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Perfectly Imperfect Holidays -- 4X Harder Than They Have to Be

Must-Have Parent

 My neighbors have their house fully decorated for Christmas already. It was like one day they had witches hanging from their trees and then -- boom!-- faster than you can say "Peppermint Mocha," the witches were gone and Santa and his elves were getting jolly on the lawn.

(I should rephrase that. He's not getting jolly with the elves, I mean, they're getting jolly together, I mean ... argh. He's there. On the lawn. In a sleigh. With some elves. And they all look happy.) 

Anyway, it's the holiday season now, and I keep catching myself making grand plans to the make this the BEST! CHRISTMAS! EVER! I'm doing this for my kids, partly out of guilt because their dad isn't here, and partly because I'm a mom, and that's just what we do.

It starts with Thanksgiving, because that's when Christmas starts, except that now Christmas seems to start one minute after Halloween.

Every year I do this thing, and I bet you do it, too. I flip through magazines and Pinterest boards, clipping and pinning recipes and decorating ideas for ways to make the holidays better than ever. Why? I don't know. They've always been good in the past.

My favorite Thanksgiving foods are the ones I've eaten every year since I could hold a fork, but I still catch myself saying, "Ooh, I bet coconut, pineapple and bacon WOULD make the sweet potatoes better!"

(Because, why? Because bacon.)

And then I make everything four times harder than it has to be, wear myself out and then get royally peeved when my family doesn't look as casually joyous (and well behaved, and witty) as those people in the magazines spreads.

Nevermind that I've worked for magazines. I've staged those very same spreads. I KNOW they are fake.

And then, instead of the BEST! HOLIDAY! EVER! I'm so angry that I want to lock myself in the powder room (which smells wonderful, by the way, because of the homemade potpourri it took me two hours to make) and the rest of my family are outside the door scratching their heads and wondering why I make such a big deal out of these little things.

They don't understand that I'm mad because they didn't follow the script. My script.You know, the script they don't know exists, because I didn't tell them how they were supposed to act, because if I told them there was a script then it would ruin the moment because I want them to naturally be magazine perfect and not be forced-staged magazine perfect.

You're all still with me, right? 

We have a saying for this in my extended family. We call it Driving to Jackson.

On Christmas Eve when I was about 16, my mother had an absolute fit because she had worked for weeks to create THE! PERFECT! CHRISTMAS! And, being the crappy teens that we were, we all refused to go along with her plans.

I don't remember exactly what those plans were, but I do recall that we had four fully decorated Christmas trees in the house and that she had handcut and wired together enough fresh pine and magnolia leaves to cover every door jamb and flat surface in house. And there was Christmas music on the CD player. And homemade spiced tea. And gifts of matching pajamas.

And. And. And.

(I'm so sorry, Mom!)

So she got into her car and left. On Christmas Eve. And she drove two hours from Nashville to Jackson, Tenn., where she went to a movie by herself and then got a hotel room and spent the night. Alone. On Christmas Eve. While we all sat around the house wondering why she was so upset.

I can only imagine how much farther she would have driven if Pinterest had existed then. I think it's safe to say she would have made it all the way to Little Rock.

For years, we teased her about it. That drive to Jackson seemed like the height of irrationality and overreaction, a perfect example of her being ridiculous.

And then we became parents ourselves, and driving to Jackson on Christmas Eve started to sound like a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

Really.

At least as reasonable as moving Santa and the elves onto the lawn one day after Halloween.

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Rebekah Sanderlin Military Parenting

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Contributor

Rebekah Sanderlin is an Army wife, a mother of three and a professional writer. Her work has been published numerous places, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, National Public Radio, CNN, and in Self and Maxim magazines. She currently serves on the advisory boards of the Military Family Advisory Network and Blue Star Families.

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