Charlotte is four and a half, and for her the holidays are at the height of their magical glory. She remembers some of the traditions we’ve started, like our book advent and attending the family Christmas Eve service at church (which we missed last year because of vomit Christmas). She asked if we were going to go see the Nutcracker again (we took her last year to a shorter version put on by a local ballet studio). She’s excited to bake Christmas cookies and start hanging the advent ornaments on the little tree. Tessa was a mere babe in arms last year, barely even mobile. Now she’s off and running with a bubbly personality, a stubborn will, and the persistent desire to do whatever her sister is doing (decorating the Christmas tree with two helpers was rather challenging this weekend).
I knew the holidays would be more fun than ever this year, but I didn’t expect to suddenly feel such incredible pressure. I got on Zulily just to get some ideas, and accidentally fell down a rabbit hole of clothes and toys, adding hundreds of dollars to my cart before I came to my senses (fortunately before I hit purchase). I felt this overwhelming need to buy all the things that would delight and excite my daughters, while outfitting them in every frilly, ruffled twirly dress I could find (#girlmomproblems).
I’m not sure where this impulse came from, especially since it was completely contradictory to all the efforts we have been making to pair down our belongings and simplify our lives. All I know is that I struggled for several days with this desire to buy ALL THE THINGS before I finally brought it to God and asked for help getting my priorities straight again. In His delightfully unexpected way He pointed me to a Kindle deal for a book called Unstuffed by Ruth Soukup. I read the first half in one sitting, completely mesmerized with Soukup’s struggle with too much stuff and how she and her family eventually dug themselves out. Their story hit a deep cord in my heart, and was the perfect antidote to my stressed-out spirit.
With a deep breath and a prayer for wisdom I stepped away from my (virtual) shopping cart and just watched my girls play with the toys they already have. Charlotte was acting out an elaborate story with the farm animals from her sensory bin, her Duplo blocks, and a bird cage ornament. Tessa was climbing from her little chair to the recliner, sliding down, and climbing up again (she did this more than a dozen times). Over the course of a day the things the girls played with the most were the Duplos, throw blankets, stuffed animals and plastic figurines, and empty bins and boxes. Clearly they had no need for more plastic gizmos or big play sets.
So I went back to their Amazon wish lists and deleted everything except the most open-ended of toys and some books. Then I cleaned out C’s closet (again) and boxed up the toys and games she hadn’t played with for months. I put the bin in the attic just in case she asks for something, but if a month goes by and she doesn’t miss anything it will all be donated to the Samaritan Center.
We are trying to keep our Christmas schedule un-stuffed too, saying no to the winter princess ball, the holiday train trip, the Christmas parade, the Christmas plays and programs. There is just way more to do than we possibly can, at least in this stage when Tessa is still so young. I still struggle with guilt over saying no to things I know C would enjoy because her little sister won’t, but this is just a season and someday we will be able to do more. Instead, we are focused on the things we can do, that everyone enjoys and finds special.
When I feel myself tempted to buy more or do more I’m trying to remind myself that my family wants a joyful, engaged mama, not a distracted, cranky one. C’s favorite thing is to bake with me, or sit down together and make crafts. I can do that. T wants me to sit on the floor and read books to her (or just one book over and over). I can do that. Both girls love it when I turn on Christmas music and have a dance party. I can do that too.
The world seems to be a cacophony of competing voices, compelling me to buy this or do that to make this the perfect holiday season. It’s enough to make a hardcore Christmas lover turn tail and head back to bed. So I’m going to do my level best to turn off those voices, to delete the apps and unsubscribe to the email lists, and to avoid social media when I’m feeling weak and worn down, easy prey to be captured by fomo (fear of missing out). I’m going to turn on my favorite Christmas songs, new and old, the ones that point me back to Christ’s birth. I’m going to be present with my girls and my hubby, putting down my phone to play a game, watch a classic Christmas movie, or just listen to the elaborate story C is trying to tell me. Most of all I’m going to watch with joyful anticipation for the Holy Spirit to show me His heart and to point me to the needs around me that I can fill.
We had our first Advent service at church this weekend where our pastor spoke about hope. He challenged us to take ten minutes every day during Advent to meditate on God’s promises fulfilled by Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection. I can’t think of a better way to turn away from the world’s chaos to hear the whisper of God instead.
Are you struggling with stress and overwhelm this season? What strategies do you have for staying focused and joyful this holiday? Please share!