The Secrets Of Christmas


Okay, here we are, 12 days before Christmas (11, actually) and your holiday stress level is at DefCon 4.  The tree is up, but it’s been cat- attacked twice, and now the lights that aren’t supposed to twinkle – are twinkling.  Amazon refuses to send half the gifts you ordered until January 23rd.  Uncle Jerry wants to bring his step-daughter, Blaster, to Christmas dinner cuz she’s on a day pass out of County Jail.  And somewhere in the night, the tank on the toilet starting making a strange, chugging sound.  So what else could go wrong — right?  Don’t tempt the gods, because they’ve just moved your office’s Seasonal Celebration Party (“Oh, you didn’t get the email?”) to the same night as Grandma G’s 8 pm flight from Wisconsin, and in a couple of minutes, your youngest child, who’s 13, is going to announce she’s an atheist and won’t be participating in this year’s “hypocrisy.”

However, there’s no need to grab an adult beverage and hide in the upstairs closet until December 27thHelp is at hand.  I’m going to tell you the two secrets of Christmas that will wipe away the stress faster than 2 Tylenol and a shot of vodka.

Secret #1 – The last perfect Christmas was the first one. Yeah, yeah, yeah!  We’ve all heard the stories and seen the pictures on social media, but the truth is they’re all lies — there’s no such thing as the perfect Christmas.  Not even Martha Stewart (the Queen of DIY guilt) and her army of serfs and servants could put together those magnificent offerings without divine intervention.  Plus, Janet Perfect-Size-Zero down the street might think she’s wowing the world with her handmade canapes, but when you’ve got one kid in therapy, another one headed for Detox and a husband who’s addicted to football and Sharon from Accounting, wasting hours chopping olives is kinda counterproductive.  Here’s the deal: the only person who’s going to notice that the twinkly lights aren’t supposed to twinkle or the veggie plate is from Costco is your sister-in-law, and there’s no satisfying that woman.

Secret #2 – Memories aren’t made of perfection.  Think about it!  Which Christmas do you remember?  The one when everything marched along like a Nuremburg rally or the one when your sister got her head stuck in the dishwasher?  Dishwasher — no doubt!  I have friends who have mushroom soup for Christmas dinner every year.  It’s a fine tradition that started when the holidays went so far sideways that the turkey actually caught fire from too much cognac in the dressing.  I have some other friends who always throw their Brussels sprouts out the back door because – uh – I don’t know if anybody even remembers why.  My point is Christmas is all about family, not symmetrical trees or perfectly-spaced lights — and families are flawed.  That’s what makes them interesting, maddening and fun – just like Christmas.

So, now that you have the two secrets of Christmas under your belt, toss back that vodka, chase the cat away from the tree, book a taxi for Grandma G and a plumber for the toilet, tell your daughter atheists don’t get presents, phone Uncle Jerry and say, “Of course Blaster’s welcome for Christmas, but unfortunately we won’t be using the good silver this year.”  Then sit down at your computer and cancel all that crap from Amazon because you’re going with gift cards — like you wanted to in the first place.

Stress — The Final Frontier

stressOkay! It’s two weeks into a new year and you’ve discovered 3 visits to the gym don’t qualify you for a bikini, no matter how positive you are; Jan, at work, is still an asshole, and if you don’t get some cookies soon, you’re going to punch somebody in the face — probably Jan.  Life is hard, folks, and it’s even harder when you’re striving for perfection.  But that’s the mistake we all make.  We strive for perfection, especially at this time of year.  But, here’s a tip: forget perfection!  The only thing between you and that happy camper you want to be is stress.  Shoot stress in the head and, believe me, perfection is never going to come up on the agenda again.  So, in the spirit of Good Works (one of my New Year’s Resolutions) here are a few things that might be of assistance.  Good luck!

Get out of bed — You’d be surprised how good a day you get when your morning doesn’t look like the Mad Hatter is having a two-for-one sale on crazy.  Running out the door, 10 minutes late, with a hairbrush in one hand, a toothbrush in the other and your underwear on backwards is not the way to face the world.  You need to sneak up on it — slowly — so give yourself some time to wake up in the morning and metaphorically put your underwear on properly.

Take 3 deep breaths — Unless you’re the President, the Pope or Vladimir Putin, there’s no situation you’re ever going face that won’t wait five minutes.  Going straight at a problem might work at deadline time, but if you’re constantly letting things get that far, you’re already screwed.  People need time to think.  Besides, sometimes staring out the window for a while can give you a fresh perspective on why Jan is being such an obstructionist bitch.

Sex — Try to get beyond Date Night — but if that’s all ya got, make it the best Date Night ever!

Get some comedy — A steady diet of news, documentaries and PBS drama will kill ya.  Laughing at a fat kid on YouTube getting beaned by a beach ball will cleanse your soul.

Forget about the last word — Arguments are part of life; turning every one of them into the Alamo just isn’t healthy.  There’s no future in being right if you’re still having the mental conversation two days later.  Let the idiots win every once in awhile.

And finally:

Celebrate — Turn off the mobile phone, step away from the video screen and have a glass of wine, a Root Beer float or a slice of chocolate cake (preferably, with two forks.)  This is the reason we get up in the morning and do what we do.  Don’t ever let just doing become the priority.

Now, back to the gym! — That bathing suit isn’t going to wear itself!

Shouting in Frustration about Back-to-School Stress!

The problem with writing blogs is you can’t shout.  All the words on the page get the same weight; none of them stand up before God and everybody, throw their heads back and holler, “What the hell is going on here?”  So, all you can do is delicately present what you know to be true and hope at least one person pays attention.  It’s frustrating work, but somebody’s got to do it.  Either that or we’re all going to end up sliding down some cosmic bunny hole and the Red Queen’ll be calling the shots.  This is one of those times when something is so messed up I just wish I could scream from this page.

What I am about to tell you is absolutely true.  No sane person could possibly make any of this up.

Recently, Angus Reid, those annoying people who always phone exactly at dinner time, conducted a poll.   They wanted to know — and many people told them — if kids were getting anxious about going back to school.  Easy question, simple answer: “My kid’s eight.  How hard can this be?”  Not so fast!  Apparently, 42% of children are not only anxious about it, they’re stressed right out.  Forty two percent!  That’s nearly half!  And that’s the national average!  Where I live, the percentage goes up to 47!  I’m running out of exclamation marks!!   Can you believe this?  I have no idea about the methodology of the poll — who responded, what the questions were etc.  However, I do know one thing, without even looking: Angus Reid didn’t talk to one single kid.  If they had, that 42% would have dropped to practically nothing – 4% max.   And that’s what makes this poll so scary.

Here’s what’s actually going on.  Angus Reid talked to parents and nationwide, 42% of those people who answered the online survey have no business having children.  They’re unfit parents.  Either that or they’re so ego-blasted on 80s entitlement that they don’t realize those munchkins who show up for breakfast every morning are their responsibility — they’re not just there to make adult life miserable.  Regardless, somebody should call social services immediately because these parents are not doing their job.  Let me explain.

First of all, ordinary kids do not come by stress naturally – especially in North America.  They just don’t.  Yes, I’m sure there’s anecdotal evidence to the contrary.  There’s probably some little person out there somewhere whose dad is a crack addict and whose mom’s doing covert ops in Afghanistan or something, but that’s not the norm, and that’s my whole point.  Stress comes from extraordinary circumstances.  Normal, everyday life does not cause stress.  If it did, we’d all be renting condos in the Valley of the Loons.  Besides (and I’m pretty sure about this, also) kids haven’t bought into the extra curriculars of life yet — things like mortgages, car payments, a rat-faced, inconsiderate boss or an idiot spouse who answers surveys.  They only get stuff like that from parents who are contagious.  These are adults who haven’t made the simple connection that kids can’t fully handle a lot of information yet.  They haven’t figured out there are ways of sharing life’s little difficulties with a nine-year-old — without freaking him out.  Unfortunately, most inhabitants of the 21st century think stress is a natural condition.  So, when it comes to their children, they treat it like an accomplishment that should be passed along.  Stress is taught in the home like sharing your toys or tying your shoes.  And when it shows its ugly little head, it’s rewarded with lots of close personal parental attention.

Next, kids go to school.  That’s normal.  It’s what they do, and they do it for years.  It’s like the cycle of the seasons to primitive tribes.  They measure their little lives by it.  Every September is a rite of passage – another rung in the ladder to adulthood.  I know people who haven’t been near a school in a generation, but the rhythm of their childhood is so ingrained that they still think of Labour Day as a kind of Everyman’s New Year.  And here’s another newsflash: despite what they’ve been conditioned to tell you, kids love it.  Why?  ‘Cause kids are sponges.  They soak up everything around them and process it.  Everything is new and exciting.  Electricity and magic carry the same weight with them because they don’t know the difference yet.  Every piece of knowledge is a mighty discovery.    And there’s no better place to quench that thirst than at school.  It’s the one place whose sole purpose is to explore the world and get in touch with all kinds of new stuff.  This isn’t just confined to the classroom, either; the socialization of recess or lunchtime friendships are just as important.  Children keep this sense of wonder for years — until it’s kicked out of them by inept and preoccupied adults.  Find a kid who says, “Been there; done that.” and you’re doing something wrong.

Finally, kids are tough little beasts.  They’re made to withstand the harsh realities of growing up.  Here’s how it goes: take away an adult’s most cherished dream and you run the risk of destroying their ego, their joy, their purpose — for life.  On the other hand, tell a kid that Santa Claus is…well… kind of a spiritual thing, and it might set them back for a day or two but pretty soon they’re on to the next adventure.  Kids face the Santa Claus type discovery over and over, year after year, and the vast majority of them shake it off and keep on moving.

Parents who see signs of back-to-school anxiety in their kids are looking in the wrong places.  Either that or they’ve already conditioned their children to be timid and needy.  Kids naturally look forward to a new school year just because it is new: it’s exciting, it’s more and different and part of that bigger life they’re growing into.  Parents who don’t understand this and foster it are raising a generation of young people made of spun sugar, so breakable that every bump in their future mundane lives is going to be a setback, an injury or an occasion for angst and foreboding.  These parents are stealing the wonder from innocent lives and they ought be ashamed.  I’d like to grab that 42% by the collective collar, get right in their face and shout, “Stop it!” but I can’t.  I just wish I could.