December 23, 2021. A day that in many other years, would be filled with shopping, meeting up with friends home for the holidays, or decorating your tree. But this year, well, this year is a little different. And it’s a little bit harder to get in the Christmas spirit.
This is not unique… there are always years that seem to lack a little magic. Honestly, it seems to ebb and flow for me. One year, I’m totally in it – I’m rocking all the christmas tunes December 1st, getting my lights put up early then obsessing over whether or not they’ve been turned on… and feeling extra generous. The exhaustion that comes with the holidays is a minor set back, barely recognizable. It’s Christmas! It’s the best! If I’m tired I’ll just have another spiced egg nog and enjoy being tired by the fire and the Christmas tree. It’s peaceful. It’s perfect.
But then there are other years where you struggle a bit to find that same joy. Where your Christmas spirit can be summarized by the word, “MEH.” You try to make an effort of course, buying gifts, baking cookies, doing ‘all the things’… but your heart isn’t it – for whatever reason. Maybe you’re fresh off a break up, maybe you weren’t inspired in your Christmas shopping,… maybe you’ve lost someone you love, and it’s your first Christmas without them. Christmas is so many beautiful things wrapped up in nostalgia and comfort, but it can also be incredibly painful and…harsh for so many. A day to get through. A season to get through.
But when you have kids, well, your heart probably really SHOULD be in it. It’s for them after all… you are building memories with them that will define what Christmas is. It’s important. I don’t take it lightly. But, you can’t force a feeling… and you can’t deny how you’re feeling some years. Maybe it’s that all the things I normally do to get in the spirit just don’t really go easily with having kids. Usually I’d have Christmas music on repeat, but even calming Christmas music contributes to the sensory overload and while The Eagles sing about bells that are ringing – so are my ears.
Then there are the movies I usually put on, but with babies waking up through the night, my bedtime is just too early to fit any TV time in post bedtime. And there aren’t many you can put on when the kids are around that aren’t inappropriate. My holiday go tos are usually Love Actually, The Holiday, and The Family Stone. But there’s just too many questionable scenes that I wouldn’t want my 5 year old walking in and saying, “What are they doing?” in each of these that they are off the table! My absolute favourite is the classic Home Alone, and well, that’s been on a lot. But it’s not quite the same when it’s constantly interrupted by your 3 year old saying, “Mom… he said ‘stuuuupid’,”or by yourself feigning shock through out multiple scenes and saying, “THAT wasn’t a nice thing to say!” It’s also brought the added bonus of interrupting your night, well past when you were watching it, by the same child leaving bed at 9pm to jump up and down at the top of the stairs screaming, “I’M LIVING ALONE!! I’M LIVING ALONE!!……Mom?…. Mom?….Did you see that part? Kevin says, “I’M LIVING ALONE!! I’M LIVING ALONE!…. Mom? Do you remember??”
*Insert wide eyed, staring into space emoji here.*
So, music is out. Movies are… a risk. And when you’re wrapping presents for like, everyone, it kinda loses a little joy. You can’t even bring them out in front of the TV for fear you’ll hear a little voice when your back is turned coming down the stairs saying, “…What’s that?” No, instead you are squirreled away in the coldest room of the house, tripping over cardboard and wrapping paper rolls with nowhere to sit and playing a relentless game of, “Where’s the scotch tape now?” I know, this is supposed to be fun. But until you’ve wrapped many oddly shaped gifts in said scenario, all while using toddler scissors that your fingers can barely fit through because they’re the only ones you could find, don’t judge me.
And of course, parades, tree lightings, and Santa visits all look a little different now, if they’re even still happening. I never knew how much I’d treasure the pictures of my girls on Santa’s knee from years ago, when we thought nothing of it, as much as I now do.
I know, in time, there will be different things that bring about the holiday spirit for me now that I have kids… but I can tell you that the responsibility of providing a memorable Christmas for them is huge. I remember sitting in the living room last year late on Christmas Eve, surrounded by gifts and wrapping supplies, feeling incredibly overwhelmed, thinking ‘How will I do this every year? How will I keep all this straight? How will I deal, when I can see in their face one day, that they are disappointed by their Christmas?’ This year, I started the assembling and wrapping earlier, and I somehow feel prepared (but check back in with me Christmas Eve).
But that brings us to the big virus that is hopefully NOT in the room that is making it very hard to get in the Christmas spirit and instead is making this a very Covid Christmas:….Omnicrone…. No wait, omicon….No, it’s omi…OmiCRON.. Omi- COME ON!!
C’MOOOONNN!!! Again?! Really?! Another wave? But oh no hunny, this ain’t no wave. It’s a tsunami. This thing is coming at us faster than anything before and I’ve got Tom Petty singing, “It’s Cooooooviiiiid, all oooover, again” on repeat in my head. Home for the holidays? DUH. Where else would I be? Out caroling door to door? We live in Nova Scotia where we have been sooooo so lucky. I have put my trust in our main man Dr. Strang and his team faithfully. I trust the science. I trust the professionals the same way I trust the professionals in pretty much all other aspects of my life that I have no training or education in. Have I felt safe the past two years? No. But have I felt safer than many, many people in other parts of the world, or people here at home but in a different situation? Yes. But not anymore. Not when people who are close to you who you care about deeply start getting it. Not when you see the numbers go higher for days on end and you know they are only a tiny snapshot of what’s really out there. And not when I know that by this time next week, hell, maybe even on Christmas day, it could be in my home. Affecting my kids more than it has before. So yes, maybe we aren’t ‘feeling’ this Christmas, but so far, I AM feeling good – I’m not sick. I think I’ll count my blessings.
So, here we are, as in olden days… isolated olden days… and still wanting more. Our friends WON’T be gathering near to us, and the fates are NOT allowing us to all be together. But yesterday over 500 people in N.S. got a text message telling them they tested positive for COVID. Even the worst break ups usually offer a phone call. I’m lucky enough to not to be one of them, so not being together pales in comparison. And cancelled plans are disappointing, for sure, but they aren’t cancelled surgeries, or cancelled flights. They’re a plan that can be rescheduled.. hopefully sooner rather than later. And I say this knowing I won’t be alone, I will be with my immediate family because, well, they live with me. And I know that makes me very blessed. But my parents, siblings… will that happen? We don’t really know. Will we be able to get together again sometime soon? I mean… we also don’t really know… Omicron’s spread is so fast it does bring a feeling of inevitability with it. Like I’ve been successfully dodging the ghosts through three levels of Pac Man but then make a wrong turn, followed by another, and suddenly I’m cornered by two of them. It’s hard to not feel defeated. We’re fighting resignation every day against this thing. And we’re all tired. And now… now the virus is gonna be The Grinch and come take our Christmas without giving us the happy ending? That’s cold.
And in the midst of it all, our kids are still smiling. Teaching us resilience. Teaching us that they don’t care what’s going on in their world, they’re still gonna have a tantrum about how you peeled their banana, and they’re still going to want snuggles at night,… and bottom line, they’re still going to need us. As far as they’re concerned, this is the world they know, cause sadly, they’re young enough to not remember pre-Covid life.
But Christmas adds another element. When we had our first child, we talked about how we wanted to downplay the commercialism of Christmas. “She doesn’t need much! We don’t want to spoil her!” There was the old saying to guide our gift giving: “Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.” How quaint. How perfect. How easy to pull off when your kid can’t talk yet.
When a pandemic is in the picture, it’s hard not to throw those rules out the window. It’s hard not to want to give them every little thing they ask for. One of my girls has been writing Christmas lists non stop for three weeks. I thought the advantage of not being in the stores would mean her list would be short… but then the catalogs arrived (damn you Amazon, Walmart, and Indigo!Kids!!). When I tried the good old, “You know, Christmas is about giving, not receiving” I was met with, “Okay mommy, what would you like to GIVE me?”
But since then, Covid numbers have spiked, school has ended early, and Christmas parties have been canceled. So while we started out saying, “You know you won’t get EVERYTHING you ask for, right?”…. Now I’m thinking, “WHAT DO YOU WANT?? I’LL GIVE IT TO YOU!!” Hell, I’ll give them things they didn’t even ask for.
I can’t give you a crowded family gathering but… here is a BARBIE DREAMHOUSE (in your favourite Price Is Right announcer’s voice)!
I can’t give you a planet that isn’t deteriorating everyday because of us but here is a BARBIE DREAMHOUSE!!
The world’s on fire but look! A BARBIE DREAMHOU – ok, you get the point.
Do I know it is wrong to try to buy their happiness? Yup. Do I maybe have a problem when I don’t want to ‘see cart’ online because I don’t want to see the total? Because as the stress increases, so does my VISA balance? I mean, yes, wholeheartedly, yes. But, am I wrong for wanting to give them some sort of normalcy and joy on Christmas Day?
I don’t even know anymore.
But when you’ve been battling a constant cortisol stream for almost two years you’ll happily do what you can to get a dopamine fix. You can’t control Covid’s spread but you know what you CAN control? What you put in your cart. You want a PJ mask toy? Done. You want some books? AWESOME. You want a iPad? YOU GOT I- wait, no, you don’t got it. Even I have limits.
CONSUME. CONSUME. CONSUME.
DISTRACT. DISTRACT. DISTRACT.
DOPAMINE. DOPAMINE. DOPAMINE.
But the problem with dopamine is, it wears off. That hit makes you feel good in the moment, like you CAN buy their happiness, and your own by proxy, but it’s all only temporary. Even with online purchases, by the time the package arrives I’m already over it. GREAT another box to break down. UGH more toys to pick up. SHOOT – we really didn’t need this.
Last year, after all the gifts were opened, I actually just felt sick to my stomach. Even if you limit yourself, there are so many gifts from family. And you don’t want to take that from them, especially now. But the kids can’t even handle it. It’s overwhelming. I know this, and yet here I am, standing like Vanna White presenting a DREAM HOUSE!! (Cue Jennifer Hudson singing It’s a Dreamhouse instead of We’re Your Dreamgirls in the background). And the Price Is Right announcer is back, letting you know that, “Here, you can lounge by the pool and drink from your glass without worrying about sanitizing your hands first. That’s right, there’s no Covid here. It is pandemic proof. The only limits on social gathering are imposed by your parents wallet! Have fun cozying up on the couch or enjoy a night dancing on the roof where you can even sing in each others faces. You can pretend your days away!”
So yes, this Christmas, I’m giving the gift of pretend play. But who’s pretending? I’ll enjoy watching them play for hours, in oblivion, while trying to fight images of the plastic contraption (and all it’s redundant packaging) in a landfill 200 years from now, dirty with evidence of years of play, but still existing, never breaking down. Expensive purchases like these are always rationalized with the lie we tell ourselves that ‘we can always sell it later’ – knowing full well this thing is too big to get out the front door and it won’t make it through several years unscathed by multiple players. But with four girls, well, it’s an investment piece. And trust me, the feminist in me is fully aware how stereotypical Barbies are for girls, but part of being a feminist is having the choice to play with whatever toy they want – and Barbies it is.
Anyway, the point is, this Christmas we have to work a little harder to make the magic, to feel the magic. It’s hard not to think of the gif of the dog sitting in a burning room saying, “It’s fine. Everything’s fine”. The gift opening may feel like a bit of a charade, but our kids don’t need to know we’re on fire. This will one day be a Christmas they ask about and we all shudder. And hopefully all we have to mourn, is that we didn’t get to be together. In the meantime, we’ll do whatever we can to get in the spirit, one Baileys and coffee at a time. Some traditions will prevail, but look a little different. And Christmas will still be there, even if it’s a little blue. It will be there in their excited eyes. In the small moments of knowing between parents. In their excited squeals when they see Santa ate their cookies. We won’t be rushing outside to join hands and sing ‘fah who foraze’, but we will welcome Christmas all the same. And we can still dream of next Christmas, and those to come, where Covid is a distant, though traumatic, memory, where finding a mask in your stocking is a groan provoking joke.
So despite all this, I wish you happiness where you can create it. If you are mourning someone lost, or battling Covid yourself, I am so, so sorry. These words from Dr. Strang brought me some comfort yesterday: “Hope is fundamental to the true meaning of Christmas”.
So have yourself a merry little *covid* Christmas, let your heart be light… if even for a day.
And have hope.