Rebecca Martorella: 'Tis the season

I know it sounds cliché, but it feels like I just put away last year’s holiday decorations and here I am bringing them back out again. (Truth be told, I actually did just put them away in August after having originally shoved them in a closet in January.)

Regardless, the calendar says it is time to get ready for another holiday season, which to me means it’s time for the “Extreme To-Do List.” Unlike the rest of the year, the “Extreme To-Do List” contains my regular to-do list overlaid with multiple additional to-do lists.

Gift lists, grocery lists, guest lists, packing lists. Lists separated by family, friends, school, and work. Sometimes I feel like my list is longer than Santa’s.

There is something gratifying about crossing an item off the list as it gets done. However, my list is a bit too malleable this year. I find I’m adding to it as fast as I cross out, supplementing my organized columns with scribbles in every free space, so by the end of the day, my list is an illegible mess and “rewrite to-do list” becomes another entry.

Today, while driving to yet another superstore, listening to the newest rendition of “Santa Baby,” I passed a van that was advertising “Virtual Assistants.” For an instant, the thought of hiring someone to do my “to-do’s” was quite enticing. But then I realized I would have to make a “to-do” list for them, and by the time I finished that, I probably could have completed half of the tasks myself.

The alterations in our usual weekly schedules also clutter the list. Year-end performances and holiday events require advanced preparations. Preschool ends a week earlier than public school, filling previously empty morning hours. Half-days drastically alter afternoon schedules. (By the way, what’s with the week of half-days for elementary parent-teacher conferences right after the short Thanksgiving week? Don’t they know we need those holiday kick-off hours to get the best deals at ToysRUs?)

As a result, I have had to start writing out everything that has to be done not just daily, but hour by hour, otherwise something or somebody is going to be forgotten. I knew it was really getting bad when I added “take a shower” to my list.

As for holiday decorating, we have condensed our preparations by using a fake tree, which goes up fully lit in minutes. I am a little embarrassed to admit this, as I feel bad about losing the family tradition associated with a real tree. You know, getting everyone bundled up to go out in the freezing cold to buy the tree, struggling to get it on the car, struggling to get it off the car, struggling to get it in the door, struggling to shorten the trunk when it doesn’t stand up, passing the lights around the back of the tree as the branches hit us in the face, watering the tree, vacuuming up the needles after we forget to water it, vacuuming up the needles after the kids pull off the ornaments, vacuuming up the needles after we drag the dead tree through the house well past the end of the season.

Oh wait, I don’t really feel that bad. A few pine-scented candles and we’ll be good.

Thanks to the early Thanksgiving, we got a head start this year, but with young kids that doesn’t always help. Their fun comes mostly from undoing any decorating that we have done (under the guise of “playing”). Every day, my three year old wants to take the ornaments off the tree and redecorate it. I try to keep the fragile ornaments up high so she can play with the ones she can reach, but the other day, I noticed a chair had been pulled up alongside the tree, clearly part of what could have been a very bad situation that must have been going on while I was tackling something on my to-do list more fun than “supervise children”.

I actually don’t mind many of the holiday tasks when you take out the inconveniences of crowds, parking, and the like. But because they are dropped on top of my regular usually unfinished to-do list, it can sometimes get overwhelming, and I don’t always react well.

I dream of creating holidays filled with special family traditions, but sometimes I worry that the only tradition I’m passing on to my kids is that of Mom losing it by December 15th.  I can only hope my kids will possess rose-colored memories with my crazy behavior forgotten, or maybe they will remember my micromanaging as a fun little piece of our family life:  “Remember when Mom went nuts when we ripped up her to-do list? Ha Ha, good times.”

Rebecca Martorella, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist, author, and mother of two. She works with individuals, couples, and families, and can be reached at [email protected]

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