So, I am a perfectionist…. a control freak… a bit inflexible some might say. Those who share this trait with me would likely acknowledge that it is not a quality that blends well with the chaos of family life. To add another layer, not only am I Type A, but I am also a bit of a traditionalist as well as a nostalgia junkie when it comes to “making family memories.” (This phrase seems a bit off – can we really make family memories? It seems to me that more frequently they tend to smack us in the face instead of bending pliably in our competent, domineering hands.)
So there are some innate problems when combining a woman who likes things her way, is perhaps dangerously obsessed with tradition, and can recall on demand specific details from her idyllic childhood memories, with a couple of whiny offspring.
Children may make holidays, special occasions, and rites of passage magical and meaningful, but they also make them a trainwreck. A messy, disorganized, tear-filled, noisy trainwreck.
I can’t help it: I want these special occasions to go the way I had envisioned them. There are certain moments that I have built up in my mind that I want to see enfold just as I imagined.
This past holiday season was spent with an emotional, verbose six-year-old with an attitude problem and her one year old sister who can’t sit still for more than three minutes and became increasingly fussy the more chaotic the festivities became.
Here are a couple of magical moments I look forward to each Christmas, followed by what actually happened in my house this year:
- I love to sing, and all year I look forward to the opportunity to sing Christmas carols at the candlelight Christmas Eve service we attend. Even my husband gets sentimental listening to me sing these beautiful songs. This year: Instead of basking in The First Noel, we were frantically fumbling in the diaper bag for more snacks to appease our squirmy one year old who was dangling over the back of the pew while simultaneously applying a diaper to the bleeding lip of our six year old, as tissues were the one item we didn’t have in the diaper bag.
- Each year I read The Night Before Christmas book to my children at bedtime; we cuddle up together in the matching pajamas I buy each year for everybody to wear on Christmas morning. This year we had just settled onto the couch when all of a sudden my six-year-old bumped her head on the coffee table in a failed attempt at a somersault. She of course became hysterical for the next five minutes, while her overtired toddler sister was rapidly growing irritable. As I began to read the story both of them were wailing and writhing in my lap.
- What parent doesn’t look forward to that moment when their kids rush into the room to see Santa’s presents for the first time? This year on Christmas Eve we set out the giant stuffed dog chair we found for our one year old, the perfect gift for her, and next to it the karaoke machine for our six-year-old. Our oldest child loves to sing, just like Mommy, and we were certain she would be delighted. What was her first reaction upon seeing the gifts by the mantle? “There’s that dog that I wanted!” she screeched, running toward her baby sister’s gift, appearing to be indifferent to her own present.
This phenomenon is not unique to holidays: birthday parties, vacations, even weekend trips to the zoo exist in my mind as some sort of utopian photo album. So, how is a control freaky, traditionalist, nostalgia junkie supposed to cope with her children messing up her big plans with their sticky, whiny, squirmy, crappy behavior?
We have been given the gift of retrospect, which seems to change everything once we are a safe distance away. In a few years, my husband and I will look back and say, “Remember that year when Izzy held a diaper up to her bloody lip in church? And when she thought Sophie’s present was really hers?” We will shake our heads and chuckle fondly. Because these recollections, and the actual poignant moments that arise without us carefully choreographing them, will be the memories we cherish.
Stephanie Sprenger is the mother of two young daughters, and lives in Colorado. As a board certified music therapist, she works part time teaching early childhood music classes. She is also a freelance writer and blogs at Mommy, for real.