Sunday, November 3, 2013

Christmas Changes

Confession #1:  I've been excited about Christmas for about a month.

I feel I can finally confess this to you since it is now November.

I have watched White Christmas and Elf, and will be watching National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation in the very near future.

I started my spreadsheet of people I need to buy/make gifts for, amount of money budgeted for each person, and ideas for those gifts.

Confession #2:  I'm already feeling stressed about Christmas.

There's so much to cram into my December calendar with school programs, church plays and performances, a dance recital, Christmas parties galore, birthday parties for two of my children, a birthday party for my niece, and a gathering for a friend's birthday.

We have to find our Christmas decorations (are they in our attic?  garage?  storage unit?) and figure out where to put everything in the new house.  I admit that this part is actually really fun for me.  Or at least it would be if I felt like I could spend money on some new decorations for the new house setup.

I have to come up with gifts for everyone.  I produce gifts for family members, friends, teachers, volunteers, etc.  My husband only selects gifts for me, and even then he picks something from my list of ideas.

I have to teach my kids their lines and songs for their Christmas performances at church.  I have to make sure they each have something "Christmasy" and dressy to wear for these performances, which is an added expense in a very tight month.

I could go on and on about my December responsibilities, but I'm sure you already get the idea because, well, you probably have your own nearly toppling load of responsibilities for this most wonderful season of all.

Last year December nearly did me in.  Literally.  My stress level maxed out, and I threatened to lock my family in our house until January.  I couldn't take one more demand to be somewhere, buy something, make something, and have my family picture-perfect.

This year I have two choices:  self-medicate or make some changes.

I'm making some changes.

First, I eliminated my annual tradition of making my family matching pajamas to wear on
Christmas Eve and Christmas morning.  I've done this every year dating back at least to when we had our first child and possibly before that.  Click here to read about how I made them last year.

Jared and I don't need new pajamas.  The kids have outgrown theirs, but they don't necessarily need homemade pajamas.  So, though it caused me a bit of pain, I ordered the kids matching pajamas from Children's Place.  I got the "Snowman Fleece PJ Set" in green for Nolan, blue for Griffin, and pink for Nora.  I got them for $9 per set with free shipping a couple weeks ago.  They're not the cutest pajamas I've ever seen, but they are super soft and snuggly, and the kids will be adorable in them.  Since they are a winter print, not specifically Christmas, the kids can wear them all winter after Christmas morning.

That's a huge load lifted off of me to not have to hunt down cute flannel, try to get a good deal on it, wash it, dry it, cut out five pairs of pajama pants, sew five pairs of pajama pants, and buy shirts to go with them.

Time and money saved.

Second, I'm not stressing about family Christmas sweaters.  I've always gotten coordinating sweaters for my family to wear to our big family Christmas gatherings on Christmas Eve.  Even though I get enjoyment out of having my whole family matching or coordinating, it's just an added expense.

Third, I'm not trying to make all the gifts this year.  Some years I've done exclusively (or almost exclusively) homemade gifts for everyone on our list (except our kids).  Last year I made some and bought some.  This will be a year of buying as well as making.  Making gifts can save money (although supplies can add up), and I feel like they are more personal, but I know I can bless people just as much by thoughtfully choosing a purchased gift.

Fourth, we are not doing any big family projects during this season.  In years past, we have participated in RACK (Random Acts of Christmas Kindness, read here about our experience) and done Advent projects (read here).  Don't get me wrong; we will absolutely focus on blessing other people this holiday season.  But this mama will not be the organizer and chairperson of these grand schemes.  We will take advantage of every opportunity we have to be kind to others, and we'll pray and ask God to use us to bring joy to others.  Just not at the expense of my sanity.

Fifth, I'm working on trying to be more laid back for my kids' birthday parties.  I'm a bit stuck on this one.  Nora's birthday is two days after Christmas, and she is FUN this year.  She's into all things girly, artistic (coloring, painting, etc.), ballet, and tea parties.  She just started enjoying Barbies, and she loves baby dolls.  This girl is my dream come true.  I could throw her the girl party to end all girl parties.  So I have to try to scale back on what my mind is already dreaming up for her party.

Griffin's birthday is December 1, so his party will be the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  He's much MUCH tougher because he doesn't have a normal clear-cut theme in mind, and he doesn't like any foods besides chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese.  I don't think our families want to each chicken nuggets and mac & cheese.  His favorite thing right now is a video game, and I can't easily make a whole party around it.  Jared pointed out to me that Griffin probably doesn't care about the party decorations and cake decorations as much as Nora will love the details at her party.  So, I'm left with trying to make sure each child feels special and honored, even if their parties are on different scales.  I want to be more relaxed and enjoy their celebrations, but I've still got some work to do to get there.

Sixth, I've adjusted my expectations for how my kids perform at their many Christmas productions.  My perspective on this was recently changed (read more here).  This Christmas season I expect Nolan to fully participate and have a good time doing it.  I expect Nora to sing all the songs and likely do all the motions because she likes learning them (although she has a touch of stage fright, so I'll allow for that).  And I expect Griffin to go on stage with his class and at least stand calmly in his spot.  I will be thrilled if the kids do the minimum required to be present with their classes and not cause a commotion.

Finally (for now), I'm getting the kids more involved in making their wish lists this year.  Typically, I have to come up with a long list of gift ideas.  Family members ask for ideas, and I email out the kids' lists.  I have to run interference to make sure people don't buy the same thing and help people find the specific items.  Jared and I tend to get whatever is left on the list after everyone else buys from the lists. This year Jared and I are going to make our selections from the lists first so we can feel super excited about what we're giving the kids.

This past Friday we had a random open evening, which was a rare treat for our family.  So we took the kids out to eat at Pizza Hut to cash in their Book-It coupons.  Then we took them to Walmart and let them browse at their own pace through every single aisle of toys, which is something I don't think we've ever let them do before.  Any time they found something they want, we took a picture of the child holding the item or standing near it.  We made sure we would be able to identify the item from the picture (sometimes we took a second picture of the item by its price tag).

This was lots of fun!  Plus it took the responsibility off of me to figure out everything the kids might like.  Of course, we had to make clear to the kids that we were just browsing and not buying anything, and we explained that they wouldn't necessarily receive everything that they ask for.  Griffin still thinks that Santa can provide anything, even if it's too expensive for family members to buy.

After we got home and got the kids in bed, we sat down with my laptop.  We located each item online and then added each item to the kids' individual wish lists.  I like to use the website WishPot because people can buy items on the lists from any website (unlike Amazon wish lists which require you to purchase from Amazon), and anyone can mark an item as purchased or reserved, even if they just buy it in a store rather than online.  I can also add notes on any item and set a priority for how much each child wants each item.  When the lists are ready, I'll simply email the list links to our family members, and they can shop from the lists.

So those are the changes I've made so far, and it's only the beginning of November.  I won't claim to be stress-free, but I'm trying to change what I can control and have a better attitude about what I can't control.

You should probably still pray for me as December draws closer.  :)


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