Tag Archives: holidays

The Difference A Day Makes

Some days are filled with so many … difficulties, that we wonder how we’ll get through them. In our home, we have a Sunday habit of saying things like, “Ugh, this is going to be a hard week!” to anyone in the house who will listen. We try to remind each other that we work for a living, and work is work. Sure there are down weeks, slow weeks, rare vacation weeks, but not enough to truly decompress. But the days …. there are some days that seem especially volatile. And this is the season of So Much Merriment That We Don’t Think We Can Take An Ounce More Ho-Ho-Holiday Cheer.

We really love the holidays: there’s a lot of beauty in traditional decorations set against the chill of winter, and there are some powerful stories that can anchor us in those traditions, if you fight past the annual anemic television “specials” that are about as meaningful as a greeting card. But the holidays can be stressful too, with all the special events and pressure to buy things that infiltrate our holy days.

Stress makes us impatient and short with one another. Simple statements that would normally be taken at face value can ignite fiery reactions. We’ve seen a couple days of intense personal conflict in our work environments in recent weeks; people getting hurt, missing the meaning of things, over-reacting. We might have been those people.

But time is a great leveler. Some days can be hard, but they are followed by days where the weather is a bit different, the pressure has shifted a little, things are a bit more manageable. New perspectives give us new ways of seeing, and a chance to reflect on yesterday’s trouble with the possibility of a new response. Age or experience has taught us that we can survive rough days, and to look past conflict to see the pressure and loneliness and worry that gives us so much trouble during these seasons. Maybe seeing these things can allow us to forgive the outbursts, and perhaps respond in a way that soothes the real hurt.

Parents know all about tantrums, but it’s not only kids that lose it from time to time. We really hope that, as parents (and friends and coworkers) that we can be a source of calm in difficult times. We aren’t always, but we try.

On Celebrations

When families participate in important events, kids can be a real wild card. We’ve seen that the likelihood of a meltdown is proportional to the importance of the event. This is not a plot! It’s not the fault of the children. In fact, when there’s a high level of anticipation and expectation, adults communicate stress, often without being aware. When we’re anxious about something, kids pick up on it, and they often internalize the anxiety. Just think about the emotional turmoil that surrounds a birthday, for example: most of the energy is positive, of course, but it’s stressful nonetheless. These can be hard events for kids: since they don’t have the tools to manage their feelings like adults (hopefully) do, their young-but-powerful emotions erupt in ways that can be, shall we say, counterproductive.

You might think that kids should naturally love the parties we throw for them. But graduations, birthdays, mitzvahs and other celebrations often become opportunities for adults to ‘put on a show’ for ourselves, forgetting who the event is for. We invest a lot into these events, we stress about the success we hope for, and young kids feel the strain.

To help young children survive events that are meant for their benefit, here’s a few tips:

  • Remember that these events are supposed to be a blessing for the child, not for us (Simple, but it has to be said).
  • Help your young child know what to expect (“We will do X for a little bit, then we’ll do Y, and then we’ll be all done!”).
  • Give choices whenever possible (“Do you want to sit next to your aunt or next to Dad?”; “What would you like to eat first?” … “Dessert!” is an acceptable answer on certain occasions).
  • Consider their threshold for public humiliation (“You look SOOOO cute in that suit!”) and honor them without embarrassing them.
  • Direct their attention to keep their mind off their own discomfort (“Watch your sister practicing her dance moves”).
  • Don’t compare a child to others (“Look how that little boy is sitting quietly”), rather catch them doing their best and acknowledge their efforts (“Sitting still is so hard, but you’re becoming a real patient kid!”)
  • Be determined to focus your energies on enjoying your child (rather than on the success of the event), and they will feel more special and less stressed.

Keep a sense of humor while dressing up and celebrating your child, and the likelihood grows that you will all take good memories from these special events.


This post originally appeared on the Parenting on The Peninsula Blog

Home For The Holidays … Fight

Our daughter, who lives and studies in Seattle, spent thanksgiving with her boyfriend’s family. She reported having a good time, and said that it was “… so quiet and, well, polite!” … as though these things were foreign to her family experience. Hmm. But before you worry about what goes on in our house, what she was hinting at was that she’d become accustomed to the occasional food fight, or end-of-night wrestling match on the floor with her brother, or with her father.

Is this really the point of comparison between the boyfriend’s family and ours? Nothing about politics? Religion? We can’t escape it. Our family has a bit of a history …. Dave’s mother used to say how glad she was when he started bringing Anghelika home for the holidays because it meant that she didn’t have to worry (as much) about being tackled in the kitchen after dinner (tackling still happened). Recent years have seen epic battles with Dave and his sisters on the ground wrestling amongst the cat toys in his parents’ house. So what can we say … it’s a kinesthetic thing. We won’t say we’re surprised the daughter has come to expect some contact sports during the holidays.

Sure enough, this Christmas, the girl provoked her seventeen year old brother (who as an 11-year old, after only a few karate lessons, once took down 180-pound Dave during a little “playful” jostling, surprising himself no less than dad). In no time, she was having the kind of holiday she had been yearning for.

It's all fun and games ...

It’s all fun and games …

... until you remember that you are in art school and your brother is on the wrestling team

… until you remember that you are in art school and your brother is on the wrestling team

Happy holidays!

Happy holidays!

This post first appeared on the Parenting On The Peninsula Blog

Christmas Fail

Dave tells the story of how he once almost ruined Christmas:

Our family loves the holidays. We have always embraced the full experience of this cultural mash-up of a season: cozy-winter-and-sparkly-light-gorgeousness, gift-giving and -getting, and religious re-centering. We have always had, on balance, positive feelings about the season.

But you’d have to be asleep not to see that there is a shady side to it all. At a certain point, our children began to pick up on some of the absurd ironies of the season. It’s a strange moment for a parent when their child calls out the human race because they’ve witnessed crowds of sparkly-peace-on-earth-sweater wearing people trample each other in order to save 40% on a new widescreen TV. Are we proud of our blossoming cynics? Or do we grieve their loss of innocence?

I myself have always been kind of a cynic when it comes to commercialism [“Kind of?” -Anghelika], and for me it was definitely pride. The kids began to realize that happiness was not inside the wrapped presents, that the extreme levels of anticipation around the holiday were near impossible to satisfy, even when their hot little hands finally held The Toy. Post Christmas Crash was becoming a thing. But these realizations did little to reduce the intensity of gift-time on Christmas day. And so, a few years ago, I hatched A Plan. And I thought the family was ready.

It was cooly brilliant. Part of me still thinks it was a master stroke against the spirit of the age, and that it was destined to become a viral phenomenon after I blogged about its inevitable success. It was that good. Except that it almost ruined Christmas.

The Plan hinged on surgically separating Christmas from its evil twin, Xmas. We all know what Christmas is. Christmas is where the whole peace on earth deal comes from—a time to remember the arrival of God in the form of an infant child with a timeless message of peace and reconciliation for all people. Xmas? Xmas put that timeless message on an ugly sweater in sparkly cursive under a soft-sculpture of Rudolf. The time had come to put Xmas in its place.

I proposed the Plan to the family some years back just as the Muzak in the stores was starting to transition to endless loops of Los Vegas Lounge-Gospel. I might as well have used Power Point:

  • X-mas has taken over the holiday. We aim to take it back.
  • No presents on Christmas, only Christ.
  • Christmas morning is for family: nice breakfast, fire in the fireplace, family prayers, walks … Peace On Earth.

Then, in the days after Christmas, we can have X-mas:

  • Hit the malls while the rest of humanity is still sorting and recycling wrapping paper.
  • Everything will be on super sale!
  • Buy each other stuff, see a movie, go out to dinner … Merry X-mas!

The plan had it all: Christmas day without the madness (nobody’s ever been trampled in our living room, but emotions can run high); family excursions during the vacation days after Christmas; a relaxed trip to the stores where we all get to buy something special; and big savings. I felt like a genius. But there was a problem. Nobody else liked the idea.

On the night I proposed the Plan, I was so convinced of its greatness, I was blind to my family’s increasing discomfort. I was like a bargain hunter on black friday: nothing was going to stop me from pulling off my Plan, and if a few traditions need to be trampled on the way to the prize, that would be an acceptable sacrifice. I might as well have been that guy in the news report clawing past less-motivated shoppers, knocking stuffed-flannel reindeer antlers off left and right.

After some extremely tense discussion, there was grudging acceptance. After all, how do you argue with Saving Christmas? I had essentially described a crusade against gifts on the biggest gift-giving day of the year, and backed it up with religious zeal—resistance was futile (or at least suspect). The family had little choice but to try my idea. But Anghelika was sad to have our kids wake up to no gifts on Christmas morning, and the kids, who probably did not know what to make of the whole thing, backed her up when they saw that she was the one who might actually be able to save Christmas. A compromise was agreed upon. We would open stocking gifts on Christmas morning, and implement the Plan for our main gifts. Of course, here in America, our stockings are not small. These are nothing like socks: they are mini burlap sacks decorated by the same people that brought you the sparkly peace-on-earth sweaters. You could say the stockings were the Trojan Horse that let X-mas back into our home on December 25th and spoiled my Plan. But, today I am willing to admit what should have been clear at the start … the Plan was already spoiled.

We followed through with it as best we could. We opened stocking gifts on Christmas morning, followed by a big cooked breakfast, a warm fire, some readings from scripture, and family walks outside in the chill. If everyone was mildly depressed, I chose to see it as a much-needed reduction of emotional intensity. A couple days later, we hit the mall for Xmas, where we found that either the multitudes were getting a head start on next year’s shopping, or that each and every one of them had the exact same idea as me. It was crowded, noisy, and the salespeople were not very happy to be there. The worst part was that it wasn’t much fun just buying things for each other. This was not gift-giving … it was shopping. It was a day at the mall. Merry Xmas.

Where did it all go wrong? The assumption behind my scheme was that family is more important than tradition, and I could change the tradition at will for the good of our family. Sounds reasonable. Except that family is not separate from tradition … the two are intertwined. The removal of one threatens the other. Without family, there can be no tradition, of course. But the opposite is true as well: adding or removing a tradition arbitrarily can harm the bonds of family. Traditions are the expression of generations of family practice. Whether they are the beautiful rituals passed down from our ancestors, or the quirky habits that are only a generation old (jellied cranberry sauce in a can, I’m looking at you), traditions are connections to our past, and do a lot to keep us connected in the present. Traditions are part of family, and should not be trifled with.

I do not love the crass commercialism of the holidays. But I do love me some wonderful people who love giving and getting gifts. So who am I to take away an important part of their holiday because I have a gripe with the world?

The Plan has been retired, buried under a mountain somewhere to make it safe for families to celebrate the holidays again. I won’t be messing around with Christmas anymore. I’ve learned that it’s not my job to critique and do away with the traditions of the past. Maybe now that my head is a little more clear, I can begin to think about what traditions I’d like add for my grandchildren to enjoy, along with their other gifts.


This post originally appeared on the Parenting On The Peninsula Blog