I have a holiday inferiority complex. I have no aptitude for decorating, limited patience for baking and an introvert's aversion to parties. But I've internalised the idea that it is my job as mum to make the season magical: A heartwarming, memory-stuffed, amber-hued experience that my children will treasure forever.
These conflicting realities have left me with a bad attitude about my inability to provide adequate seasonal wonder. I didn't realise how entrenched that feeling was, though, until a brave woman in my running group declared on social media that she had failed at the holidays.
Her tree was covered in mud, she said, and she didn't care. It was going to stay brown. "Please post your #holidayparentingfails!" she implored. It was like a dam burst.
There was the mum who recounted the year her toddler pulled every ornament off the tree and then pulled the tree onto himself. And a mum who realised belatedly that the pretzel, white chocolate and red M&M treats she'd made for the class party looked like breasts.
Another said she'd threatened to call Santa Claus to report her kids' misbehaviour. Apparently, the Elf on the Shelf and the Mensch on the Bench are doing serious overtime, because "Oh, yeah!" and "I did that too" responses popped up instantly.
I'm not the only mum who's left the gifts where my kid could see them (I told him those were going to Toys for Tots). And like me, other mums owned up to having surprises ruined by an obvious package delivered from Amazon; "Thanks a lot, Walmart," one mum grumbled about the box that arrived with a giant picture of the item plastered on its side. I learned that holiday cards are a pain for other people too. It took me two weeks to finally pick up the ones I'd ordered; other people weighed in with "I'll get them out in January," "I ordered them without including our name," "I had them sent to my old address," and "I cut off half of my husband's head."
Seeking more fails, I put the call out on social media at large: Tell me about your #holidayparentingfails. One mum said that her nappy bag-and-purse combo caught her dress at a performance of the Nutcracker, and she mooned a large portion of the audience before someone - probably another mum - spotted the problem and yanked the dress down for her. A cousin told of being treated to wine in her sippy cup because her mum got distracted after a Christmas party.
A friend shared that one year, her mum forgot to put names on the presents and just had everyone open whatever they could get their hands on. Another recounted the time her family returned from midnight Mass to find the cats drunk on catnip and the human gifts torn to shreds. And there were countless chocolate Advent calendar fails, tales of kids emptying them on the first day of the season. One woman confessed that her daughter also polished off the two that were meant for her brothers.
This thread was miraculous. Yes, of course, I know other people mess up. We're all human. But I loved this willingness to not only own the mistakes, but to put them on display, when so much of social media feels like a curated show of only our best selves. "Look," these posts said, "I blew this one big time. Check it out."
We all mess up.
We forget to take our kids for pictures with Santa, we buy the wrong cookies or beat ourselves up for not baking them ourselves, we misplace the advent calendar until Dec. 22, we use birthday candles in the menorah, we bake for the office party a week too early or schedule the thoughtful floral delivery for Grandma a week too late. We all do it, which means I'm not alone - and that not-aloneness was freeing.
The announcements from all these strong, capable women about their holiday implosions relieved me of that awful self-imposed pressure to somehow - between regular life and the occasional curveball like my kid breaking his arm the week before Thanksgiving and my other kid breaking up with his girlfriend the week after - create a fantasy holiday.
It turns out that's a false bill of goods. No one's holiday is perfect. No one goes from mid-November to early January without burning dinner, breaking a decoration, or dropping something heavy on themselves and cursing loudly in front of their most judgmental relative. No one's season is flawless - because none of us are.
The real magic is that my kids won't be damaged or emotionally stunted because I didn't set the table with a cloth and place mats or because I sent in juice boxes for the class party instead of whipping up something creative that I found on Pinterest. They'll remember that we watch Santa on the NORAD Tracker every year, even though the older one is in high school now; that we light the menorah my mum brought over from Prague; that we set aside one evening before Christmas to drive around with takeout cups of hot chocolate and find the most over-the-top displays of lights and lawn decorations; and that I always insist they write thank you notes once the holidays are over.
I hope they remember feeling loved and grateful for what they have. I'm trying to lead by example, and avoiding a "my life isn't curated enough" freakout is a good place to start.
Seeing other mums' candid screw-up revelations felt like Scrooge's discovery that the sun spilling through his window meant it was Christmas Day and that he hadn't missed his chance. I have a chance, once again, to accept that my home will be imperfect, but it will be warm; my plans will be imperfect, but they will be loving; and I will be imperfect, just as I am every other day of the year.
Deliee is a freelance writer and a teacher, mum and recovering actor.
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