Everyone was back to school and work yesterday. I do love when we are all in our routines! Christmas has been boxed up and stored in the basement for another year. Cookies and candy have been cleared off the counter and tags taken off new clothes; another Christmas season has come and gone. I have a few friends who don’t love the holiday season and I thought about some of the things that help to make it a stack of wins for our family. And since I’m a church employee now AND a former teacher, I have created the obligatory, absolutely-can't-help-it, handy little acronym to help you remember my tips: LESTER. I can’t think of any logical way to link LESTER to Christmas unless you have an uncle Lester you see at Christmas, but all the other good ideas like Christmas sweater and Christmas shoes have already been taken. Anyway…
- Lower expectations: I remember when Cade was our only baby and we eagerly looked forward to that first Christmas when he was old enough to “be fun.” I was so excited to watch his eyes light up and I listened intently for those special Christmas giggles and squeals of joy….and I was completely disappointed when none of that happened. He didn’t get excited about the toys I thought he would, he wouldn’t sit for cute pictures in front of the tree, and I still had to change diapers and deal with a toddler off his nap schedule. Christmas with kids didn’t get fun until I learned to lower my expectations. When I was okay with candid pictures and preschoolers who would rather play with boxes, that’s when I was able to enjoy the time with boys.
- Expect tears: One expectation I have not let go of is that there will be tears. Sometimes from a kid or two or three, sometimes from me. This year Bryson cried because Santa didn’t bring him the Jet Ski NOR the private jet NOR the hover board he asked for. Colin cried because Cade still does wrestling moves on his little brother on Christmas day. I cried because I had to make dinner on Christmas Eve. (Don’t judge.) I have found though, that when I know the tears are coming at some point, I can have extra grace in the moment.
- Simplify: Several years ago I actually wrapped Christmas presents early (before three kids, obviously) and as I surveyed the loot, I decided it wasn’t nearly enough. I made another trip to Walmart and bought more stuff just for the sake of the boys being able to open more stuff. Days later when there were toys still in packages I scooped up what I could and returned it, and made a note to not do that again. We switched to 4 gifts (something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read) plus a family experience. And that’s it. Like, period. Just 4 things to open for each boy. Just 12 gifts under the tree. It still doesn’t feel like enough when I look at the small pile of presents, but by Christmas night when the moment is over and the boys are playing without being overwhelmed and are talking excitedly about our upcoming family experience, I remember that it was enough. By the way, this year Santa brought tickets to Monster Jam!
- Talk: When lowering the expectations I decided that there were some things that I was not willing to let go of; they were too important to me. Once I actually voiced those expectations, Bryan was able to help me coordinate and plan for the season must-haves. Things like a picture of the kids setting out the cookies for Santa and the fact that I want to be the one to fill their stockings became less of a meltdown and more of a success when Bryan knew they were important and could help orchestrate.
- Enlist your people: If the upcoming schedule of gatherings and family and cooking and to-do lists brings on anxiety and dread, then before the holiday season approaches let your people know how they can help. Certain moments of the holiday rush are more frustrating and overwhelming for me than others. My friends knew what time I would need a funny text or affirming voicemail or encouraging Facebook message. They came through with what I asked for and it was magical. Here’s the thing though, the reason it worked is because I was vulnerable and asked for what I needed. You have to go out on a limb for this one, but when my people showed up at the right times it paid dividends in my holiday happiness.
- Refocus: We intentionally put the Christmas Story (Jesus, not Ralphie) in front of our family several times a day during the entire month of December. We can’t block out all of the endless commercials and the “I want, I want, I want”. I haven’t found a way to magically make my kids not be excited about the superficial things of Christmas, like presents and cookies and more presents and then some cookies. (Again, don’t judge.) But we do take opportunities to be excited about the reason we celebrate and the time with our family and that has helped us find a nice balance.
As you reflect on the mayhem of the last two weeks I hope the memories are filled with many happy moments. But if you can relate to a few let downs and disappointments and tears and frustrations, then I hope some Christmas LESTER can make the holidays more magical for you too.