I love fall. It’s my favorite season of the year. But, it can also bring with it a season of the harrieds. Dictionary.com defines harried as “feeling strained as a result of having demands persistently made on one.” It usually feels like a rapid slide to the end of the year once we hit Labor Day and the time of year where I usually feel I need some combination of a spreadsheet and a Gantt chart to keep everything straight.
Family coming for Thanksgiving dinner? Great! We have two that don’t eat turkey, one that doesn’t eat pork, one that’s no dairy, one that’s super low-carb, one that’s no nuts and at least one that’s gluten-free. (See what I mean about a Gantt chart?!)
As you might imagine, the gift-giving thing around the holidays can be complex with such a large family. Can I make a confession? I even forgot a kid one year. That was the year I started using a spreadsheet. (To be fair, he had a couple of things and we supplemented with some of the extras we had on hand. But still.)
We have tried a variety of things when it comes to gifts. At the beginning, I’d classify our gift-giving as random and largely utilitarian: if the kids needed anything starting about October, I would just save them for Christmas. Socks, undies, school supplies – all Christmas gifts. But, two things happened: the kids liked the boxes and wrapping paper better than the gifts and frankly, I thought the gifts were boring.
I wanted the kids to also have the experience of choosing and giving gifts so for a couple of years, we took all of the kids to the dollar store and had them pick presents for their eight siblings and mom and dad. Upside? No one really cared that toys broke two days in. But let’s do the math: 9 kids each buying 10 presents = AT LEAST 90 presents. Um, yeah. We quit that before the family got any larger.
So then we went to drawing names of just one family member to give a gift to. When we started, the idea was we would lovingly and carefully hand make gifts. We actually did that for a number of years but it added to my load a LOT. For example, kids would want to see something or make a no-sew fleece blanket or a simple stuffed teddy bear. Very sweet, but then multiply times 10, 15 or 20 kids who wanted/needed help and you’ll understand why we eventually gave that up. We still do the Secret Santa exchange but now, “homemade” is not a requirement.
Around the same time we started the Secret Santa gift exchange, we also started giving three gifts ala the three gifts from the Wise Men. We had three categories to begin with: mind, body, spirit, then added a fourth for Santa gifts – fun. That’s been working for us for years for the kids still at home. It keeps the number of gifts manageable, it keeps the gifting relatively equal and, um, it helps me not forget kids.
So let’s talk about “the harrieds” because that doesn’t sound very peaceful – and it’s not. You can get things done AND enjoy the holidays. Know your own boundaries and protect your bandwidth. Hate sewing? Don’t volunteer to sew pajama pants for the entire family. Love sewing but have other time demands? Also, don’t sew pajama pants for the entire family. Carve out time for yourself each day, even if it’s just 5 minutes with a holiday candle and some music.
Here’s a Holly hint: you can create joyful moments that turn into joyful memories without killing yourself off. They don’t have to take a lot of money or even a lot of time. They do take presence, so put away the phone and the to-do list and really be there. Do something new. Create together, do something active, serve together and leave room to be spontaneous together. In your 5 minutes of daily stillness, consider how you might be present with and for someone that day. It might be a loved one, a neighbor, or a friend, or maybe it will end up being a stranger for whom your act of presence and kindness will be just what they needed. Your children will remember the holidays with you, and they’ll remember if you were harried and focused on lists, or if you really took time to create memories with them.
Be intentional. Be still. Be there. (You can always check the spreadsheet after the kids have gone to bed.)