Holiday Survival: Don’t Stress Over “Perfect”

The qwest for holiday perfection is a losing battle that robs the season of its joy. The perfect family picture for the holiday card, the perfect holiday decorations, the perfect Christmas tree, the perfect holiday meal, the perfect family ensembles that “go” but don’t “match”, the perfect presents… it’s not going to happen. It’s just not. So be like Elsa and “Let it Go!” Enjoy your perfectly imperfect holiday just as it is.

The struggle to snap that idillic family photo is a goal bound for failure. The more people — especially young ones — in a picture, the more likely it is to flounder. One kid will have an awkward smile, another will be crying, you’ll have a double chin and dark circles, hubby will have an unexpected lazy-eye, only one person will be looking at the camera… something will go awry with each snapshot. Accept the photo as an illustration of reality, laugh, and move on.

Aiming for that cozy Hallmark card holiday home look is adorable. But do you know what Hallmark card homes don’t have to withstand? Kids, pets, life. Those heirloom ornaments, the overpriced luxurious fresh garlands placed just so, the flickering glow of candle flames beside glittering crystal… invitations for disaster. Dial it down to less breakable decor and you’ll save your own sanity and holiday happiness. Aim for “merry” instead of “mishaps.”

The holiday tree is natural which means: flaws. You can spend hours agonizing over a hole-free, perfectly lush pine or you can nab the best one you can, turn the hole towards the wall, and decorate with abandon. Enough ornaments and lights can hide just about anything. And if not, it’ll be a funny tale for later years.

Holiday meals can be planned, cooked, and prepared with the goal of perfection or with an eye for enjoyment. Don’t overtax yourself or you’ll be too stressed to truly experience the meal you toiled to create. Don’t create unattainably high expectations of picturesque family gatherings or wrack your mind with drama dread. Instead, aim for an enjoyable gathering and accept that reality — both memorably good and woefully bad — will ensue. Then, choose to laugh.

You can put hours of online shopping and weeks of Pinterest perusing to develop your perfect family ensemble collection. You know the one that is precisely coordinated without matching. You could also then promptly lose your holiday-dazed mind when one kid smears jelly across that pressed shirt, another refuses the itchy taffeta dress, and the littlest has a devilishly timed diaper malfunction. Lesson: lower your bar and have backup options. When you look back at this holiday will you be thinking, “Ahh, that was the year of the perfectly coordinated outfits! That pattern precision really made the day.” Or, instead, would memories of  the day’s quirks and smiles stick in your mind? “Remember when Timmy got his arm stuck in the new toy? Oh, Timmy! Good times.”

Fretting over getting everyone’s present just right, agonizing over eliciting that glow of enjoyment from each wrapped purchase, is a lovely but maddening goal. Thoughtfulness is always admirable. Other-centeredness is praiseworthy. Spending your holiday season stressing and spending yourself into ruin all for a gift is not going to be your healthiest holiday venture. Be thoughtful and generous, but be reasonable… your happiness matters too.

The holiday season is equal parts fun and frenzied, sentimental and stressful, maddening and memorable. Lower your bar to a comfortably livable level and enjoy the people, memories, and life around you. Appreciate the reality you have instead of pruning it to appear otherwise. Your real-life imperfection is perfect just the way it is.






Imperfectly Perfect

Yesterday evening was Hub’s escape: softball. After a #1’s inner demons made a venomous appearance upon our arrival home from an afternoon playdate, just in time for #3’s “hell hour”, which conveniently coincides with dinner prep, the kids and I ate dinner then headed off to run two quick errands.

I had forgotten what 6:30pm looked like outside of our cul-de-sac. At that hour, we’re usually trudging through the last gruesome hours of the day at home. All of these people shopping, driving, some even caffeinating at this time of day… how other-wordly! “I used to be sitting in traffic cursing my way home at this time,” I thought, as #2 swatted at #1 in the backseat of the minivan. My cubicle-dwelling, kid-free days are like a past life.

We park. I free the kids from their carseats. I see #2 has mystery stains all over his shirt and #1 found a costume headband that Betsey Johnson would consider gawdy. I shrug. Off we go.

#3 strapped to my chest, #2 holding my hand and #1’s hand, we enter the store. A middle-aged woman looks at me in that smiling seeing-but-not nostalgic way I know all too well. She’s seeing herself, not me, in front of her. I smile back.

We continue. There was a minor shoe incident and a near miss with a stack of glass marinara jars, but we make it to the pharmacy counter. Prescription purchased: success!

As we get our hand holding order settled, a woman in a business suit pauses mid-stride. “How beautiful!” She says. I look around to find what she’s noting. “Your little family,” she clarifies, “The hand holding, the beautiful children… you’re adorable!” She scrunched her nose in a smile. I thank her. I’m flattered yet stunned. Did she SEE us? I mean, really. Just before we left the house, #1 was pretending to poop on #2 as #3 laughed. THIS is “adorable??”

We get side-tracked by princess cakes on our way out. #1’s birthday isn’t for months, but — according to her — one’s fifth birthday is akin to a quinciniera. So we scope out the confections.

A diligent staffer immediately steps to the front of the bakery counter and asks if we need help. “Nope, we just saw princesses. Thanks though!” She says my kids are “beautiful” — #1 and #2 are squabbling over which cake is better: pink princess cake or the “Frozen” cake — I graciously thank her but ponder internally if these people know what these “adorable” creatures are capable of. I mean, a day when I don’t have to clean poop off of the floor is considered a gold-star experience (and, no, we don’t have pets.)

We get back in the van. Load up, buckle up, gas up, then head home. Windows down, sunroof open, music bumpin’, Spring breezing through our hair… it’s a minivan dance party. In that moment, I realize this is adorable. This is beautiful. This is perfect.