Have you ever noticed that Christmas Day with little kids is a bit like a death metal concert? They both involve copious amounts of controlled substances (in this case, sugar) music of questionable quality, bright lights, screaming, body slamming, mess making, and the occasional dirty protest. As the proprietor and organizer of said death metal concert, it is your responsibility to ensure everyone gets what they want and that the evening doesn’t end with a trip to the emergency room or police station. Sounds simple enough, right? They’re just kids, not hard-core metal-heads.
Sure, everything starts out civilized, even orderly. The toddler is so disarmed by the shock that Santa has been in his house, that he waits patiently while you pose the baby in front of him by the tree and try to capture the excitement that is starting to bubble over inside him. He might even hold still during said photo shoot, but don’t expect a smile. The best you can hope for is that deer-in-headlights, stunned look or a wistful longing for the packages sitting tantalizingly close but just beyond his reach.
He opens the first few presents slowly and thoughtfully, still in disbelief that these beautifully decorated boxes have materialized over night without the slightest effort from Mom or Dad. Be sure to hide the multitude of paper cuts and tape burns on your hands. He even agrees to neatly stuff the wrapping paper into the recycling box you laid out. The baby watches his brother gleefully, grabbing for every item discarded and covering it with drool.
But something happens after the first few presents are revealed: the dreaded over-stimulation. By 10:30am the five-year-old is in time out for pushing the two-year-old who had hoarded all the packages and half unwrapped them before discarding the remains. The baby is eating wrapping paper and the dogs have raided the candy stash from the stockings and subsequently thrown up under the tree. Ho ho ho.
No matter how angelic your children are in the first hour or two of Christmas morning, the temptation of diving head-first into a box of crumpled up wrapping paper and then swimming around Scrooge McDuck-style is just too much for any three year old to resist. Of course, the baby will see how much fun her brothers are having and insist that she, too, be allowed to wade into the once neatly stored garbage box. However, the world of garbage swimming is fiercely competitive, and soon a Highlander-style battle to the death ensues. There can be only one.
Suddenly all your defenses are down. The children realize you’re not really in charge anymore and all Hell breaks loose. The baby, stinging from her failure to usurp the garbage box from his brothers begins searching the house for new territory. Within ten minutes, the five-year-old is complaining that he didn’t get everything he wanted, the toddler is chasing the dogs trying to stick bows to their heads, the baby pulls half the ornaments off the tree then cries, and the dogs seek refuge under the sofa to wait for the whole ugly incident to pass. I think they might have the right idea.
But you promised yourself that your kids were going to have happy, magical memories of their family Christmases, and you’ll be damned if you let them take that away from you. So, instead of diving for cover under the nearest piece of furniture or in the nearest bottle of alcohol, you pull up your big girl panties and threaten those little darlings to within an inch of their lives. Of course, you do it wearing a Santa hat to soften the blow. It is Christmas, after all.
Somehow it works: three time outs, two bribes, and one weakening threat to cancel the rest of Christmas later. But who’s counting?
By the end of the day, the kids are in bed and you finally get a chance to sit down in the dark, among the rubble that was once your living room, and reflect on your day. You’ve been up since 6:00am, wrapped dozens of packages, suffered countless paper cuts, posed for way too many Christmas Morning photos in your pajamas (before coffee or a shower!), cooked an entire turkey dinner, averted several meltdowns, dried tears, both theirs and your own, and eaten about 10 pounds of butter in the form of Christmas cookies.
Was it all worth it?
Here is where that little piece of Christmas magic you were looking for earlier comes into play. Of course it was worth it.
The holidays are no longer a time for overindulgence and relaxation. Relaxation, what’s that? What was once a great excuse for sleeping in, drinking wine with friends, and spending far too much money has become about last minute shopping, crowded toy stores, batteries not included, and toys that require “some assembly”. When you finally drag your exhausted body to bed at 2:00am after wrapping presents, building bikes, and setting up tents, you pass out without so much as brushing your teeth. Christmas is also about cavities, you know.
Yet, somehow those little maniacs passed out in the same clothes they’ve been wearing all day, clutching their new toys like their lives depend on them, are perfect in your eyes. They are the only forces on Earth that could drag you through the day you just had and leave you wanting more. Their joyous faces, before they were covered in chocolate and glitter, were the best Christmas gift you’ve ever received. There is nothing quite like watching them squeal with delight when they discover that Santa really did get their letter, capturing the rare moments of love when the toddler brings the baby her next present and the five-year-old helps her unwrap it, and feeling the sincerity in their hugs when they tell you what a great day they had before bed.
From the warmth of that thought sparks the beginning of that magical Christmas memory that will continue to grow over the years until all the tantrums, tears and frustrations melt away leaving only the happy moments. We choose to remember the happy times. This is why we have kids, well certainly why we have more than one. It is a wonderful trick of the memory which convinces us year after year to leap head-on into the oncoming Christmas freight train.
Hey, don’t look now, but the day is almost over and no one was arrested. Merry Christmas.