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Challenge: Gratitude & Giving

I'm grateful for the imperfections of Christmas, wrinkles and all

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This time of year, time seems to speed up exponentially. It’s Thanksgiving, and then – BAM! – it’s Christmas. To borrow a concept from Madeline L’Engle, at Christmas time, we tesser through the month of December so that it feels that we have pinched the corners of the calendar together and all of the days have squeezed themselves into the middle somehow.

In these condensed days and weeks, we have much to do:

Decorate the tree. Put the lights on the house.

Create Christmas cards. Make cookies.

Locate the presents you stashed away. Wrap presents.

Assemble toys. Host relatives.

Flop onto the couch, exhausted.

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Sometimes, through the magical bubble of social media, I see photos of families and their holiday traditions float by. And my self-inflicted guilt about not being the Mom That Does All The Things takes over the part of my brain that is normally driven by logic. And I start thinking about how lame I am.

Where are my family’s color-coordinated pajamas?

Why have I not created an advent calendar from sticks I found in the yard and burlap from the craft store?

How come I have not delivered the Toys for Tots bag that has been sitting on the floor by the door for three days? (OK, OK, it’s going to the donation box tomorrow.)

If I dwell too long, it feels as though I am failing at life. (Side note: have you seen the new dryer sheet commercial with the jingle that claims that using said dryer sheets makes you less wrinkly and winning at life? It’s speaking to me. Perhaps if I were also less wrinkly, I would be more organized. Hmm...Probably not.)

If I stop, shove the fear of missing out aside, and put the Mom Guilt on a shelf above the Elf, I can stop and remember what it was like at Christmastime when I was a kid.

A few vignettes pop into my mind: reading the JCPenney and Sears catalogs cover to cover on the floor with my sister and circling the toys we wished for; sitting around the tiny ceramic Christmas tree at my Grandmother’s house in Florida and laughing with my family; making tons and tons of pastries and food and eating it with the people I love.

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Some of the details of Christmases Past are fuzzy – I am a few years shy of 50, after all – but I know for sure that what I remember is not anything fancy or deliberate. What pops up on my mental holiday highlights film is the time we went to see a movie on Christmas Eve – a new flick we didn’t know anything about called Home Alone – and we laughed so hard we nearly fell out of our chairs. I remember the ice cream we had afterward at the Haagen-Dazs next to the theater. I recall the time we spontaneously decided to go caroling in our shorts and t-shirts with my grandmother and three of her sisters on Christmas night.

Thinking about those holiday memories reminds me to stop and think about what I really want the season to feel like for my family. The pressure we put on ourselves as parents is much more than is necessary. We know, in our hearts, that our kids don’t need that toy that “all of the other kids have” and that our friends don’t care if our trees are decorated with sloppy tinsel strands and our Christmas cards are going out so late we might as well turn them into Valentines. Nobody is keeping score. And if they are, well, Bah Humbug to them.

Stop right here, right now with me and breathe in the heady feeling of s-l-o-w-i-n-g d-o-w-n. Stop climbing uphill and roll downhill for a bit. Stay in your pajamas and read the LEGO catalog together and take turns choosing your favorites. Go bowling. Drink hot chocolate with marshmallows you stole from the cereal box because you forgot to get whipped cream. Wing it. You never know when those are the moments that are going to smooth out the wrinkles in time on the calendar and help you sip the season like a cup of tea rather than chugging it like a can of lukewarm draft beer.

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When my son is grown and thinking about the Christmases from his childhood, he’s probably going to think about the warm and cozy house where we live, and the handmade stockings hanging from the mantle from his Nana. He’ll remember the slightly wacky holiday trimmings because his mother is terrible at interior décor and the smell of the cookies I made especially for him.

I don’t have to create those memories for him; he’s picking the ones that he loves best, filing them away for some distant year when he will wrap himself in those moments like a comforting cocoon. The perfect Christmas is just a hug away.

Kristin Shaw is a writer based in Austin, Texas. For more of her writing, you can find her at KristinVShaw.com for her essays and ThrillsandWheels.com for stories about positive, uplifting stories within the automotive industry. Her essay and video "I can still pick him up, so I do" has been seen by millions of viewers on the TODAY Parents platform.

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