The Domestically Challenged Homemaker’s Christmas Recap

photo.JPG Christmas

Merry Christmas! How was your holiday?  Oh, I am so happy that you had a great time.  How was my holiday you ask?  Well…ummm… Do you want the “correct” answer or the honest one? If you want to know the truth, my Christmas was 45% life is a bowl of peppermint sticks and elves shit mocha and 55% holy crap, can this get any worse? 

As a domestically challenged homemaker, Christmas presents many hurdles.  I never feel that I have it all together and during Christmas, whatever I did manage to get together falls apart.  What makes Christmas extra difficult is the barrage of pictures of perfect families enjoying traditional Christmas pastimes that we all receive.  They serve as a constant reminder of my own inadequacies. You know what I’m talking about, those Christmas cards and Facebook shots of angelic children baking cookies, decorating Christmas trees, sitting on Santa’s lap and their moms and dads posting things like “a perfect Christmas moment” and “Cards are out. Tree is decorated. Just one more batch to add to my already 108 perfect batches of Christmas cookies and we’re ready for Santa.” I have to admit that I have plenty of beautiful pictures of my kids doing adorably Christmassy things. But for each smiling shot I have about three other shots of a crying child. I don’t know about you, but all those Facebook posts and Christmas cards just serve to magnify my already glaring shortcomings. My messy home and crying child stand in stark contrast to the images of smiling faces  and perfect houses I see everywhere. And you know what really sucks? I try really, really hard to have everything in order and happy for Christmas. I guess this homemaking thing is just not my bag.

That said, each year the Nanni’s host Christmas Eve, and we always manage to pull it off in the nick of time, despite the fact that Giorgio works that afternoon and usually doesn’t arrive home until around 5:00 or 6:00.  This year, however, was exceptionally chaotic.  Let me just say that at 4:30 pm Christmas Eve I raced into the neighborhood liquor store to pick up the ingredients we needed to create the snowball martinis that were going to dazzle our guests with that evening. As I stepped into the store and said hello to my buddy behind the counter, I began to giggle. Not a happy giggle. The other kind. The nervous one that I can’t control. And as I was giggling I asked “Do you think I can get home, clean my house, have the kids gifts wrapped and be ready for guests to arrive by 6:30?” The problem is that as I was giggling, my eyes began to well up. Shit. I could feel the tears coming, and I knew. I knew that any second I would begin the simultaneous laugh and cry. Now that is a very poor indication of my mental well being and it only happens during the most high stress situations. Somehow, someway, I swallowed the tears, but continued to giggle. My friend assured me that I would in fact make it and what I needed was a cocktail…or ten. Ironically, given my aversion to Christmas Facebook posts (I really have a love hate relationship with FB) and my limited time, as soon as I pulled into my driveway and before I entered the house, I was compelled to post the following on FB:

I’m in the weeds!!! Okay, can’t have a heart attack on Christmas eve.  That would really suck for the kids.  I’ll make it.  Right??? Wait, Christmas shouldn’t be like this.  LOL (perhaps though I should be crying).

Why ever did I post that?  I don’t know.  Perhaps it was cathartic.  Perhaps I wanted support.  Perhaps I wanted someone else to say, “yep, I’m in shit too.”  I don’t know. I do know that a few kindhearted people actually responded with assurances that all would be well, and those comments helped. The big question, however, is how does one find herself in such a state on Christmas eve?

There are three factors the contributed to my Christmas chaos.  One, I teach college English, which means that during December I am swamped with portfolios to grade and final grades to be submitted, Two, my husband is a chef and December is the busiest time of year, so he practically lives at work during the Christmas season.  Three, my son has sensory issues.  If you are familiar with SPD, you know how Christmas can be very trying for anyone who struggles with it.  This year these three factors converged to create the perfect holiday storm.  Oh yeah, I forgot to add the fourth and most obvious factor which you already know…I am clinically diagnosed as being domestically challenged. 

So this is how Christmas played out.  Giorgio was supposed to arrive home at 5:00 Christmas Eve but didn’t walk into the door until 6:45.  Thank God I had the wherewithal to call the guests and ask them to come at 7 instead of 6:30.  We pulled it together.  The evening was fun.  We laughed, ate, drank.  Good times.  The guests departed at 11:30 and Giorgio and I cleaned until 12:00. I managed to get my little one to sleep, but my son has sleep issues and didn’t fall asleep until around 2:00 am at which time my husband and I proceeded to wrap gifts for three hours.  At 5:00 we made our way to bed.  Unfortunately, we managed to wake our son up on our way, and he never went back to sleep.  Needless to say, Giorgio and I didn’t sleep at all.  With everyone, aside from Allegra, suffering from extreme sleep deprivation, Christmas day, without boring you with the details, was challenging.  Before I passed out that night I surfed the internet for blogs on special needs children and the challenges Christmas presents.  I just didn’t want to feel alone.  I wanted some confirmation that it wasn’t just my lack of domestic homemaking prowessphoto.JPG Christmas that led to our less than blissful holiday. And you know what?  I did find some comforting stories shared by parents who are far more generous with sharing information than I am.  For that I was very grateful.  And, on a truly positive note, Allegra had a great time for herself.  She enjoyed all the preparations leading up to the big day (cookie baking, gingerbread house making, Nutcracker Suite watching, tree decorating and Santa visiting)  and Christmas day itself. 

So will this domestically challenged wretch of a woman do anything different next year?  Maybe some things, but not all . I am an eternal optimist.  I have hope that next year will go more smoothly.  I hope that our lives will be more peaceful, less chaotic.  All I know is that despite all the insanity of the holiday, we are okay. Christmas night Giorgio and I tucked our children into bed and kissed them and told them we loved them and really, that’s all that matters.  They are here.  We are here together.  The four of us.  I know I often end my posts this way, but it is how I feel. I complain about my shit, but I am a lucky woman ( a wreck yes, but a lucky person none the less).  Wishing all of you a peaceful, healthy and happy new year!

Happiness: My Gift to Myself for My Fortieth Birthday

40th Bday Blog

This past Saturday I turned forty.  I woke up in the morning and asked myself, “How the hell did this happen?” I have always had a Peter Pan complex. As a child, when other little girls my age said they wanted to be mothers or brides or teachers, I thought they were insane. Why in God’s name would anyone actually want to do any of that?  Being an adult didn’t look like any fun.  I just wanted to remain a kid..forever. For years, I wished that I would remain young. Of course that was one wish that would never be fulfilled unless I was going to sell my soul to the devil in return for semi-eternal youth. I had to remove that option from the table, however, because someday that  pointy tailed, pitchfork carrying psychopath would come to collect my soul as payment for all the wrinkle free years I was granted, and, frankly, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I am really, really, really afraid of the devil. I also considered, but later determined that it was also highly improbable, that I would find an artist to paint a portrait of myself as a youth which would age for me.  Of course, I would hide it in my attic so no one would discover my secret, but, as we know, the whole aging portrait in an attic thing didn’t work out very well for poor debauched Dorian Gray.  Occam’s razor my friends, Occam’s razor.  The simplest choice is usually the right choice.  Portraits and artists and deals with the devil are just too complicated. 

So I grew up and aged. I don’t look as grizzled as I expected to when I turned forty, but age I did.  And this brings us to the day of my fortieth birthday.   Giorgio had to work all day and it snowed..a lot.  The kids, Ginger and I were snowed in on my birthday, with no hope of going anywhere or doing anything special. Despite the fact that we weren’t going anywhere, I put on my new faux leather leggings (they just make me feel good) and the kids and I made gingerbread houses. And at some point during the day I had a startling revelation…I was happy!  Not just happy in the moment (being with my kids has always filled me with joy; I just adore them) but happy in life, happy with myself, just plain old happy. 

The funny thing is that I haven’t really been happy since I was ten years old.  Over the past thirty years I  experienced supremely joyful moments, the greatest moments in my life in fact, as in the birth of my children, but pure complete happiness had eluded me. Over the years I, along with stress, neurosis, perfectionism, insecurity, anxiety, and fear, sucked the joy out of my own life.  My children and my husband became my happiness, but if I was alone, with just myself and my thoughts, I was a fearful, anxious wreck of a woman.

So how did I recover my happiness? Here it is. But first, let me assure you that there is no need to worry. I am not going to parlay this blog into a tool to kickstart my new career as a self-help guru. I still have a lot of work to do. Also, I am a late bloomer. Most forty year old adults figured this stuff out long ago. So, please, take it for what it’s worth. Now, back to how I became happy.

I discovered that most people are inherently good.  No.  I am not naive.  Of course there are wicked people who do evil things, who choose to do evil things, but, the vast majority of people in this world are good, or try to be good, or, at the very least, fancy themselves to be good. I deeply believe that insecurity is the primary reason why people act like assholes.  Insecurity, not pure wickedness, explains why people are jealous, why people malign others, why people hurt others at school and in the workplace.  And it is so much easier to forgive or at least understand someone whose actions are driven by insecurity rather than by nefarious intent.  Once I decided that people are good, despite the fact that they act badly, the world became a happier place.

To the best of my ability, I try to live each day so that I would be proud of it if it were my last.  This is not the same as living each day as if I knew it was going to be my last.  That’s ridiculous.  In that scenario, I’d likely attempt to numb my pain and quell my fear with martinis and denial. When I reflect upon my day, I want to feel proud that I tried to do the best for my children and family.  I want to feel proud that I tried my best to be kind and patient and unselfish.  I want to feel proud that I worked to my fullest potential.  I don’t need perfection.  Perfection is a myth. Striving for it will destroy you.

I went to a shrink. That’s right, I went to a shrink, and it was the best thing I could have done for myself and my family.  Just a few years back, I became crippled by fear, anxiety and OCD (something I did not realize I had as a youth, but, in retrospect, of course I did).  While I don’t want to get into the gory details at the moment, I will say that when mommy is unhappy, when mommy spends much too much time crying and worrying, the family becomes unhappy.  When you have everything, and by everything I mean healthy children, a loving spouse and enough money to pay the bills and your still not happy, for Christ’s sake, it’s time for mommy to take care of her shit.  So I did. As a parent, it’s our duty to take care of ourselves, to take care of both our physical and mental health. 

I discovered who I am and I actually like myself.  I just took some time to figure out what I really like, who I really like to be with, and what ideas and opinions are authentically mine.

There it is…how I became happy.  Oh, in case you’re interested, what did I learn about myself?   In a nutshell, I’m a faux leather, sparkle eye shadow, stiletto wearing, zany chic who unapologetically admits to  living  for her kids and loves her husband.  I like quirky people with wild stories, dancing, club music, old episodes of Columbo, Cheetos and martinis. I love ballet…and B movies. I like earnestness and absurdity. I like to laugh. Mostly, I love to be with my children.  I still dream.  I still choreograph dances in my head when I hear great music.  I am happy. Finally, at forty years old, I am happy.

So, What Does Your Christmas Tree Say About You?

CrazyTree PicBefore I begin this post I feel compelled to offer an explanation as to why I have not posted in weeks.  In a nutshell, I needed to think…hard.  When I began this blog four months ago, I assured myself that I would post weekly, and I did, until November.  I derive great pleasure from blogging. Before writing I think about each post a lot.  I think about what I will write about while I drive, while I shower, as I’m falling asleep at night.. I love, love, love to think about my blog.  For me, the prewriting experience is almost as fun as the writing itself.  So what happened?  I needed to think about something else. I know.  Do I really need to allot specific times to think? Am I really incapable of thinking about more than one thing at a time? Yes. When it comes to important matters, yes. I guess I am intellectually limited in that way.  This poor brain is easily strained and, hence, incapable of multithinking.  So here I am.  I did what needed to be done. I thought about what needed to be thought about.  As a result, I made some relatively decent decisions in my life. Now me and my demented brain are back and ready to blog.  On with today’s order of business..Christmas trees!

Once upon a time, not too long ago, I had a very beautiful Christmas tree.  I always selected the most perfectly shaped tree, not too short, not too fat, without bare spots… It was always elegantly adorned with red and gold bulbs, nutcracker ornaments and miniature pointe shoes.  Of coarse, it goes without saying that it had white lights.  I loved my Christmas tree, selecting it, decorating it, until one day my dear husband informed me that I was a “Christmas Tree Nazi.” Of course I couldn’t have that, so I decided to change my rigid, unfun, unbending Christmas tree decorating ways and lighten up. But this was not easy.

You see, at the time we were pretty broke and struggling and living in the 500 square foot in-law apartment attached to my parents’ house. And it wasn’t just my husband and I. It was also Jack and eventually Allegra. Of course part of me was ashamed that we weren’t doing “better” in life, so, it was extremely important to me that from the outside we looked somewhat legitimate, despite the fact that we lived in an overcrowded one bedroom apartment furnished with my grandmother’s old furniture. Christmas provided me the opportunity to say,”That’s right. We’re broke. We live in my parent’s house. But I still have taste. I am an elegant lady. Look in my window! Look at my beautiful tree! Just imagine what I will do when I have money.” At night, when the neighbors passed on their way home, they would look at that stunning tree in my window and think “Ahhhh, there’s hope for that girl yet.”

Then Giorgio accused me of being an intolerant, control freak, and I knew he was right. I needed to make a change. So the following year, colored lights. And the year after that, colored blinking lights. And Jack and Giorgio were happy (Allegra was too little at the time to voice her opinion). And I learned not to give a damn. And then…I realized that I liked the colored (unblinking) lights. They reminded me of my grandparent’s tree. Growing up, I loved my grandparent’s house at Christmas time. Theirs was a tree you would NEVER find at the White House or picture in Elegant Home magazine. Theirs was a simple, middle America Christmas tree, adorned with cheap gold garland and silver tinsel, colored bulbs and popcorn balls. My Grandpa used to sit in his big easy chair next to the tree and literally throw tinsel at the poor thing. His favorite ornaments were the blue glitter bulbs, so my brother and I, who loved to help my grandparents decorate, always made sure that plenty of blue bulbs were visible from Grandpa’s chair. Sadly, I grew older and snotty and pretended like I didn’t like it.

So what do we have now that the four of us have moved into our own home? Well, I don’t want to fall back into my rigid, fun busting ways, so, we compromise. Downstairs we have a beautiful tree adorned with my nutcrackers and pointe shoes and the kids’ homemade ornaments. Yes, it still has colored lights. And upstairs…CRAZY TREE!!!!

Ahhhh…Crazy tree! It is a sight to behold. Its home is in our TV room and it is all things children love, and also all things that any adult, who isn’t in need of a lobotomy, finds completely insane. Crazy tree looks like something my grandfather would decorate, if he was on crack. Since words cannot express that which is Crazy Tree (except that if you stare at it for too long you feel like vomiting), I’ve posted a picture. The scary thing..we all really dig Crazy Tree.

I still love my beautiful, elegant white light adorned tree, but, right now, it’s not us. It can wait. And when Allegra grows old enough to pretend she doesn’t like colored lights any longer, I will be sad. Right now, downstairs I have a fun tree and upstairs-Crazy Tree, and, for now, we like it this way. It’s funny, but just as those lovely family portrait Christmas cards can be complete misrepresentations of who we are, so too can our Christmas trees. I mean, if I really wanted to let everyone know how the Nanni’s are doing this year, Giorgio and I would look like we’re on the verge of nervous breakdowns and the kids would be punching each other. Although we will continue to send dignified cards that are gross misrepresentations of ourselves, we will also continue to have Christmas trees that reflect who we are–child friendly (always), tasteful (sometimes) and, as reflected by Crazy Tree, insane (more than we want to admit). Merry Christmas!