By: Aimee Tafreshi
As the kids happily threw (virtual) turtles at each other on their new Nintendo 2DSes, my husband and I congratulated each other on surviving another Christmas with our family. The road to the holidays was not an easy one. Unlike some who gleefully put up twinkling lights and start their holiday shopping on November 27, we both slightly groan as December approaches in its no-holds-barred fashion.
If Christmas had a theme song, for me it would go, “Ready or not, here I come….” Ever since I left the nest and Santa ceased to exist, the holiday season usually fills me with trepidation and immense stress. I recall one year when my last law school final fell on December 22, I proceeded to drink heavily and celebrate on December 23, and Christmas Eve found me racing around the mall hungover buying whatever gifts remained before it closed at 6 p.m.
After law school graduation, I remember sitting in the office on December 24 mass-producing motions to compel in a Grinch-like fashion while most of my more senior colleagues baked or relaxed at home. We strategically set many trials for January, hoping this maneuver would pressure litigants to settle, not wanting to spend their holidays working. We, in turn, worked our booties off filing motions and papering them with hundreds of documents to turn up the heat. I was forced to be the attorney who stole Christmas. And somehow I needed to fit in shopping, wrapping and showing good will toward all.
From my perspective, the holidays take the usual chores of daily life and heap a whole new host of obligations on top of them. For instance, our salaries do not increase for the month of December, but they really should. I now need to buy gifts for the children’s teachers, bus driver, the housekeeper, the garbage men (ours are really nice), not to mention my family, my husband’s family, aunts, cousins and uncles, and two large slobbery dogs. I love buying gifts for loved ones. I keep hoping to find that extra thousand dollars in change in my couch cushions to cover the presents, but that discovery hasn’t happened yet.
This year, we decided to stay home for the holidays. We are going on year three of living in our home, and this was our first Noel spent here. With my broken foot (happened in December, of course) and my husband’s insane work schedule, it was a relief that we decided to stay put and not brave the roads or airline travel with three little ones.
As a result, it was my first time mailing packages all over the country, with shipping destinations ranging from Alaska to Oregon to Texas (translation: insanely expensive). After dropping the kids off at school and stuffing photos into albums like a cranked up assembly line, I headed for our quaint downtown post office. I hobbled in with my gimpy foot and two bulging bags of presents. I spread all the loot out on the only table in the middle of the room, setting up my own Santa’s workshop.
Forty-five minutes later, gifts were sorted, hastily packaged with holiday-themed tissue paper and appearing like a spastic preschooler had gotten ahold of the tape spool. My taping skills were so poor that elderly people jumped in to assist me with holding the boxes so I could more adequately seal them up. Next time I will pick up the free Priority boxes ahead of time, so that I may haphazardly tape them in private.
To our small town’s credit, recently described by a resident as “like Mayberry but with great restaurants,” the post office is a pleasant experience with one man dismissing a woman’s apology with the remark that he had no where else to be but dead. When you live in a town of retirees, no one is in a hurry, and the post office is simply another place to gather and chat about the weather and local gossip.
After pleasant conversation with other patrons and spending about one hundred dollars on shipping, I drove away, realizing that I forgot to put a small t-shirt into the Alaska package, thus necessitating another trip to the post office, another shipping fee and this time three impatient children would be in tow. Sigh.
The pressure was on to ship out everything early, because my parents would be arriving in town the next day to celebrate an early Christmas with us. Unbeknownst to them, our schedule was so jam-packed that there would be no downtime for activities such as visiting the post office or errands. As December marched on, no less than four baskets of overflowing laundry sat on our bedroom floor, and packages, bows and wrapping paper cluttered the room, our new gift-staging area. I gave up on folding clothes and simply would dump out a basket on the comforter each day to pick through for the desired item.
Even though we couldn’t spend Christmas Day with our extended families, we loved having my parents visit the weekend before Christmas. We enjoyed great quality, one-on-one time with them, and my mom wasn’t burdened with all of the cooking and baking that is usually on her to-do list for the holidays. We also fit in a preschool Nativity play showcasing our two sons and their classmates, as well as two dance recitals, and several memorable lunches and dinners. We relished an outdoor brunch and opening presents with Mimi and Papa on our faux Christmas Day.
I am grateful my parents were able to travel to us this year, and now I will have a lot of memorable photos to start stuffing into their annual album for next year. Sadly, while they were here, one of their dog’s health took a quick turn for the worse, and the vet allowed us to FaceTime with “Rowdy” before she ultimately passed away that evening. I know my parents would have preferred one of them to have stayed behind to be by the sweet senior lab’s side during her final hours, and there were some tears shed over Rowdy’s plight. Mixed with our yuletide joy was some sorrow; such is life. I haven’t told the kids yet because I didn’t want to take away from their holiday cheer. January is a better month for reality.
During the children’s Christmas play, the pastor of the church told all of us school families about a family-friendly Christmas Eve service in the late afternoon. My husband and I unsuccessfully tried to make a midnight Christmas Eve service in Austin last year, but we were so tired from traveling and taking care of the children’s demands in a different home that we didn’t make it.
We are not regular church attenders, but I felt like we needed to peel back the layers of the modern day hyper-commercialized Christmas and rediscover its core. Other than my youngest son trying to punch the childcare ladies in the church nursery, our outing was a success. They graciously allowed my two older children to participate in the Christmas procession, and the flutist and pianist made for dulcet accompaniment to classic holiday melodies, beautiful to the ears of most, regardless of beliefs.
I took in the stained glass windows, vibrant poinsettias placed in honor of loved ones and beaming, dressed-up children on the small church stage, and I felt grateful to be sitting there in peace, free from any outside news or conflict, and simply able to breathe in the beauty of the season. We will make attending a Christmas Eve service part of our new family tradition; it’s a wonderful break from the shopping, shipping and insanity that the holidays can become.
After church, we headed to our favorite downtown Mexican joint and enjoyed a nice adult beverage with our early dinner. Church followed by a jumbo margarita … seems logical to me! (We weren’t the only churchgoers there either.) After dinner, we drove around the local neighborhood and took in an entire street covered in Christmas lights aglow and ornate décor. Some neighbors lingered over their fire pits, and one kind woman came up to our car to give us some candy canes. Christmas Eve was perfect … until I pulled my chess pies out of the oven.
To be continued.
Aimee Tafreshi is a mother of three young children and former litigator who has contributed to Nameberry.com, Fé Fit and her own blog, aimeetafreshi.com. She also enjoys teaching Zumba in her spare time, seeking out Mexican food dives (in Florida!) and watching Texas football.