12Nov

Stop This Train

I don’t know how it goes down in your neck of the woods, but the Polar Express has a habit of showing up around here nearly two months ahead of schedule. It tends to barrel into me around the first of November, all twinkle lights and full steam ahead, which is patently unfair. After all, autumn only recently got herself settled in. Mr. Skinnybones, our happy Halloween skeleton, is still hanging in the doorway with whatever accessories the girls have draped over him for the day. I’m only just beginning to turn my mind toward turkey and communal gratitude. You can’t stop a locomotive though, and once it hits, I’m along for the slap-dash race toward Christmas.

It knocks the breath out of me every dang year.

I still haven’t entirely reconciled with the fact that I’m a designated magic-maker now. Nine Christmases into parenting, and I still feel like some elf somewhere should be assigned to help me turn craft supplies and cookie dough and toys encased in bulletproof plastic into a holiday experience greater than the sum of its parts. All Santa sends, however, is his train, which flips calendar pages wildly in its wake and reminds me how few shopping days are left if I want free shipping. Which of course I do. Who wouldn’t?

The thing is, I ache every year for Christmas to be both bigger and smaller than it is, and shopping is without question the part I wish were smaller. Giving, on the other hand, is my favorite. It’s the one thing about the holidays that needs no manufactured fairy dust at all in order to thrill and fulfill. There’s always a significant disconnect for me though between spending and giving, and that’s where the source of my holiday angst lies.

I realize that at this point I’m in danger of sounding like one of those soapbox speakers railing against the consumerism in our society and shaming people for buying so much as a stocking stuffer, and oh goodness no. Watching my girls open their presents on Christmas morning turns on every twinkle light in my soul. I suspect however that I am not the only parent who goes into January with far more thoughts on the money she shelled out for those gifts than on the joy of watching them opened.

Right?

My giving feels stilted by the need to accumulate. I feel trapped each year into spending however much it takes for the pile of gifts under our tree to look sufficiently impressive, and that sense of rush and scarcity and helpless forward motion starts… well, approximately a week and a half ago. I’m on the train already, but the difference this year is that I’m brainstorming an escape plan.

I’m thinking of how the girls literally skip around the grocery store when we’re filling a bag for our Nigerian friend begging outside, how they can’t wait to hand over the bread and oranges and chocolate and soup mix and wish him a happy afternoon. What if we included him in our Christmas plans? Asked him what other kinds of needs he and his roommates have and tried to meet some of them as a family?

I’m thinking of how Krista Smith is going to do daily acts of kindness with her children in December instead of going with a traditional toy- or chocolate-stuffed advent calendar. In the interest of full disclosure, we already have an advent calendar tucked in the back of the closet (both Dan and I have a weakness for all things Lego), but I love the idea of adding on an advent action as well. Mailing cards to people who might be feeling lonely, taking a plate of muffins to the single mom in our building, choosing a few toys or clothes to give away, helping babysit our friends’ newborn so they can go out for an hour on their own, checking out Momastery’s Holiday Hands listings for anything we might be able to contribute… None of it would take much time or money. Just intention.

I’m thinking of how my homegirl Erika is gifting her sons with Help One Now child sponsorships because it is going to make her boys’ hearts glow wonderland-style to know that three more Haitian children are going to have food on their tables and parents by their sides this Christmas. I know that there are so many charitable opportunities this time of year that you can’t massage your overwhelmed temples without your elbows knocking into one. In fact, I wrote several years ago about how all the needs brought to my attention every day on social media were paralyzing me, and how do you care for one cause without caring for them all and coming unhinged in the process? The truce I’ve struck since with my conscience if that one need particularly grabs me and I can do something about it, I have the freedom to do so without guilt or second-guessing. Child sponsorships are especially dear to my heart, and if we can commit the funds, I’d love to add one of these sweet faces to our Christmas morning lineup.

I’m thinking of simplicity this year. Fewer homemade cookies (sorry, local friends!) so that we can have more time to open our home to people. Fewer purchased presents so that we can have more resources for giving and less stress overall. Fewer commitments so that we can spend more time together as a family (Lego play day, anyone?). Fewer concessions to obligation so that we can make this year about celebration instead.

Any of you up for jumping the track with me?

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8 comments

  1. This is a wonderful idea! I am feeling like I have been tied to the tracks waiting to be smashed by this train since we were trick or treating. It definitely is the obligation stuff that makes me the most stressed. We always make it through, though. Somehow. But the joy wanes as the deadline approaches. I feel so stuck because of the demands on my time from my job(s). My REAL job is never caught up, and my other job…taxi driver. It has gotten better, since soccer ended, but it is still a crazy schedule. I am so looking forward to reading about all of these wonderful ideas. I have already given a donation to the Holiday Hands thing, but was going to check today to see if someone needed a letter or something like that. My kids can do that! It is the shopping and shlepping that sucks the life out of me…

    But the train is coming! Choo chooo!

    • Isn’t it crazy how Christmas turns from “best day of the year” to “DEADLINE” as the years go by? I hate the shopping and shlepping right along with you. I shop almost exclusively online now for that reason. 🙂

  2. thank you for sharing the faces of Drouin, my darlin’. and i especially love seeing my home-girl name is your posts. i’m gonna jump over to Krista’s…i’m really inspired by acts of kindness for advent.

    i love you the MUCHEST.

  3. I think the train has already run me over.

  4. “designated magic-maker” – oh that made me laugh. 🙂 How did this happen? Where are the holiday makers of our childhood who made this amazing while we only had to show up? This is the first time since arriving in Australia that I’ve looked forward to Christmas. I don’t know what I’m going to do yet, but I love the idea of looking for extra ways to be kind. 🙂

    • I’m thinking designated magic-makers could be a brilliant business concept… Hire a team to make Christmas magical and amazing for you while you do absolutely nothing! Of course, actual magic would have to be involved because the concept is impossible, but a girl can dream. 🙂

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