We Don’t Have to Make Every Moment Magical

It occurred to me recently that I remember zero things from the Christmas I was 8-years-old.

Seems weird, doesn’t it? I have other memories from being eight: walking my sister home from kindergarten with a wagon of easy reader books; listening to New Kids on the Block tapes in my neighbor friend’s bedroom; and many flashes from our move that year from Bristol, Indiana, to Richmond, Virginia.

We moved in late January, but the weather was in the 70s, much like it was two weeks ago here, which is what brought on this sudden flow of memories. A warm stretch during winter was not something we’d ever experienced in northern Indiana flatland. My parents definitely knew that Christmas that we were moving. We built a house in Richmond, ready for us soon. My dad was traveling back and forth to work in Virginia each week, and although I don’t remember a thing, I am guessing my parents went all out that Christmas. They tended (and continue!) to do that anyway. As a parent myself now, I can imagine that pressure of it being The Last Time in a small town where we’d spent seven years.

And yet, absolutely nothing sits in my memory bank about this time.

Which got me to thinking about how much money and time we put into making holidays magical. My two older kids were nine and seven this year, and you bet I functioned under the premise that I needed to do as much as we could so their childhoods could be full of happy Christmas memories.

I think modern parents feel a lot of pressure to cram as much magic as we can into our kids’ childhoods. We need to make super-duper Bento lunchboxes, dress them to the nines in boutique clothing, let them do whatever extracurriculars they want to do that week, go to Disney every year, celebrate every single holiday to the max (St. Patrick’s Day? REALLY?), keep our homes beautiful and decorated, and basically never let them know that their parents are human.

I would never say you shouldn’t do some or all of these things if you truly want to and they are affordable and enjoyable for YOU. But as a mother, my motto is STAY SANE.

My capacity level is just not that high, nor are my pocketbooks that deep as we live on one teacher’s salary. I realize that I’m trading in a lot of potential magic for my kids having me around as a stay-at-home parent. I leave the minor holiday celebrations to their preschool teachers. I fight my inferiority complex about many of these things, like how on Valentine’s Day I showed up to preschool with my son and my kids were not dressed in Valentine’s-themed outfits — just in their normal thrift-store and hand-me-down wear.

For my sanity, I have to say no.

I have four kids, and just getting them to school and church and getting homework done is about all I can handle. We’ve pretty much given up on extracurricular activities. The things that I think will impress their memories are the traditions we have, whether they are simple like going the Chattanooga Boys Choir’s Singing Christmas Tree or bigger like our summer beach vacation. And I’d like to think that just being with them often, reading books and doing homework and making muffins, makes sweet memories as well.

You know what memory is quite vivid from when I was eight? Just a few weeks after that Christmas, my sister turned six. My dad was back in Virginia working. And my sister Ashley and I both had the chicken pox. Mom canceled Ashley’s birthday party. Ashley just requested macaroni and cheese and hot dogs. Unable to leave us there alone, my mom made do with what we had; we had spaghetti noodles with cheese sauce and hot dogs without buns, and I made a cake in my Easy-Bake Oven for my sister.

As much as we want to, we can’t implant specific memories in our children’s brains. Let’s keep on doing the best we can and refusing to bow to peer pressure to do things we really cannot do while keeping our sanity intact.

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