say yes, if I wanted, without feeling the need to struggle with dropping everything else, and we could take off and do it while the idea was still hot. Looking back I can't imagine the great loss if I had ignored the call.
Typically logical, linear thinking took hold of me during the winter holiday season. And aside from hating the fact that we were always too busy and I was often too tired, it remained one of my favorite times of the year. What I didn't like was that immediately after fresh cranberries and pumpkins began making their appearance in November, I became programmed. Dependable. A slave to what was expected of me.
And when I depended completely on following along with what we had always done, and were expected to do, year after year, it became predictable. Tiresomely sensible. Boring.
Our family celebrates Christmas, and my pattern was to make a list at the beginning of the month and I never had time to check it twice. I was too busy doing. My mother's mind had become programmed to think consequentially (supply and demand). If the cards didn't get sent out earlier enough, or if they didn't go out at all, I graded myself with a holiday F.
On top of all else I aspired to the notion that the house ought to be cleaner than usual, with a perfectly decorated tree. When the cat batted the ornaments off the tree, and the dog (or the baby) chewed them, I lost hope.
Then one year in early December, shortly after adopting our third child, I heard a dark horse in my mind, calling to me.
"Call and cancel," it whispered.
"Don't take down the box of Christmas decorations this year."
"Do less, and do it with more love."
Instead of pulling out the carton of our treasured things that we usually put up around the house and on the tree, I told my family that we were going to celebrate with a nature theme. The kids and I went to the florists and bought a gallon container of baby's breath, and we strung the tree with white lights and tucked small clumps of the white baby's breath into the branches. We placed a pair of red flowers on the table, to increase the energy of health and vitality. And that's all we did. The effect was stunning, simple. It required little assembly, and the clean up after Christmas was easy.
I wish that I could tell you I learned about being more with less right then and there. But I didn't. I also didn't learn it the year my son had cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy, when I couldn't stretch wide enough to cover all that needed to be done. That year the fear of the unknown gave me the incentive to do just a little more for the holidays. Sure, I wanted to have some wonderful memories for my three children to remember so that they would be able to recall more than hospitals and sickness. Yet my inspiration in the cancer years came from realizing that I like doing something a little bit special for my family whenever I can.
Because I know my usual tendency is to get caught up in the tangle of everyday things braided with holiday responsibilities, and I rush through my days. But I didn't rush through anything when Jay had cancer. I moved through each minute with careful thought. My mind was a camera capturing each second. The experience of cancer did have some unexpected good surprises for our family however. It taught us about the power of now, to pay attention to each moment. And it shook up our holiday traditions, teaching me to let some of our traditions go against the grain, to let them go haywire and to let go of the outcome.
Except the lesson didn't stick. Every December my frenzy returned, and after my son grew healthy again I reverted back. Back to holiday doing.
Then one Christmas years and years later, age gave me what I had always longed for. Perhaps other people might live forever, but I am pretty sure I won't. The memory that I want to last and be passed on is that I am a mother who is not always a busy, frantic woman with worry wrinkles around her eyes. I also want it to go down in history that I am also relaxed, and fun to be with.
Every year since I have de-cluttered my commitments and allowed myself some freedom and breathing space. There are the years when I do decorate the house, send the cards, bake the cookies, buy and wrap beautiful gifts, and go to-ing and fro-ing. But I never do all of these things in the same year anymore. Now I choose one or two things to focus on. My rule is that it must be tasks I want to do, no obligations, and I let the rest slid, so that I will have time to go ice skating or spend a lazy afternoon reading book after book to my three children, with a bowl of popcorn at our side. Or have time, after the kids are tucked into their beds, for me to gaze at the night sky, cold, clear and studded with stars.
The result is the December holiday season is no longer crazy making for me. I look forward to the one or two holiday inspired things I want to do with more love. The reward for me is in discovering what it is I want to highlight each year, and enjoying the unplanned things we dream up as a family now that I allow time to go with the flow.
This is what I want to claim as a mother, for the time I give to be remembered. That is why I now wrap it, and not objects, and give my time as a gift to my family.
First published in Adoption Today Magazine