by Meredith O'Brien
When I was a kid, I just loved this time of year, particularly Thanksgiving Day itself.
I adored breathing in the smell of the roasting turkey while watching the Macy’s parade on TV with my brother while we were still in our pajamas. My favorite meal was the Thanksgiving dinner that my parents prepared, including my favorite dishes: Sweet and creamy corn casserole, my mother’s meat stuffing and, for dessert, a bowl of piping hot Indian pudding that was freshly ladled out of the Crock Pot, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream placed on top. All four of us, as well as my four grandparents -- occasionally uncles, aunts and cousins – would gather ‘round my parents’ festively appointed kitchen table and feast. Part of the thrill of Thanksgiving was the knowledge that by nightfall, while the roasting pan was soaking in a soapy sink, the Christmas season would be underway.
Yet here I am, a grown woman with three children, and I find myself longing for that time in my life when I reveled in the Thanksgiving-Christmas season, when it seemed magical and cozy instead of what it represents to me now: An endless list of things to do and opportunities to fail, seasoned with the pressure to prepare the “right” dishes for big meals and to complete all the holiday grocery shopping in between last-minute scheduling changes for my son’s hockey team (A game at 8 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving? Seriously?), fretting about whether I’ve bought all the necessary gifts and wrapping paper and tipped the mailman, if I remembered to get teachers’ presents and attempting to find time to figure out what to do about our personalized Christmas photo cards.
The weighty and ever-increasing stress comes from myriad sources: My mailbox delivers me issues of Martha Stewart Living where the domestic goddess with her large staff teases me with exquisite meals, “easy” crafts and flawless homemade pie crusts. Some Facebook friends post status updates about how they have all their Christmas cards/shopping done (some did their cards weeks ago) when I haven’t even thought about any of that yet. E-mails arrive in my Inbox from relatives asking what they should get my kids for Christmas and Hanukkah (we celebrate both holidays) and I make a mental note to make the same inquiries about my niece and nephews. Parenting media extol the joys of teaching our children about homemade holidays and festive, kid-friendly cooking endeavors. Ads on the radio and TV remind me that the time remaining to buy ingredients for Thanksgiving dinner (and later, all my Christmas gifts, never mind the makings for an amazing dinner) is quickly diminishing. (No, I really don’t want to know how many shopping days there are until Christmas.) The media in general start in with those unhelpful pieces about how not to gain 10 pounds over the holidays, how to organize yourself, how to find bargains and how to, incongruously, not stress out.
Of course normal day-to-day life doesn’t just come to a halt during the holiday season. There are still games and practices to which I need to drive my kids. Soccer just ended and there was a single day off between the end of the soccer season and the start of basketball season. My youngest son’s hockey season is slated to last until he graduates from high school or I drop dead from exhaustion, whichever comes first. And there are still kids’ homework assignments which parents are expected to oversee, read-aloud passages I’m supposed to listen to and grade . . .
Just thinking about all that I’ve got to do makes me want to curl up in a little ball in the corner of my closet until early January.
When I start feeling overwhelmed by the holidays, I become angry that I’m all angst-ridden and surviving on the energy from my last caffeinated beverage. I find myself seeking out snarky, anti-holiday humor wherever I can find it, like with sarcastic Anne Taintor cards  including a Christmas one featuring a happy looking mother in a pressed emerald green dress standing in front of an oven filled with a warmed holiday meal with the words, “She was one plum pudding away from a Yuletide meltdown” written across it. For the past several years, I’ve taken to concocting and posting on my blogs Dysfunctional Family Bingo cards  where I filled the squares with horrific potential scenarios that could possibly happen at your Thanksgiving dinner. It’s like a self-defense mechanism: Expect the worst and the holidays can’t possibly be all that bad.
All the while, I’m longing to go back to that place where I can again experience some of that joy I used to have in ample quantities around this time of year, long before I became responsible for balancing multiple agendas, responsibilities and demands while the media admonish me to be joyful and cheery, for my kids’ sake. To quote Liz Lemon, “I want to go to there.” But how?
Perhaps the proper response to the madness is to scale back and return to basics starting with just being happy to be together with my family. Instead of sweating out getting that “great” family photo, I could just buy a box of Christmas cards and sign them by hand instead with a sincere greeting. I should stop looking at the pages of Martha Stewart Living and take a pass on reading articles about the “perfect” present or “perfect” anything. I need to stop doing mental comparisons between my neighbors’ Christmas decorations and mine. I need to not care that I’m not making dozens of cookies from scratch. The hardest thing: Stopping trying to please everyone, ‘cause that’ll never happen and I’ll be miserable trying to chase down that ghost. I don’t want to become a flesh and blood version of that Anne Taintor card, the one with woman with her phony smile who’s one plum pudding away from a nervous breakdown.