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"You Do What You Have To" (A Christmas Letter From This Burnt-Out Mom to Her Single Mother of 6)

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Dear Mom,

I don't know how you did it with six kids at Christmas. It's only December 15th, and I'm already exhausted.

I know you always tell me the same thing about being a mother -- "I don't know how you manage it these days" -- but really, Mom, you had a virtual baseball team on your hands, with three times the load I'm carrying. Working full-time while raising six kids AND creating a magical, holly jolly Christmas on your own, every season (without the Internet), well... it's a tad mind-boggling.

And it's not the first time this has occurred to me. I just happened to be up late last night organizing my seemingly long holiday to-do list in my head, and for some reason, this year, it really struck me just what a superhero you turned into each December. Here's the way I see it:

December 1

Me: I have my two kids each create their list for Santa. The next morning, I knock out some writing assignments (at home), spend a couple hours shopping online, maybe run out to Target for a few essentials, then get back to my Christmas shopping (on the couch). I'm interrupted by the school bus, homework and dance class, but it's OK because I'm basically done, other than some research and a few items I'll put the hubby on. He comes home from work, we make dinner, and then we wait for the majority of our packages to be delivered to our doorstep in the coming weeks.

You: You take your six different Christmas lists (four girl, two boy, with six completely different tastes/interests) as you head out in your overworked and under-washed VW Rabbit to drop us at two different schools before going to your 9-5 office job. At lunchtime, you rush to the dreaded mall for a 45-minute shopping sprint, then back to work. After work, you cart us around to one too many soccer and football practices, maybe sneak in a little more Christmas shopping (because you haven't even put a dent in the first list), make a satisfying meal for all seven of us, then stay up late transferring presents from the trunk of your car to any little nook or cranny you can find in our already overcrowded house, attempting to "hide" the presents you very well know we are going to tear the house apart trying to find. The next morning, you get up and do it all over again.

December 15

Me: By this time, we've made the quick trip to Home Depot to grab a cheap and modest (but otherwise nice) Christmas tree, along with our other hardware necessities for the month. We have a relatively quiet evening at home, just the four of us, trimming the tree, sipping hot cocoa and nibbling candy canes. And yes, we still have Hanukkah to prepare for in our household, but since most of my shopping for the kids is complete, I can now focus my Christmas efforts on a few friends and teachers, finding the perfect gift to show my appreciation for their friendship and hard work all year.

You: You nix the friend and teacher gifts, because who has the time (or money)? In between two weeks of the same work/shopping routine, you take the family to the quaint neighborhood Christmas tree lot to somehow get all six of us to agree on the perfect tree (without breaking the bank), and then get it decorated in some sort of tasteful fashion (without breaking half of your family heirloom ornaments). You stay up late every night behind locked doors, wrapping and fluffing bows, trying to maintain some sort of order and system of "who gets what" and "keeping it all even." Of course, you also find the time for some Christmas cookie making with at least three or four of us, if not all six, wrangling us all around the small kitchen island and putting up with the incessant whining and nit-picking about who gets to use the big silver ball candy sprinkles next. And during all of this, in some sort of Norman Rockwell-ish scenario, I seem to remember John Denver and Andy Williams constantly crooning in the background, with you singing along, paying little attention to the fact that you have nine more days of holiday parties and outings to carpool, three school programs to sit through, 10 more gifts to track down, and one big decision to make about whether or not the "peekers" (which you know about because you have eyes in the back of your head) get their presents.

December 24

Me: I make a reservation at our favorite neighborhood spot for Christmas Eve dinner, because I'm tired, and after the umpteenth holiday function, I don't feel like cooking or baking another darn thing. I'm looking forward to relaxing over some good food and a big glass of wine, and our after-dinner tradition of driving around town to look at Christmas lights. We then go home to set out cookies and milk for Santa, and tuck the kids in bed, with sugarplums and not a creature, and all that. While Dan keeps a lookout, I'll spend about 10 minutes putting out the gifts, then we'll curl up for another cocktail by the fire, and maybe a movie.

You: While we spend the day with Dad, you spend all day in the kitchen preparing for a big family Christmas meal with all the trimmings. With last-minute wrapping still to do and a frantic visit to the store because you forgot about five things on your list, you can't believe it's already time for us to be back, and spend the next two hours trying to herd six rambunctious kids off to bed. Ready for bed yourself, you then stay up half the night, dashing endlessly from hiding spot to tree, gathering and piling gifts, and stuffing six stockings to the brim -- all the while jumping at every little peep you hear coming from four different bedrooms.

Still, somehow, by Christmas morning, you pull it all off. Not only do you pull it off, but you manage to personalize the holiday for each one of us, miraculously delivering exactly what each child asked for, and showering us with more gifts than most of us probably deserve that year (and which, likely, you will be paying off until next Christmas, when it's time to do it all over again). And find the rare opportunities in the midst of all this indulgence to impart the real meaning and spirit of the season, along with a whole bunch of warm memories.

And you do all this with a smile. With little sleep. With virtually no complaining. With the bravery of a woman who spends all this time and energy to create the perfect Christmas for her family, yet who every other year spends the entire day alone, while her children are with their dad and stepmom for the holiday.

But I know you, Mom. You will downplay the work and the loneliness, saying "you did what you had to do." And maybe you don't see it the way I do (and maybe I exaggerate, but only a little), or maybe the joy of the season and the love for your kids filled your heart to the point that you've now forgotten the juggling and the exhaustion and the overall monumental holiday undertaking.

But I want you to know that I haven't. And that as I "rush" around myself over the next few days, I will remember to focus on the warm moments and, like you, to do it with a smile. And with love and gratitude for the chance to pass on to my children the kind of special, magical Christmas you always created for me.

Merry Christmas, Mom!

b8433775747bea699ac7ab6f611ae3d12548cb75Apologies to my baby sister, Deb, who never seemed to make it into a family photo!

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