Scaling Back For The Holidays Helped Me Heal

couple with child outside in the snow

What one mother learned one miserable December about holidays, family and being satisfied.

Six years before having a child, my husband and I bought a four-bedroom colonial. With two incomes and a heady feeling that life would always keep expanding, we tended to do things big. Like holidays: giant plastic spiders and gauzy webs, huge red hearts on the door, white plastic bunnies lining the steps. And then there was Christmas. Thanksgiving weekend was D-Day, when the attic yielded dozens of bins crammed with decorations—holiday towels for the bathrooms, pine boughs to wrap the banister, and holiday motif glassware, china and more.

I am not a crafty person, and Frank never built crèches for fun, so a good outing was a trip to Christmas Tree City. There was the 24-inch piano-playing Santa who moved and tinkled carols; the wreath of hammered wrought iron that played “Jingle Bells” when the door opened; cut crystal ornaments the size of grapefruits. Each year, some visitor always asked if we were expecting the photographer from House Beautiful.

Our first son was born into this giddy, much-too-much way of decorating. By 2, he was hanging Sesame Street ornaments, and was assigned the job of clapping the tree lights on and off.

Then, the September when he was 3, I had a miscarriage.

My son brought home paper bag jack-o-lanterns from preschool, and asked to "deck-rate." Zombie-like, Frank and I hung Bones the Skeleton in the doorframe and flung Blackie the Spider across the porch.

But by Thanksgiving, I was in emotional limbo, descending to apathy on a runaway toboggan. I declared D-Day canceled. Frank frowned and jerked his head toward our preschooler, playing with his miniature trucks. I ignored the unspoken question and took a nap, my new M.O. How To Avoid Holiday Exhaustion

I could not avoid the mall, though, and while I bought Christmas gifts for aunts and in-laws who were all waiting for me to "snap out of it," my happy child pointed to a towering tree bedecked in cascading gold ribbons and white globes the size of soccer balls.

"When we deck-rate?"

"Oh, look, let's get a pretzel," I answered.

Frank kept trying. "Let me put up the tree up one day while you're out," he suggested.

By then, however, I considered our home my personal respite from the forced frivolity I now ascribed to all decorations. I decided that Christmas was too commercial, a waste of time, money and energy. Since I was sad, I didn't want to look across my living room and be reminded that I ought to be happy. Who needs it? Not me. Not this year. How To Compromise For Christmas

I did let Frank talk me into a trip to nearby William Street, where one family had been putting on a colossal lights-and-decoration extravaganza for decades. I said I was cold and decided to watch from the car. Here's what I saw: my husband carrying our child across the street, his little boy mittened hands pointing, his head whipping right and left, features dancing in reflected light.

My insides churned as the now-familiar guilt, self-pity and bitterness returned. I kept trying to decide who, or what, I was most angry at—my own body, fate, God, or all the lucky other mothers in that driveway that night with more than one child in tow.