December is one of my favorite months. In addition to Christmas, it’s always been the season of birthdays in our family. My great-grandmother, my grandmother, my mom, my nephew, and my daughter were all born this month. When my husband and I were dating seriously and discussing children, however, I said, “I just hope we don’t have a December baby. There’s too much already going on that month.” But five days before Christmas, my first born arrived. I naively had thought that having a December baby simply meant remembering to wrap birthday gifts in non-Christmas wrapping, but I hadn’t thought about birthday parties. That adds a whole other layer to the holidays.
Although I’m not a runner, I hear my friends who compete in marathons talk about the importance of pacing themselves, so they don’t burn out early in the race because they started out too fast. The same thing is true for December. We need to pace ourselves. And even though the holidays may feel like a race, they are in fact not. And yet there is some kind of crazy Keeping Up With the Joneses that I feel during the holidays that I don’t feel other times of year. We don’t have outdoor lights or elegant reindeer statues in our yard. We don’t have cascades of ribbons and ornaments on our banister. Our house is decorated but not like the White House, not even close. Instead, I’m trying to pace myself for the next few weeks so that I can stay healthy and sane.
My day today was what a typical day looks like in many families with working parents and kids. The dishwasher was replaced as I was trying to get work done, while emailing and calling our mortgage company to get a necessary trust letter, while I was on hold for our travel flights, while I was planning my daughter’s birthday parties. (She’s having two- don’t ask.) I had a phone date with a friend but couldn’t find my cell phone because I had made our bed over the phone. (Thankfully, I was able to call my number from another phone and listen for the muffled ring under the sheets. It was the buzzing that gave it away.) The lawn care people came to get rid of our leaves and clean the gutters and while I was talking with them, the doctor’s office called about scheduling my routine mammogram, all of this while I was trying to work. My son’s two friends arrived tonight for dinner before their first dance, my daughter has a swim meet tomorrow, we have church and a Handel Messiah on Sunday, and the following weekend we are having the two separate birthday parties within 24 hours, in addition to a client’s art opening. The weekend after that, we have three Christmas parties, a swim meet, a celebration at Sturbridge, and my daughter’s actual birthday before we head to California for Christmas. (It does sound like a crazy version of the Twelve Days of Christmas!) I bet others of you have an even busier schedule and yet you do manage to put outside lights up. (See how we beat ourselves up?)
I know my parents’ generation shakes their heads at ours, reminding us that they weren’t as scheduled and busy in the 80’s. I’m not sure that’s true. My dad worked every weekday in the weeks surrounding Christmas except for the day after for decades. And then he was washing windows and getting groceries for the various houseguests and dinner guests. My mom worked 60 hour weeks as my eighth grade teacher. (She was an amazing teacher, because she taught her students to really think and to write well, something that’s rare to find these days.) And yet she still put on much more elaborate parties than we do and made it all seem easy. I admire that but have come to accept that that is just not where my talents lie.
In this busy season, it’s important to remember that the point is not to get through our “to do” lists and to rush through the mall and to get to January in one piece. The point is to pace ourselves so that we can enjoy the ride, whether it’s taking pictures of 6th grade boys before their first dance, or accepting that sometimes teenage girls need two birthday parties– one for old friends and one for new, since they don’t know each other and it’s just easier. We also want to pace ourselves so that we can remain kind and open in a season in which there are lots of people who are sad or lost. Let’s remember to hold doors open for people and be extra nice to receptionists (what a tough job!) and use some of our time and money for the needy. We give money to charity and church every month, but at Christmas, we like to have our kids choose toys for poor children so that our kids always remember to be grateful.
To find your world stage, remember to pace yourself. As they say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day” and neither is your life or your dreams. Remember to enjoy the ride, so that when you arrive at your destination you can remember with fondness whom you knew and loved and what you experienced along the way.