The Mother Lode: Another Christmas down

December 26, 2018

Um, can someone please explain what just happened?

Here we are, two days after Christmas, and I feel like I’ve been run over by a lot more than a reindeer.

It was a slow and steady ramp for me this year. It kicked in before we had even digested Thanksgiving; the ticking time bomb of Christmas-is-coming crashed into my subconscious and glared at me, like our Elf on the Shelf. But unlike our elf (who stopped moving after Day 3, because we kept forgetting to move him) the Christmas countdown was a perpetually active irritant that just got worse as December flew past. My husband was starting to bear an annoyingly close resemblance to our non-active Elf-on-the-Shelf, so once again I was running solo. The advent calendars didn’t help ease the mounting anxiety.

“Mom, I can’t find the 14,” your 7-year-old might holler from across the kitchen.

The 14?

“The 14th day on my advent calendar! Just 11 more to go!” But you are no longer listening because you are having an anxiety attack crossed with a hot flash.

First, you have the Christmas cards, which have to be written in September to compete with the “Sound of Music” family down the street whose card arrives the day after Thanksgiving. Who are these people and what’s their problem?

We have friends who consistently run late on their card. They finally settled on “Happy Chinese New Year” as their annual greeting.

Another set of friends showed up one year at our annual Christmas party in a full-fledged marital blow-out over their holiday card.

“We’re getting divorced,” Laura told me when I opened the door in my reindeer headband.

“I didn’t do the Christmas card,” her husband mumbled. He ended up locked away in our office for most of the night, working on TinyPrints.com.

“He isn’t allowed to come out till the card is done” Laura informed me. I couldn’t even take him a cookie.

Let’s talk about the Christmas party itself. We’ve thrown ours every year since Ian and I got engaged, and its evolution has been marked by a notable decline in decorum, especially after our three kids and all their friends entered the picture. Every year there is some disaster.

One year all the kids got into the coat room and decided it would be hilarious to dump all the purses onto the floor in a giant pile. It was a horrifying variation on a 1970s key party (Rick Moody, “The Ice Storm” — read it), only in this case no one knew where their actual keys were. Or anything else.

Then there was the year Blake accidentally handcuffed himself and we could not find the key. My husband ended up sawing the handcuffs off amid jokes about where exactly the handcuffs had been found.

This year, my daughter’s 9-year-old friend Eva came racing into the kitchen with neon pink slime plastered through her hair. My 7-year-old, George, had apparently tossed the strictly verboten slime at her upstairs, and Eva was now hysterically crying and insisting she would not cut her hair no matter what.

I stood there, trying to think of what to do. One friend informed us peanut butter could take it out. But then we realized Eva was allergic to peanuts — which, in turn, started a frantic search for alternate butters I didn’t have, such a sunflower and almond butter. As the panic grew, a 15-year-old guest strode through the chaos as if parting the Red Sea.

“This has happened to me many times, don’t worry. Come on. I’ll get it all out,” she calmly informed the slime victim.

And like that the storm passed. Twenty minutes later, the girls were happily playing with something called Sticker Beans in my daughter’s bedroom, clean hair and all. I have no idea how she got the slime out, but I was on to the next crisis — mediating a boys’ altercation on the trampoline. The trampoline also had been verboten, but at this point I had given up.

Then there are gifts, especially the random ones. This year, my two brothers and their families celebrated Christmas with us up in the Adirondacks. But driving up north in thick fog, or blinding snow, with three kids and half of Costco in the back, was the least of our problems. This year we decided to focus on more “experiential gifts” that involve actually doing things together as opposed to material items.

In keeping with this new mission, my adorable sister-in-law tried to persuade my brother to go for “Escape The Room.” Wikipedia defines this as a game that requires a team of players to “escape from imprisonment by exploiting their surroundings. The room usually consists of a locked door, objects to manipulate and hidden clues or secret compartments. The players must use the objects to interact with other items in the room to reveal a way to escape.” This game supposedly is popular for family bonding and corporate team-building.

“Are you telling me you want to pay to have our family locked in a room with no escape unless we figure something out together? Are you kidding me?” my brother hollered in horror. So much for family bonding.

And then there are the kids’ gifts. One year my friend’s husband took their kids to the “gift shop” at Greenwich’s annual Enchanted Forest event. The gift shop is a room where kids can sort through random collectibles to purchase items for their parents and siblings. Each child gets help from a good-natured member of the Junior League of Greenwich acting as personal shopper.

One year, my friend’s 3-year-old daughter selected a necklace made of gigantic pearls — which created great fanfare on Christmas morning. My friend wore them with the gusto only a mother could pull off, especially after she read the label: The pearls were meant to be frozen to alleviate menopausal hot flashes.

And so I’ll leave you with that image as you collapse into a food coma, these odd calm days after Christmas. If you went to a Boxing Day party with those crazy British friends, that’s your own fault.

Me? I’m kicking back and raising a glass to all that is finally done and out of my hair, including slime.

Now if only I could escape the room ...

Claire Tisne Haft is a former publishing and film executive, raising her family in Greenwich while working on a freelance basis on books and films.

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