In early December, I announced that I would take a “Pickle-cation” from writing for this blog. The break was to extend through the holidays, and I envisioned it as a time to “write…reflect…and to enjoy the holidays with my family” without the pressure of writing weekly posts for The Pickle Patch.
Well, folks, this is me checking in from my self-imposed exile to give you the update: there has been NO writing, and NO reflecting, but an overabundance of “enjoying the holidays with my family.” In other words: Holidays: 1, Faith: 0.
Please don’t misunderstand: I love the holidays, and I love my family. The Gongs had a wonderful Christmas season. There was skiing and sledding and skating and hikes in the woods. There were grandparents. There were holiday parties and sleepovers with friends. There were “Mommy dates” with my oldest, who’s usually at school all day. There was baking and crafting. There were many candles lit and books read. There was the joyful hysteria of Christmas morning. There was the Christmas pageant in which Campbell performed a moving interpretation of an attention-seeking cow with poor impulse control.
It was lovely.
But every holiday or vacation time, there are moms who post something like this on Facebook: “So glad for the school break! It’s wonderful to have all the kids at home.”
And every holiday or vacation time, I’m reminded that I am not yet that mom. Maybe I never will be; maybe that kind of selfless desire for togetherness requires a special kind of temperament — or medication. I prefer to think that it requires time; that, when the girls are older and school holidays don’t just mean that I have double the number of voices calling, “Mommy! Mooooommmmmy!” every two minutes, perhaps I really will welcome extended times of togetherness.
For now, though, holidays mostly feel draining and confusing. I know that holidays can feel that way for everyone; there are errands to run, events to attend, and the expectation that every single second should somehow be “special” and “memorable.” In my case, I also forgot one crucial thing: at this point in my life, “writing and reflecting” and “enjoying the holidays with my family” are not compatible.
You see, during our regularly-scheduled life, I’m able to write and reflect due to the presence of certain structures that are built into the day to keep the kids away from me: school, naptime, and bedtime. I also wake up an hour earlier than any of our kids so that I can get dressed, wash my face, and start the day in peace. But during vacations and holidays, all of that goes out the window.
It starts first thing each day with this dilemma: Do I keep to my regular, pre-dawn wake-up time, or do I sleep in? Every morning, I decide to sleep in. It’s vacation, after all, there’s no need to rush the kids off to their schools, and I need the rest. And every morning, when the girls come racing down the hall (much earlier than is warranted by their way-too-late holiday bedtimes) screaming, “I have to go potty!” or “She hit me!” and I’m stuck wiping bottoms and resolving disputes without having had the chance to get dressed and centered, I think, This is horrible. I NEED to get up earlier tomorrow. The next day, it’s the same scene all over again.
Each day of holiday vacation is a nonstop marathon of togetherness, without the separation imposed by school and universal naptimes. About midway through the vacation, Erick can see that I’m starting to fray, so he’ll say something like, “How about I take the girls to see the train display, so that you can have a break?” And almost without fail, I’ll respond, “You’re going to see the train display? But I want to come, too!” The next day, I’ll feel overwhelmed and put-upon, with thoughts like, “Why is Joan of Arc considered a martyr? I could teach her a thing or two about martyrdom — she didn’t even have kids!!!” But then, when Erick says, “Hey, how about I take the girls out for breakfast tomorrow?” I’ll say, “Can I come, too?”
I think I read somewhere that the definition of insanity is repeatedly doing the same things, but expecting different results. You can draw your own conclusions, but when I examine my own behavior during the holidays, I do not look sane.
I’m coming to see that the problem isn’t with what I’m doing; the problem is my expectations. It’s okay — healthy, even — to sleep later and adopt a more relaxed schedule during the holidays. It’s more than okay to sacrifice alone time — even if that’s time normally spent doing things that feed your soul, like reflecting and writing — in favor of time spent with family. In general, I think it’s important to be selfish about things that feed your soul, but it just may be that Christmas week isn’t one of those times.
This reminds me of this year’s Apple holiday commercial, which went viral because it touched so many people. You know: the one with the awkward teenage kid who won’t put down his iPhone throughout the family holidays, and then on Christmas morning he plays the holiday video he’s been recording all along, and everyone weeps as if to say, “It’s okay that you’ve spent the entire holiday tethered to your smartphone, since you were using it to create this digital memory!”
I HATE that commercial.
I get that it’s supposed to be about understanding, and how the person on the sidelines might not be as tuned out as they seem. But the first time Erick and I saw it, we looked at each other and burst out laughing, because it was such a naked attempt to justify our culture’s electronics addiction.
Here’s the thing: all the time, but especially during vacations and holidays, YOUR FAMILY WANTS YOU. Who cares if you’ve spent a week making a digital video, if it sidelined you from participating fully in your life? Let’s face it: in a decade, that footage will probably be unwatchable, anyway, because Apple will have developed some new video technology. Likewise, my daughters could care less if I’m carving out daily writing time during the holidays, even if I’m writing beautiful and thought-provoking pieces about the holidays; they do care that I’m available to play and bake and read and participate fully in our family’s holiday.
So, I’ve learned something: next year I will again take a Pickle-cation, but I will NOT expect to get any writing done until after the New Year. Which is to say: I now need a break from my break, and so I will be extending my Pickle-cation through January to do the writing and reflecting that didn’t happen in December. See you in February!