This is the sixteenth year I’ve been a mother on Christmas. Most of all, I recommend enjoying it. It’s like another go around at being a kid. When your children are between 2 and 12, it’s pretty amazing to experience their excitement. (When I was little, I was always so excited about Christmas, I would almost collapse from hyperventilating on Christmas Eve. One time my step-father even gave me a beer (I was maybe 11) and the two of us watched It’s A Wonderful Life to calm me to sleep.) As hard and stressful as it is, it’s another chance to relish the magic of anticipation followed by that unsurpassed glee. But I have made a few big mistakes along the way. Some of you have already made them I’m afraid, but we have a few days left before the kids start watching Santa fly around the world on your (or their) iPhone, so here goes:
- This is a big one for parents with toddlers and pre-schoolers: assemble the dollhouse/car/slide BEFORE Christmas morning. Your child will not want to wait! They will see the toy on the outside of the box (because in this scenario you’ve made this mistake) and expect it to drive on out and work. Nothing spoils the moment like a tantrum. Same goes for dolls who are for no reason I can understand, shackled to the inside of their boxes like there’s a risk they might escape. Set them free in advance! Or at least be prepared with a sharp knife or good scissors (or a big box of tissues for your bawling child.) PS Batteries of all sizes should be on hand. No they do not come with the toy.
- When boxes arrive — and they will! Things you’ve bought, things grandparents have sent — take a moment to write down what has arrived and who it’s from before you shove it under a bed or in the back of a closet or on a top shelf you think your children can’t reach. Trust me, things will get lost. And the worst part is, you won’t even know it until months later when you’re looking for that pair of shoes you never wear and find a Star Wars Lego kit. Also, your mother is going to ask if her package arrived and you’ll have no clue. Lots of things came from Amazon. You think Grandma’s gift is in the basement, but really, you have no idea. Don’t let that happen to you. The best way to prevent this is to open the boxes and wrap as they arrive, but you can’t do that if your little ones are in the living room when the UPS man arrives. You will have to run for it. Make a note. At least read the label so you know where or whom it’s from. (This seems obvious — maybe it is for everyone but me? But I’ve tucked boxes away and thought they were one thing, then found on Christmas Eve that the gift on the top of my kid’s list is nowhere to be found) It’s best to wrap as soon as you can, then hide all the gifts in one place. Wrapped presents are harder for kids to peek at and this will save you from #4. And more than one hiding place just doesn’t end well.
- Keep a running tally of what you’ve purchased. Nothing worse than being accused of favoritism because you were too busy to keep track. The older kids know exactly what things cost. You can’t fool them. No one wants to feel like the black sheep on Christmas. There will be a Christmas when one child receives an expensive gift that reduces the overall size of his or her haul. Be prepared to explain. I remember years when I was warned that I might have fewer presents under the tree.
- Christmas Eve. This is a big one. An hour is not enough time to wrap and assemble everything, especially if you’re drunk. For me on Christmas Eve it’s like I have muscle memory urging me to imbibe, as if I’m home from college and going out with my friends, as if I’m 20 and childless and all I have to do the next day is open presents — for me! — and pig out on my mother’s yummy food. Well, those days are over. At least for 18 years. The only thing worse than having to assemble a tricycle while your toddler screams at you, is to do so with a hangover! And don’t expect your equally drunk spouse to save you. He’s in the same shape. You might even have offered to cook a big family dinner without realizing that you’d first have to build a robot, set up a video game, apologize for the turtleneck, and play two rounds of LIFE. If you stay out too late and drink too much on Christmas Eve, you will cry on Christmas Day.
- Buy stocking stuffers for your stocking. Otherwise it might hang on the mantle empty and limp. After your children and even your dogs tear through their loot, one of them is sure to ask: “Why is your stocking empty, Mommy?” After all that work, you’re left the naughty one who Santa punished. Don’t let that happen. Fill your sock to the brim. Go wild. Treat yourself. Let Santa give what you really want.Good luck!