4C, 4 Momma, 4D, 4A, and 4B

4C, 4 Momma, 4D, 4A, and 4B
Most of the Four me (and you) fam

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Holiday helpers

Two words. Rum. Wine.

Just kidding! (Not entirely.)

So I was chatting all things merry last night with a fellow mom while 4C practiced for her choir Christmas pageant. She's the camel in the play, by the way, and she is outright ADORABLE in the role. Her elder sister told her that camels don't make noises like other animals but that they do spit. 4C's eyes got as big as saucers. So, you know my ass is gonna be frantically Googling to figure out what noises camels do actually make lest we have a spitting camel in our pageant.

In any event, this mom was asking about shopping for cherubs, keeping items hidden, keeping piles even. In sharing with her, I happened to say something about my shopping and it's completeness. She says, "You're done? Before Christmas? And you have four kids to buy for? I AM impressed!"

Oh my. Please don't be impressed. Please do pray for me and my children that we all make it to the jolly day breathing and that my local liquor store doesn't run out of the aforementioned holiday helpers.

But, this exchange got me to thinking. In many conversations with other moms this year and in year's past and in what I read on the loved/hated FB, I realize how intense this time of year is for my brethren in mommy land.

Whatever are we to do about it? As I've said before, you're already trying to cram 90 pounds of shit into a 10 pound day, and now you have to add all this holiday prep into that somewhere AND be calm and happy and cheerful? Right.

I feel like that crazy '80s "Stop the Insanity!!" lady with the ultra white, ultra short hair. I have put my foot down this year, damn it.

The key, really, is prioritizing. Not the propaganda holiday prioritizing that all of the "helpful" magazines and websites recommend, but the real and honest one that you do for yourself that is separate from what you think your family, in-laws, or society expects of you as a mother. This is about YOU, not them. This is about what YOU want, like, and need for your family. So, if the perfectly matching holiday sweater photo is something you can't live without, then you'll have that. Who cares what anyone else says you should or shouldn't have? They don't have to live with you. You do.

(Pssst! I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Ssssh! Don't tell. Christmas is fun for NT kids no matter what you bake or make or buy or do. They really don't care. They just want you to enjoy it with them.)

Priorities

I sat down with my harried ass in July and pondered the years' prior. Taking the time to figure out what I liked, what I hated, what I wanted, and what I didn't need really helped me set my priorities. Need help with that? Click here.

So, here's what I came up with. I patently refuse to be a bitch this year. Refuse. I am going to enjoy this holiday season. My poor mother has invited me to a holiday home tour for FOUR years in a row. And, damn it, I will go this year. I have wanted to do a big 500 count puzzle over the month of December with my besties for two years. And, this year, damn it, I will. I have burnt the midnight oil each year and ended up sick on Christmas. This year, damn it, I will not. I hate to shop. HATE to shop (unless I have a list of less than 3 items, know exactly where they are in the store I'm visiting, go when there is no crowd, and go sans cherubs--right. In what universe does that happen?!). I need sleep to stay happy. I hate missing out on all the cuddling and "lamping" and fun with my family on 12/23 and 12/24.

That was my list. Yours, of course, will look different because you, thankfully, are you, wonderful YOU! Remember when you make this list that is about YOU and what YOU want. Never ever entertain what someone else wants when you make yourself this list. Those things aren't relevant.

Reality
Okay. So there's all those things you want to do. We've eliminated the shit that you should do or the shit that so-and-so thinks you should do. We've got left, if we did it right, just exactly what YOU want to do. Now, how do you make that happen?

My priority list up there sounds dreamy, huh? How in the hell can I make that happen with MIA 4Daddy, strep in 4B that won't relent, only 24 hours in my day, and all the other myriad of things going on in my life?

Now, I've got that killer list of holiday bliss on MY terms for ME. But, I also have the following realistic limitations: autism and 4Daddy's job. The first requires a Herculean amount of patience and planning on my part to keep the days leading up to the holiday and the holiday itself the same as any other day. It's a backwards and bizarre feat, but it's the most important part of our family's holiday prep. The latter goes like this. November and December, God help us, are the busiest of 4Daddy's work year. Every year, 4Daddy says he'll be home more during the season. Every year, he says he wants to help. Guess what, friends? Every year, every single solitary merry year, I'm disappointed.

I gave myself an early gift this year. I factored 4Daddy and his "help" entirely out of my holiday prep equation. Gone. Soy solamente (if I have my Spanglish correct). That, in and of itself, has made my life MUCH more manageable.

Having set those priorities that I did above and having been really honest about the level of help available, I next set a few non-negotiable deadlines that reflect my priorities. I have made the following binding agreements with myself. They are non-negotiable. (a) I will not step foot in a store (save grocery runs for bread and milk) after 12/15. (b) I will be in bed every single night this month at 9:30. No exceptions. (c) Christmas deadline set at 12/22. Thereafter, I will do nothing but be still and enjoy my family. Nothing.

To make that shopping deadline a reality, here's what I did. I broke my ASS between Halloween and Thanksgiving. I made two big trips...one to Target and one to TRU. If they didn't have it and I needed it, I didn't drive my ass all over town to find it; I ordered that shit online. Done. Now, I've dabbled in Black Friday before. I've stalked flyers to get the best deal. Here's what happened when I did those things. I was a stressed out MANIAC! I was harried and overwhelmed and tired. I do not like to shop, and I usually have one or more cherubs in my presence when I do have to shop. Why am I going to make myself nuts to save $20? My sanity is worth every penny of that $20, friend. So is yours. But, again, this is MY Christmas. Yours will look different.

Anything that wasn't available at Target, my fav grocery, TRU, or online with free shipping is simply not being gifted by me this year. Serious. I will not run my ass all over town; I will make do with something else that is easier for me to find.

The latter two deadlines (non-negoitable bedtime for myself and non-negoitiable holiday prep finale) were trickier. To make those a reality, I made myself a time budget. I'm dead serious.

I figured out exactly how much time the single need (gifts for the kiddos) and major "wants" on my priority list were gonna take. To the minute. So, if it takes about 5 minutes to wrap a gift (find it, wrap it, rehide it), then I multiplied 5 x the number of gifts I need to wrap, and came up with the amount of time needed. You laugh. Go ahead. It's MY Christmas, remember?! Having figured that out, I plugged those hours into my calendar. An hour here, another there. Filled all of that in.

That being done, I now know how much time is left over for the "wants" on my list. To figure out how much time that actually is, I figured out how much child-free, non-chore time I have available in a week. It's a measily 8 hours, but those are MY 8 hours. So, I started plugging things in to those 8 hours. When I ran out of time on my calendar, I went back and reassessed, dropping stuff off (even though I REALLY wanted to do it) and plugging back in until it all fit.

More helpers
There were a few other GENIUS things I came up with this year, and I list them here in case they help you.

(1) Figure out how much fits in the stockings BEFORE Christmas Eve
Here's a novel idea....instead of waiting until Christmas Eve to see what fits in the stockings, I filled those babies up as I shopped! Hid them in an opaque Rubbermaid tub, plopped items in as I bought them, stopped when it was full. Then, I removed all the gifts, packed the stocking back away for decorating day, and now I know I know that I have enough to fill each one.

(2) Don't cook dinner
Eeeewwww. I hate doing it. I have to do it. Those damn kids keep asking for food! I very much dis-enjoy making a meal with a toddler attached to my leg while a preschooler screams that she needs me to wipe her butt while a third grader keeps trying to bail on homework while a first grader runs his trains at max volume. Not fun. So, I have taken to cooking not when they want me to but when it is convenient for me to do so.

How? Consolidating prep. Making more than I need for right now and freezing the rest for later. If you need specific ideas or inspiration, click here.

I spent most of October and early November stocking my freezer for the month of December. I look at it like this. It is easier for me to cook when kids aren't around. If I'm going to go through the effort of making waffles for supper, why on earth would I do that four different times if I could just do it once? So, on the first night that waffles were scheduled for supper, I made a quadruple batch and froze the extra. Now, I can pull those bad boys out and pop them in the toaster for supper on 12/20 when I'm starting to come unglued about wrapping the remaining gifts and keeping 4B from bouncing off the walls with excitement.

So, now, in the month of December, I have very little cooking to actually do. I can use that time I otherwise would've spent cooking doing more fun stuff with the cherubs.

(3) Ship early
I set a goal of 12/1 for getting out-of-town gifts out the door. I wrapped them as I bought them. I set an hour on my calendar on 11/27 for packing, printing postage labels, and scheduling carrier pick up. Dumped those bad boys on my porch on 11/29, along with the mail carrier's card and holiday gift of chocolates, and crossed both things off my list, thank you very much.

For perishables that are being delivered, I ordered those things in early November and set delivery for mid-December. DUH?! Why the shit was I waiting until December to order that stuff?

(4) Cards
Ixnay on the ardscay. No way. A few years back, I figured out that someone paid for power to manufacture those cards and oil to ship them to my local store. I used gas to go to my local store and buy them. Mailman used gas to deliver my stamps for those cards and then pick them up from me and drive them back to my post office. Then, a bunch of gas and fuel was expended to drive, boat, and fly those cards to your post office. Then, even more gas was spent to deliver them to your mailboxes. You opened it, said "Look how big the kids have gotten!," and filed it in your recycling bin. What an enormous waste of resources, wouldn't you say?

So, we started doing a Smilebox card. I love doing it, and folks seem to really enjoy hearing more about the kids and seeing more pictures. I schedule an hour on my calendar in early November to gather photos for it and pick a template. I schedule another hour or two in mid-November to make a draft, and then I schedule another hour of time in mid-Decemeber to send. The first year was the biggest time sucker because I had to add in all of the email addresses, but now it's a piece of cake.

And, no non-renewable resources are harmed in its production! ;)

(5) Baking
I only make two kinds of cookies at the holidays while the kids are little. 4Daddy's favorite from childhood and mine. Would I like to make more? Absolutely. And, some day I will, but for now, I want more down time to enjoy my babies. Both kinds are easy for the kids to help with, too.

I do this in thirds. Step one, blocked out on my calendar in early November, is measuring and bagging all dry ingredients. So, dry ingredients for cookie A go in one gallon ziplock bag, and dry ingredients for cookie B go in another. (I also, this year, had about SIXTY dozen cookies, yes, you read that correctly, to make to fill orders from our autism bake sale, so I did the same with these; and, yes, I am insane, and no, I will not be taking Christmas cookie orders at next year's sale, thank you.)

Next step is making the dough. Block that in the calendar, too. Put wet ingredients in bowl. Open ziplock of dry ingredients. Dump. Mix.

Another block is made later in that week for baking them. I do this in the last week of November, and I freeze the cookies, pulling out a couple of dozen each week for snacks and lunches. Three words. Deli. Waxed. Paper. Invest in it, my friend. It'll change your life.

4A also really enjoys decorating some cut out cookies, so I measure, mix, bake, and freeze those ahead, too, so that on decorating day, we just have to sit down and have fun. No hagged out momma on that day=happier momma, happier 4A, happier household.

(6) Streamline and simplify gifts
The kids, between them this year, have a ridiculous 20+ teachers (classroom, reading, Sunday school, and extra-cirriculars). In our family, teachers are the most important group of folks that we gift (save those in need). The kids, learning as they are to get into the practice of giving 'fore receiving, want to give to these most important folks in their lives. In year's past, I did a lot of customizing for each teacher. Now that three of them are in school of some sort, that has become a headache of epic proportions.

Going with the theory that it's the thought that counts, we have elected this year to make a gargantuan batch of one of our fav goodies, assembly-line package said goody uniformly, and customize thoughtful tags and a gift card to a fav store. It's gonna be a one-and-done for us, which will allow us more time for togetherness and fun! And, of course, the packaging has already been purchased, we've blocked the goody making on our calendar, and we've scheduled delivery on our calendar, too. And, since we're already buying the supplies for this goody, we'll make some for ourselves and that's also what our neighbors and my Girl Scout troop will receive. Why reinvent the wheel?

(6) Intentional fun/traditions
I use an advent calendar each year to make sure that I get to the things that we actually want to do. This year, I did little envelopes with slips of paper. Because it is a drag for me to referree endless bickering about who's turn it is to open which envelope, I have marked the envelopes with the cherubs' names. No fights, no drama, just fun.

To schedule these out, I made my wish list of activities in early November, sat down with our weekly activity calendar and the local activities calendar and the school calendar, and mapped everything put. I kept a list so that if we get to a day where the activity planned just won't work, I can swap it out the night before. Oh yes, I have spare envelopes, and I'm not afraid to use them. Ask me how I know that I need them.

Unfortunately, I had made mine before I found this easy and free one online. Click here.

(7) Less is more, flex on the fly
This is the biggie. Suppose I have goody A in mind to make for a neighbor. Suppose I have gift X in mind to by for a recipient. Suppose I have meal 3 planned for next week. Someone gets sick. I'm tired. Something comes up. I run out of time. I will not stay up all hours to get it done. I will not drive to three stores to find it or waste two hours of my time hunting for it online. I will, however, come up with something else. May not be as great as what I planned, but it'll do. Nothing, absolutely nothing, will come at the price of my sanity this year. Nothing. So, if that means that I planned to make gingerbread to deliver to my neighbor, but on the night I was scheduled to make it I decide that it'd be more fun to play an extra game of Trouble with 4B and lay in bed cuddling and reading Christmas books with 4C after lights out, then that neighbor is getting a dozen donuts, which were purchased at the drive thru twenty minutes prior to delivery by one of my cherubs the next morning. Oh, I'll put a bow on the box with a nice card, but that's where my crazy ends, friends.

(8) Decorations
Three lifesavers here. Package away your ornaments this year by child. In our house, each kid has a collection of ornaments that s/he has received as gifts over the years. I pack away each child's collection in a shoebox with her/his name on it. I also divide up the non-breakable family ornaments amongst their boxes. So, when we go to decorate the tree the next year, we have not an ounce of drama over who puts which ornaments on. There's no waiting for Mom to tell them which belong to whom. We are ready to roll from moment one.

Decorate only a spot or two. I think this one was born of necessity since we live with an Aspie, but we only decorate 4 spots in our house: our mantle, our bathroom counter and mirror, the shelf behind our sink, and our front door. That's it. If it doesn't fit in one of those four spots, it ain't gettin' put out. Period. Some day, I'll have a fabulously decorated and clean house. Certainly not now with 4 cherubs in my mist. And, then again, maybe I won't. Maybe I'll grow to love it this way, all simple and easy.

Organize your junk before the kids help. This was a LIFESAVER for me this year. We schedule a 1/2 day for decorating our four spots. When that morning comes, it's usually a chaotic frenzy of "I want to _____," hands digging into bins before I'm ready, and general mayhem. There's a lot of waiting, a lot of complaining, and a lot of stress (for me). So, this year, I blocked an hour on my calendar in early November to go through the decorations and group them for the big 3 to put out. I assigned each kid their items to put out, and I made a list so that I can change it up next year. When I put the stuff away last year, I packed it as it fit and NOT as it would be put out. So, each of the three tubs is a jumble of stuff. This year, thanks to that GENIUS power hour, I had three bags, one for each of the eldest cherubs. They knew what was theirs to put out, it was ready for them when they were, and I got to sit back and watch them enjoy. I'll be damned if it wasn't quieter, more fun, and less time-consuming.

What this really all boils down to, I hope, is that YOU get to put YOUrself in control of what YOU want this year. Don't let someone else decide for you. Don't let your time get away from you. It's YOUR time. YOU know how much YOU have. YOU get to decide how YOU want to spend it.

And, I wish YOU quiet and peace as YOU make merry for YOUR family, in whatever form that merriness has meaning for YOU.

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