Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday Anxiety

I am pretty sure as a kid I loved the holidays, that time from Thanksgiving through New Years where we stuff our faces with ungodly amounts of food and sweets, stay up late, sleep in, and act like crazy people running around shopping centers throwing our money around. I am not quite sure when the tides changed from childhood wonder to adult distain. I don't think there is a defining moment, one singular incident, rather a gradual knot that twisted its way, binding my heart to beat "bahumbug".

Growing up in a generation where 50% of marriages end in divorce I was not alone in having split my time among several families throughout the Holiday season. Throw in step parents and their families, and it's a wonder that I could even waddle out of the last house on Thanksgiving. I remember one year consuming no less than 5 full thanksgiving meals. At every house there was always a favorite dish I had to partake in, and I remember feeling like I had to eat so as to not offend the host.

For Christmas we had a pretty good routine down. Christmas Eve was spent with Grandma and Grandpa Barron. The first few hours of Christmas morning were spent at home with my mom and Bill, in a flurry the paper would be off the gifts, the stalkings would be dumped out, we would just begin to play and it would be time to go to my dad's. Most of Christmas day would be spent with my dad and his family. There were quite a few years we drove up to Rifle to spend the day with our cousins sledding and traipsing in the snow. Christmas night often ended back at home or at Bills mom's home.

So what's the big deal? Reflecting on this I remember how much fun I had with all the cousins, how loved I felt by all the family. When did this change to dread? At some point, most likely those unbearable teen years, I was forced to continue in the routine and it all just became too much. I began to despise being yanked from one home to another.

And this has continued now that I am grown up with a family of my own. Every year for the past 12 years we have been pulled out of our home in the early hours of Christmas day to go somewhere and do something with someone else, and I felt I had no choice in the matter. I think that is key, choice...

Just yesterday I discovered the other deeply seeded cause to my holiday anxiety, gift giving. This has stressed me out every year, and I didn't know how to put words to it, so I just attributed it to not liking Christmas being commercialized. And maybe I don't like that, but it isn't the cause of all this anxiety, and it wasn't until I saw the same trait in my son that I could put words to it myself.

Brian and I always let the kids decide on a gift they would like to get each of us, and Maddox is finally old enough to make this decision with little to no guidance from us. When asked what he wanted to get Madison, Dad, and Mom, he started to panic and get frustrated and cranky, finally just throwing his hands into the air as if to say "I give up". At that precise moment realization was birthed in me... that's exactly how I feel... I get completely overwhelmed when it comes to picking gifts for my family and friends.

But why?

How can a material gift even begin to communicate how important a person is in your life and how much you appreciate them? It can't... but I want each and every gift to do just that, to be absolutely perfect, one that caters to the likes and interests of the person, one that is so special that the gift is no longer the physical item but literally how much thought was put behind it. It may come as a surprise to discover that I never seem to find that perfect gift, nothing is ever good enough, and that brings me great distress.

This year I have had much more difficulty in putting on the pretty face of a mom who loves the holidays, and have had a few complete freak outs. The guilt that comes with these is almost unbearable. I do not want my kids to come to hate the holidays because their mother is a complete wreck, so something has gotta give... I've gotta make a change.

Knowing and being able to put words to what causes my anxiety has already helped me. I think that I can let myself off the hook, and begin to see that no matter what the gift, it's just a little piece to let them know that they are an important part of my life.

As for my second issue: This year I was given the choice of what to do and where to go for Christmas. Knowing that I wasn't expected to parade all over town, hop from one house to another, made the thought of doing just that completely bearable. I was able to rationalize beyond myself and see that maybe I could do what I have come to hate, IF my kids enjoy it. But in the end I am getting what I have always wanted, Christmas at my own home, for the entire day. Maybe next year I can choose to go.

I know that untying the bahumbug knot, retraining my emotions and feelings, will be a process, and it is not likely to be easy. But it is time to let it go, it is time to appreciate, and truly celebrate Christmas.

Learned: Getting older is inevitable, but growing up is a choice; a choice to seize positive change, even when it hurts, even when it is difficult... change that sacrifices the selfish nature of youth for the altruistic embrace of maturity.

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