Julie Andrews calms me. She just does. Talks me down, orders my thoughts when I get rattled. And I get rattled a lot during these hellish days Julie so warmly and merrily refers to as "the holiday season."
It's the ADD. Or the lah-ray-ray, as Julie might put it, if she were teaching you to sing about Attention Deficit Disorder while hanging from a tree dressed in curtains.
ADD affects not only children but adults as well. I know this because I saw it on PBS. I had no idea. As a list of symptoms scrolled across the screen, I became alarmed and was this close to diagnosing myself with adult ADD, until I was distracted by the birds, then a toaster.
A few days later I was having my annual physical and asked my doctor if this adult ADD was really a thing. He told me that yes, it is. He saw it on PBS. He added, however, that parents often confuse the symptoms of adult ADD with the symptoms of raising children -- a sensation of being constantly overwhelmed, feeling pulled in a thousand directions at once, unable to focus or complete simple tasks. The desire to quiet it all with alcohol or drugs.
How can I tell if it's ADD or just parenthood, I asked. Should I get tested? He said sure, if I wanted to spend thousands of dollars that wouldn't be covered by insurance. If I wanted a quicker, more decisive answer, he suggested, why not just try Ritalin for a day?
"It'll be in and out of your system in 4 hours. If you find the medication slows you down, helps organize your thoughts and improves your concentration, chances are you might have actual attention-deficit issues and we can take it from there. But if -- as it does for most people -- the Ritalin simply leaves you feeling unable to sleep at night, wanting to claw your way out of your body and slap people with your car, chances are you're just a normal parent."
So I tried the Ritalin. Results were inconclusive. I felt neither calm nor crazed, so I called my doctor back. He was busy and didn't have time to talk. But before ending the call he said, "Try Julie Andrews."
I had no idea what the man was talking about, but no matter. I quickly forgot all about it as my mind skittered off in another direction: the realization that the holidays were barreling toward me like a freight train of impossible expectations. And I was a reindeer caught in the headlights.
My husband Kelly loves the holidays. He will tell you this is because he plans for them, like he plans for everything. Before the Thanksgiving leftovers are cold in the fridge, Kelly has already started humming Gregorian Christmas chants and cheerily compiling his December spreadsheets. Spreadsheets for gifts, spreadsheets for holiday travel, spreadsheets for ornaments, decorations and peppermint bark. Spreadsheets excite him. They give me vertigo.
The holidays would be so much simpler, he never tires of telling me, if I planned things out in advance the way he does. It would be wonderful to be able to shoot back, "I have no executive functioning skills. I have adult ADD." But I don't really know that for sure and besides, he would only roll his eyes. Instead I said, "Planning takes away the fun. I prefer to let the holiday wash over me."
Which we both know is a lie. Letting the holidays wash over me was fine when I was single and drinking. After kids, letting the holidays wash over you only leaves you feeling waterboarded. The prospect of hauling eight cartons of decorations up several flights of stairs, putting up the tree, decorating it, refereeing a fight over who gets to put the angel on top, addressing and writing personal notes on 200 holiday cards and getting them in the mail and wrapping, wrapping, wrapping this year filled me with more than the usual Christmas dread. I had to fight off the urge to flee to the nearest synagogue and become a Jew. Their holidays came early this year and were over weeks ago.
At the beginning of December, I took my children to our local library branch to check out books, in the hopes that reading might make things a little less hectic for Kelly and me during their holiday break. After steering our daughter away from Young Adult titles focused on shoplifting and teen pregnancy and trying to convince James he didn't need to check out all 14 books in the Yu-Gi-Oh collection at the same time, I found myself sinking to the floor in the audiobook section, so neither of them could find me.
And that's when I became aware that Julie Andrews was staring at me. Gazing serenely from the cover of her spoken-word autobiography: Home: A Memoir of My Early Years. She had that same distant, sexy look in her eye she had in The Sound of Music when she realizes that marrying tight-pants hottie Christopher Plummer could end up being loads more fun than becoming the bride of Christ.
I remembered the advice of my doctor and snatched her off the shelf. I was soon back in our minivan, slipping Julie into my CD player. The magic happened within seconds. We were all drenched in the unique comforts of that voice: the voice that has made every kid in the world wish at least once that our dads would ditch our moms so we could all run off with Julie Andrews.
Just to have her read to us at night. James, my 8-year-old, nailed it after a few minutes under Julie's spell when he said: "Wow. She could make even bad news sound good."
Over the following weeks I spent 13 hours in my car mesmerized by Julie. Every time I turned my key in the ignition, her hypnotic voice would pick up right where she left off.
Julie's early years weren't all raindrops on roses, but her writing is beautiful and she can make even the crappy sound enchanting. I don't know anyone else who could narrate tales of divorce, alcoholic parents, handsy stepfathers and Richard Burton urinating in her kitchen and make them all a few of your new favorite things.
Every time she opens her mouth, whether it's to tell me about meeting the Queen or losing her virginity, my holiday stress instantly lifts, my brain calms and I'm flooded with a sense of order and purpose. And I get the wonderful sensation that not only will I be able to handle anything Christmas throws at me this year, I'll also be able to organize every closet on my block.
If you too are wondering whether it's the ADD or just the children, try Julie Andrews. She's better than speed.
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