Christmas has come and gone, and I can finally relax. Presents were purchased, boxes were bundled and missives were mailed. By last weekend, my to-do list had been whittled down to the last few stubborn holdouts, and the kids were counting the hours until the fat man made his visit. (Doh! Forgot to bake cookies ... adding it to the list ...)
So, why did I wear myself out again this year? Who was I trying to impress? Capturing the spirit of the holidays is difficult at best. It's next to impossible when you compare your real life to those perfect vignettes in the TV commercials and print ads. Juxtapose that with the news we're bombarded with, add a heaping helping of unrealistic expectations and enforced family togetherness, and suddenly you have a recipe designed to suck the joy out of life.
The biggest Joy Suckers this season have come at my own invitation. All of those commitments I made in the lazy days of summer came home to roost simultaneously. You'd think that I'd remember that from last year or the years before that. But you'd be giving me more credit than I deserve.
Regardless, this year seemed especially taxing. Not only did I fret about the time wasted on extra trips to the store, but now I worry about all of the extra fossil fuel I used because I forgot the butter and how that's going to impact global warming. Rising gas prices have made me consider buying bicycle panniers for such small trips.
Picking up a newspaper can be a real downer. The too-frequent stories about injured soldiers in Iraq make me miss my dad. He was a World War II vet who passed away just last year at the age of 82. He always counseled the returning war heroes to not keep things bottled up, like he did for 60 years. I've even had to banish the nightly news on TV, and I no longer wake up to NPR.
I found that I was pouring all of my joy through a sieve of bad news. Who wants to wake up filled with dread for the state of the world? I'll find out about it soon enough, and I just don't have the energy to explain the negativity and sensationalism to my children all of the time.
Breaking the news to our 13-year-old son that his favorite football player was going to jail for dog fighting was hard. But then we had to have a chat with our 10-year-old daughter about the baby growing in 16-year-old Jamie Lynne Spears' belly. Life lessons, to be sure, but definitely big-time suckage of joy.
Just when the chaos rises to a crescendo, though, something unexpected happens. A cashier cracks a joke. A gentleman holds the door open for me at the gym. My husband cooks dinner. Our children laugh and giggle while stuffing holiday cards into envelopes.
I breathe again.
Yes, there's a lot to do around this time of the year. Some of it can't wait, like the grocery shopping, the cleaning, the laundry, the wrapping of the presents ... or can they? Will my children fondly tell their children about how organized I was? Do I want them to remember what the house looked like, or how it felt to be home for the holidays?
I took some time last weekend to share with them one of my favorite holiday traditions: I made homemade cinnamon rolls. It just didn't feel like Christmas to me without the aroma of baking bread, so I got over my fear of messing up in the kitchen and just did it. They turned out great! So good, in fact, that it inspired me to give up my fear in other areas of life.
I'm no longer afraid of damaging the Earth. Instead, I do my part by combining trips, buying organic/recycled/not at all when possible and washing out my plastic bags.
I'm not afraid of a terrorist attack. Instead, I revel in the beautiful now that we are blessed with, and send love to those who preach hate.
I'm no longer afraid of something terrible happening to my children. Instead, I do my best to create situations for them to practice exercising their judgment in a safe environment.
I focus on the blessings in our lives, and actively seek ways to minimize the negative. I think of life as if it were one of those "Where's Waldo" books, where you find what you seek, even if you have to turn the book upside down. Even the darkest times have some bright spots, if you know what you're looking for.
Taking just five minutes to relax, breathe and focus on the abundance in life may feel like a luxury in this time-starved season, but everyone should try. You might have to do it while kneading bread dough or waiting for that mythical customer service representative to come on the line, but it's there for you. We're enough, all of us. Once you remember that, your joy will be waiting.