Holiday tips when there are mice in your boots

 I remember how very busy and challenging the B.C. holidays were in my early years of new motherhood so this post is for you young moms and dads who may face some similar obstacles.  We laugh about these things now but one Christmas season, in particular, came with a sense of frustration. Discontent and exaspertion easily disturbs souls without Christ. Mine was no exception. My “to-do” list seemed endless.  And, my limited experience didn’t help, especially since I had some unrealistic expectations. I was trying to do too much in too little time —

The setting: Housebound in snowy frigid weather with two adorable young bouncing boys whose energy level (even with runny noses) far surpassed mine as I tried to prepare for holiday festivities.  Time and a budget too small for the “demands” of my expectations.(Mistake number one).   Troublesome house  repairs were on the list of needs, which meant other things had to be forsaken. I felt rather discouraged (and sulky) about this (mistake number two).  The living room carpet had a new unsightly burn mark–the remaining evidence from one of my bold, lightening-quick toddler’s experiment just before a party with a discarded paper napkin that he had placed over a lighted candle on the coffee table when mom’s back was turned ( mistake number three). The single bathroom’s plumbing wasn’t co-operating and the kitchen sink kept backing up.

A pile of dirty diapers added their fragrance to the atmosphere. No extra dollars for decorations so we “cookied” the tree, I thought we made ample supply. (Mistake number four–a fun, but short sited process. They all disappeared before Christmas-thus one bare tree).

And a mouse in my boot! Don’t ask how. Discovered it as I put my foot in and disturbed its nap. Not sure which of us was more surprised. Who would have guessed anyone needs to look inside boots before putting them on. (Mistake number five).  So many things to do with the demands of household duties and young parenthood in the face of the approaching holidays. Its hard to remember your manners when one’s over tired and anxious. I needed a different perspective and some good tips for this new world of responsibilities.  Eventually, abounding Grace supplied both.

Apart from keeping your “son-glasses” in place for the right outlook, the candles up high, and peeking into your boots before wearing them, here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way.  They make this special season more enjoyable–as it should be.

1. Focus on the most important needs. Don’t overload yourself with lots of extras at the last minute.

2. Remember good manners means a considerate demeanor, especially with loved ones and when under pressure. Don’t major in minors or let trivial situations distress you–this too shall pass–and more quickly than you think. Don’t nag your spouse about little things! Don’t dwell on problems: let ’em go–especially at meal and bed time. Choose an appropriate time for such discussions. And, don’t expect your spouse to make “all” perfect or fix everything immediately. When you discuss problems, good manners mean you keep your tone of voice relaxed and respectful. Look for solutions, not blame.

3. Face your situation realistically and be nice to yourself. Wrong expectations and over extending yourself are joy robbers. When you have small children, lower  expectations of perfection so you can handle the necessary tasks at hand. This may surprise you from someone advocating certain etiquette, but do consider occasional use of paper plates (not at every meal, of course, but occasionally is okay) and have simpler, easy dinner menus in mind for busy days. If you make a casserole, make two, and put one in the freezer for later use. Ditto for cookie dough. Just wrap the extra in the elongated style you see at the markets and freeze until you need it.

4. Don’t shop when your children are tired, sick, or hungry…it’s a recipe for disaster. When grocery shopping, earlier is better. Some stores have disinfectants for the shopping carts-very good idea these days. Use them before you put your kids in the cart. Make your grocery list beforehand-group your items into categories-dairy all together, vegetables and fruits side by side, etc. This is a time saver.

5.  Give your toddlers a job. Point their energy in positive directions. This should be a year round practice. Provide clear instructions for duties. Let them help set and clear the table, color a piece paper for place mats. I learned to keep a step stool handy so they could wash unbreakable dishes, even after we bought a dishwasher. Give them a paper bag so they can help pick up any litter in the house. Putting toys away when finished playing is a must. They can help fold laundry and put it away (Remember, don’t expect perfection). They love the business of helping.   Practice your manners: Compliment them on their good effort. Thank them when the task is completed.

6. Let your children help decorate a tree. Use non-breakable ornaments –or else remember to breathe, wear shoes, and keep the broom handy. Enjoy Christmas music.  Have an advent calendar. Take time to read meaningful stories to your children. Teach them the meaning of this sacred time.  I’m gathering book suggestions.  If you have some favorite Christmas selections you’ld like to share, you can do so via the comment button.

7. Sometimes you simply need to set duties and activities aside to go outside for a walk or playtime. A change of pace can make a big difference. Enjoy the creation and your little ones.

8.Do your gift shopping several months before Christmas –it reduces holiday stress. Fewer crowds, better selection, and kinder on your budget. Even now, with children grown and in their own homes, I begin shopping months in advance.  This year, if you have not done this, simplify your list and shop in the early hours when stores are quieter, lines shorter-and of course there’s online conveniences, but you’ll have shipping charges. Don’t overspend.

9. Gift etiquette: Instruct your children beforehand about some important manners when receiving gifts.  A little bit goes a long ways for toddlers, but “please and thank you” must be coming from their  lips. When they open gifts, help them focus on one gift at a time. Keep other presents back out of reach–out of sight helps, too, if they are too distracted from the gift at hand.  Encourage them to take time to look at each gift and carefully place it aside before opening more packages. Then, to look at the giver and say “Thank you” before another gift is opened.  Our grandchildren have been trained by their parents, not only to say thank you, but after opening the gift, to get up and give a hug with thanks to the giver. Very precious protocol.  Then, upon parting again, to again say “thank you”.  Once a child can write, make “thank you” notes a part of etiquette training.

10. Buy decorations, gift paper, and cards for next year during this year’s “After Christmas” sales, but wait until a bit later in the month. You’ll save big time. Just avoid the temptation to over stock on things you won’t really use.

11. Family Chrismas dinner.  When its at your house, make EITHER your Christmas EVE OR Christmas DAY dinner SPECIAL. Not both. Keep  one SIMPLE so you can enjoy the holiday time without being overwhelmed. However, for your special meal-make it LOVELY!  Even if its not gourmet. And, no paper plates this time. Set a beautiful table. Do it early-well in advance–My holiday centerpiece goes on a week or two ahead of time. I refresh it as necessary. The table is set several days ahead, turning the glasses and plates upside down to spare them from dust. Placing silverware and napkins properly in place is a “job” reserved for our grandchildren if they arrive early.  They enjoy this. They also lend a hand when we use place cards or other special touches at each setting. The older grandchildren take “drink” orders before the meal begins.  Everyone waits for mom and grandmothers before taking their seats. This is a good day for the men to show honor to their women by assisting the lady on their right side. (Ladies enter the chair from the left).  It’s not enough to “think” or preach honor. Show it!! Your children need examples of gentlemenly honor in action.  Food is always passed counter clock-wise to the right.  Train children to thank the “cook” for the dinner when finished. Children should ask to be excused after dinner if they want to leave the table. Our grandchildren love lingering at the table for conversation so this rarely happens.  And, the conversation is always upbeat–no complaints allowed. The lady of the house signals when its time to leave the table. I hope you’ll recover these few basics to bring order and model honor at your holiday table.

12. When possible, encourage your extended family to take turns hosting a holdiay dinner. Every family situation differs. Be considerate. Will your holiday celebration work better as a special brunch with one set of parents, or both, or do you need a quiet morning? Its a big job to pack up little ones and travel any distance. Grandparents understand this. Perhaps a dinner with in-laws one day, and the other parents the next? Or join all family together? Whose house? By all means and where ever the meal, share the load and everyone bring a dish. In our family,whatever and where ever the fare,  each household contributes a dish or two for the special holiday meal. In this day of few (if any) household servants, everyone should gladly bring something to lighten the load–or as my daughter-in-law aptly says, “divide and conquer”. It’s a wonderful thing. My dear Scottish grandfather set a grand example to follow. A longtime elderly widower, he didn’t cook, but he loved our special holiday gatherings and always came ready to lend a helping hand to a young mother who had her hands full. He would come hours early to help me peel potatoes, play with the children, and help out with other last minute preparations. I miss those sweet times with his passing. That’s the kind of grandparent I want to be–supportive, loving, encouraging, fun, and thoughtful.

And “obstacles” in your life–learn to laugh and enjoy life in spite of them. As you establish your home, in years to come, they will become some of your most fond and humorous memories .

These are just a few thoughts. Hope they brighten your day and impart some ideas for quality control in your holiday experience during the demanding time of young parenthood. With them in place you’ll better enjoy and focus on the “reason for the season”.  Your children will too. Wishing you a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.



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      Christmas books
      Libby recommends adding these books to your story collection: They are kid-approved and inspiring.
      – “The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree” by Gloria Houston (illustrations by Barbara Clooney)
      – ” The Miracle of Jonathan Tommey” by Susan Wojciechowski
      – “The Christmas Book” by Peter Spears.

      Merry Christmas!

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