The best thing that happened to me in the days leading up to Christmas this year was getting pulled over by a state trooper. Seriously. That was the best thing. But not because everything else was somehow so bad that getting pulled over was awesome by comparison. Not at all. Everything was great. Fabulous. Spectacular even. At least…I think it was. I was kind of too busy to notice. The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas blurred by and I was in fast motion trying to get everything done that I had convinced myself I needed to get done. I tried to enjoy the season when I could, in bits and spurts here and there. I was vaguely aware of chestnuts roasting on an open fire and pine cones and holly berries scattered about. And I did notice that even the street lights blinked a bright red and green…but that was about it. I wasn’t really enjoying it. I was just sort of watching it happen. At one point I even came to the conclusion that Christmas carols were annoying and that Charlie Brown was such a downer he could seriously use a solid six months on a strong anti-depressant. So the day before Christmas Eve as I was barreling down the road heading home from the mall with two of my kids in the car, the only things on my mind were all the things I still had to do. And then I got pulled over. The blue lights went on and I was like, shit! I’m getting pulled over! Ugh, I don’t have time for this! But, like it or not, I pulled my car over to the side of the road. It was a pretty typical pull-over as far as pull-overs go. She asked for my license and registration, and I handed them over. Then she walked back to her car and I sat there waiting to get arrested for murder. (I’ve never murdered anyone, by the way. But for some reason I always think that there will be some weird mistaken identity situation and I’ll be arrested for a murder I didn’t commit, Shawshank Redemption-style.) So as I’m sitting there mentally wondering if, before I’m cuffed and stuffed, she’ll let me make a phone call to my husband to come get the kids, or if they’ll instantly become wards of the state, and then wondering if I’ll get a jail cell to myself and if the bed will be comfortable enough for me to take a nap, and then thinking that taking a nap in a nice quiet cell sounds pretty great… she walked back to my car and told me why she had pulled me over: “You need to slow down.” (So, I won’t be napping in a jail cell, then?) She wasn’t all Mother Goose about it, of course. She wasn’t patting my hand and being all sweet like, “oh, honey, I know you are in a rush, but slow and steady wins the race, don’t ya know.” No. She pretty much told it to me straight, “You’re going too fast. You have kids in the car. There was a mac truck next to you. You need to slow down.” She was right of course. And she was nice enough not to give me a ticket for it, which I thanked her for. But I should have thanked her for more. This officer cared enough about me, enough about my kids, and enough about the other drivers on the road to pull me over and tell me to slow down. She had no way of knowing if I was a lunatic (I had just come from Christmas shopping at the mall after all). She had no way of knowing if she was going to get hit by an out of control car as she stood by my window on the side of the highway. She put her safety aside to ensure my safety. That’s huge. That’s amazing. I should have thanked her for that, but I didn’t. I regret that I didn’t. I hope that the next person did. That person up the road whose car had broken down and who I saw her pull over to help. I hope he thanked her for what she did, and for what she does every day to keep us safe. And as for me? Well, I slowed down. And sang Christmas carols (loudly, and off key) the whole ride home. (I still think Charlie Brown would benefit from some therapy, though.)
The Advent Calendar hanging on my living room wall is out to get me. My kids walk by it and get all giddy, “ONLY 5 DAYS LEFT!! Whoooo!” When I walk by it grabs me by the neck and tries to strangle me. How did it become less than a week until Christmas? That’s not a rhetorical question… I really want to know how that happened. It was just Halloween, like yesterday. Seriously. Did we even have Thanksgiving? I vaguely remember eating turkey and stuffing at my sister-in-laws, so I guess, yea, we did. But now…now it is already December 20th and I’ve barely scratched the surface of what I need to get done before the big day. I don’t even know if it is going to be humanly possible to get all the crap done that I still need to get done. Like, not even possible no matter how hard I try or how little I sleep. The monogrammed sweatshirts certainly won’t be making the cut this year, that goes without saying. Two weeks ago my friend told me to get on that. TWO WEEKS. I was like, “are you insane? I have plenty of time!” But she was right. And I was wrong. I don’t have plenty of time. I have no time. None! I literally haven’t even STARTED shopping for some of the kids yet. And the one that I thought I was done with snuggled up to me so sweetly last night and just before she fell blissfully asleep she murmured in my ear that she couldn’t wait for Santa to get her the Easy Bake Oven. The easy bake WHAT?! My blood ran cold because you know that I didn’t get an Easy Bake Oven for anyone this year. And you know that now I’m going to have to try to remember to get the freaking thing, and they probably won’t have it anywhere except in a completely remote Walmart in the wrong part of a small town that I’ve never even heard of. And my husband and I aren’t the kind of strong level-headed parents who are like “she’ll get over it.” No. We are the saps who will actually drive 3 hours in each direction to buy the only Easy Bake Oven left in the entire state of Massachusetts, and even though the box will be dented and it will look like it’s been opened, tampered with, and re-taped shut we will still fork over our last red cent for it. It’s clear to me now that I should have started my shopping a long time ago. But I didn’t, and so now I find myself, once again, running around Target whipping stuff into the cart and wondering if the giant sized Rice Krispie Treat they sell could count as Joey’s “big gift” this year. (The thing is HUGE, and he seriously loves Rice Krispie Treats. Don’t laugh because I’m still considering it.) And the problem is that every present I buy reminds me of other presents that I have totally forgotten that I still need to buy. There seems to be no end in sight. No light at the end of this tunnel of holiday madness. But then…then I see it. The light that reminds me that this crazy rush will soon be over. Of all places, I see the light at the end of the tunnel in the seasonal aisle at the grocery store. There it is in all it’s heart-shaped pink and red glory. Shelves and shelves of it. Valentine’s Day candy. Seriously.
Pushing out the yearly family Christmas card…The many (many) ways childbirth and taking your family’s holiday photo are the same.
It all starts out with a plan. It has to. And it’s usually a marvelous, well thought out, “I’m going to quit my job and just write plans for a living” kind of awesome plan. Especially your birth plan…man, that puppy was a beaut. You had it all printed out on good paper using fancy font, and there was a copy for everyone in the birth room so they would all know that you are going to try to birth the baby natural, and that you really don’t want the epidural (thank you very much), and you would like quiet music playing in the background. There is an equally note-worthy plan for your photo shoot. Your plan is to have the lighting just right, the outfits just so, the smiles real not fake, all eyes open, and no goofy faces. Oh, and you want it to look natural, as if you all just happened to be wearing the same sweater while going for a spontaneous family stroll through a beautiful path in the woods. It should be noted that this plan also includes taking the perfect photo on the very first try.
Sure you’re counting to a different number, but there is counting nonetheless. My husband was counting to ten in Spanish while I was (attempting) to push my first son out. Spanish. I didn’t even know he knew how to count in Spanish. I was like, “what are you doing?! Stop counting to me in Spanish!!” Deep breath, and PUSH, uno…dos…tres… It is literally one of the only things I remember from that long night. It’s seared into my brain as a constant reminder that my husband is secretly kind of bilingual. And then there is the counting that goes on during the holiday photo shoot. It’s a different kind of counting. It’s more of a threat. “I’m going to count to 3. And if I get to 3 and you guys are still fooling around and not taking this seriously…well, I just don’t even want to say. Don’t make me go there. Do NOT make me go there.”
The volume of the voices
It always starts out so nice and quiet. Calm. For the photo shoot I start out with my Michelle Duggar voice. Calmly coaxing the kids into their photo shoot positions. Calling them all gently by name. But I really don’t know how Duggar keeps it up because within five minutes or less (usually less) I am yelling and screaming at the kids as they decide that funny faces and rabbit ears would make nice additions to the family Christmas photo. Same with the birth, (minus the rabbit ears). It starts out so quiet. Let’s all make sure we are talking in quiet voices so as not to introduce an aura of tension into the room. But before you know it you are using your “outside voice” as you demand more ice chips, and then just as loudly telling the kind soul who brought you those life-saving little shards of ice to get the damn things out of your face.
The declarations are eerily the same in both situations: We are NEVER doing this again! (This is declared more than once.) This is RIDICULOUS! (It really is. It’s absurd.) I can’t BELIEVE I thought this was a good idea. (Seriously though, you did. You thought it would be a good idea to push a large-headed human being out of a very small hole in your body. You also thought it would be a terrific idea to gather your rowdy brood, who have the combined attention span of a demented squirrel, and try to photograph them. But these don’t sound like such good ideas now, do they?)
Before you had kids you probably didn’t think swearing and delightfully fun holiday photo shoots would go hand in hand. It’s sort of embarrassing really since it seems so out of place. At least with the birth it makes sense as there is major physical pain going on. I mean, the f-bomb is straight-up par for the course in the Labor & Delivery room. What you don’t realize until you experience it though is that the mental torture of trying to get all your kids to look at the f’ing camera at the same f’ing time is enough to drive you f’ing INSANE! And at some point during the photo shoot you will tell them exactly that.
Need something to numb the pain
Prior to your very first experience with labor, you may have thought that attempting an epidural-free birth was a realistic idea. Especially in light of the fact that an epidural involves a long needle, and talk of shoving that needle into the space between your vertebra and around your spinal cord. You were probably like “yea, no thanks. I’m all set with that potential nightmare.” But no matter where your mind started out, most of us get to the point in labor where we are literally begging the anesthesiologist to do whatever it takes with whatever means necessary to stop the pain. And once that epidural kicks in? Sweet mother of all that is holy! It is a whole new ball game ladies and gentlemen. It’s basically the same with the family holiday photo shoot and wine. Really. The only difference is that the wine is administered orally instead of by an iv. But that is like, seriously, the only difference I can think of.
The end result
But, oh, the end results of your labor. Suddenly there is this tiny, pink little baby who can barely stay awake and is sporting the world’s smallest baby lojack on his ankle. And you can’t even believe that less than 24 hours ago he was living inside your body, and now here he is and he’s real, and he’s like this little tiny miracle that you made. And year after year you will struggle to photograph this child and any siblings. And you will try to get that one perfect holiday photo to send to family and friends so that they too can see, in all its photographed glory, what you have secretly known all along: you have the greatest, cutest, most amazingly fantastic kids that anyone has seriously ever laid eyes on, in the history of ever. Even if they can’t all seem to look at the camera at the same time…
Here we are again. Smack dab in the middle of the season of joy and good cheer, and wonderfully magical days and nights. We’re all busy honoring traditions and making new memories, and seeing the good in people. I mean, even the songs will tell you how great you are supposed to be feeling: Tis the season to be jolly (Fa la la la la). So why does it sometimes feel like so much…work? Last year I planned that THIS year I wouldn’t let myself feel as much of the stress of the holiday season, and would simply and wholeheartedly embrace the joy and magic that everyone else seems to be embracing so effortlessly. But last year (and every year before that, actually) I also planned that THIS year I would start my shopping early, and I would know exactly what to get each of the kids so that I didn’t go wildly over budget, and I would read the kids Christmas stories every night by a roaring fire and they would gladly put down all their electronics just to hang on my every word. It just never seems to happen quite like that. It’s more like the minute Thanksgiving ends I am at the mercy of a time that has mysteriously sped up to an insanly fast rate. It’s no wonder that sometimes we feel sort of crappy at this time of year. Like we are just not as happy as we are supposed to be. So I thought I would stop, take a deep breath, and make a little list of 10 ways our lives could be waaaay crappier and more stressful than they seem to be right now.
Turn that frown upside down my friend, and give thanks that you are not…
1. Professional Fart Sniffer
I’m sorry…what’s that you say? There is no such thing as a professional fart sniffer? Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s real. And it’s happening. Oh…and it’s happening to the tune of $50k a year! That’s right. Apparently the smell of your toots can indicate whether or not you have a serious internal medical condition. If you want to move to China and go thru the fart sniffer program, you too can smell farts for a living. Your life isn’t looking so bad right now, is it?
2. The Concierge at the Hotel During a Fur-fest Convention
Just be thankful you aren’t the person at the front desk who has to try to keep a straight face and act like everything is normal while you are checking in a 6-foot tall man and a bunch of his pals dressed up as a large furry stuffed animals during their annual weekend Fur-fest Convention.
3. Jelly Bean Taster
This job sounds fantastic at first glance. A jellybean taster? Sign me up! But before you go quitting your job and moving your entire family closer to the nearest jellybean tasting factory you should take a minute to hark back to Bertie Bott’s Beans. Remember those Harry Potter jellybeans that came out a few years ago? In the little box, mixed in with the regular flavors, were horrible flavors like ear wax and rotten egg. In order to get those flavors to taste authentic someone had to have been in charge of tasting them until they were just right. And that someone had to first develop a working knowledge of the exact taste of earwax…do you see where I’m going with this? I think you can safely embrace the ho-hum simplicity of your current “earwax-free” life.
4. Santa at the Mall
Is there anything worse than being Santa at the mall? Really. The poor guy has to sit there for hours with a fake smile on his face, probably sweating to death, while well-meaning parents put their most prized possessions on his lap. Sure maybe there are one or two kids who are psyched and sit there happily telling Santa what they want for Christmas…but it seems that the majority of them have a conniption fit. And then to add insult to injury the parents pay someone to take a picture of the mayhem. (Shout out to my friend Jen Casey for the above picture of her adorably terrified twins Ava and Ryan!)
5. The Farmer Who Castrates Sheep…by MOUTH
Okay, to clarify, the farmer doesn’t do the actual castration with his teeth (at least not according to all my research), but he uses his teeth to hold the, uh, nuggets in place while he uses the approved tools to chop them off. I don’t know about you, but any day that a sheep’s junk isn’t in my mouth is a good day.
6. Giblet Packager
To me the worst part of roasting a delicious chicken is prepping the bird for the oven. This unfortunately includes removing the nasty bag of innards from inside the chicken. (shudder) But how did this bag get in there to begin with? Good question. Those giblets didn’t just bag themselves. My guess is that it must be someone’s job to sift through the guts and other unmentionables and pluck out the heart, liver, kidneys, neck, gizzard, etc. and plop them one by one into the giblet bag of horror. (OMG, I just dry-heaved)
7. Stool Sample Tester
Okay, so yes your life seems a little extra stressful right now. But do you have to spend the better part of your days diving into a baggie of steaming turd? No? Then you can definitely add that little fact to your own list of reasons to be happy this holiday season.
8. Anyone Who Has “Cleaning Up Someone Else’s Puke” Anywhere in Their Job Description…
…especially if the puke includes chunks of undigested food (which is basically the definition of puke.) I’ve cleaned up my own kids’ puke plenty of times. It is a multi-step process during which I die a thousand deaths. I’ve even cleaned up my own puke once after an unfortunate food poisoning incident. But some random person’s warm vomit? No thank you. That is where I draw the line.
9. This Guy (who unclogs the drains at a public shower)
The person whose job it is to unclog the drains in public showers, like at the gym for example. Horrifying. Look at the guy in this picture…doesn’t even have gloves on. Or a mask. Or safety goggles, or a Hazmat suit or ANYTHING! There is nothing to stand between him and a stranger’s stray pube possibly getting on him. Your life is a bowl full of cherries compared to the horror of that.
Lice. We get letters home at least 3 times a year from my kids’ school stating that someone in their class has been diagnosed with a case of lice. (Immediately I start itching all over and obsessively checking everyone’s hair as if I am a monkey looking for a snack.) Did you know that there are professionals who will actually come to your house and delouse your children for you? They have all sorts of cute little names for their companies, and they charge a pretty penny for their services. But at least once a day if you are feeling down, don’t you think you could sincerely utter the words, “But at least I don’t pick lice out of people’s hair for a living…”
So there you have it, in black and white. Whenever you start to feel blue from all the stress just remember things could be worse. Way worse. Your life is actually pretty amazingly, magically, and yes, even stressfully, fab!