Every year at Christmas time, we moms really feel the pressure. Sure, we feel it during back-to-school season and in June when school is wrapping up but there is something unique about Christmas that moves us in the direction of trying to be someone that we’re not.
In my case, this attempt to be someone I’m not has manifested itself in what I call “gingerbread house nagging.” In my futile attempt to be a family who builds gingerbread houses at Christmas, I have a habit of buying a couple kits with the pre-made (hard as a rock) gingerbread, tubes of white icing, and packets of decorative, but also pretty gross, candy. This year’s kits came from Target and Five Below.
And then the nagging began. I mean, of course they should want to build those gingerbread houses that other people’s people’s kids build together in total harmony and a spirit of collaboration. What is the problem, guys?
I am likely the problem. A huge part of why this whole gingerbread thing is never a success in our home, is that I do not have even the slightest bit of interest in participating in this oh-so-popular family activity. Instead—as any good mom trying to be something she’s not would—I nag my children to stop watching Friends on Netflix and get to work on those obligatory gingerbread houses. Dammit.
Is it any surprise that my 10-year-old finally just yelled back, “OH MY GOD, MOM, ENOUGH ABOUT THE GINGERBREAD HOUSES!”
He was so right. I actually laughed out loud when he said it. I had even started to annoy myself. Gingerbread houses aren’t supposed to be chores that your mother barks at you while she’s upstairs pretending to fold laundry when she’s actually scrolling through Twitter on her phone or doing work even though she supposedly took the day off.
The deeper question, though, is what am I trying to prove by nagging my children to do something that I find so unappealing that I’ve delegated it instead of being part of it? I’m not necessarily proud of my lack of interest and attention span for these kinds of activities but I also shouldn’t feel guilty over it. And yet somehow, the Christmas season has a grip on mothers across the country that leads to outsized feelings of obligation and duty over minutia and subsequent feelings of guilt when we fail to accomplish all of the things that society has somehow convinced us we must do.
Teacher gifts. Christmas Cards. Family portraits. Matching pajama sets. Gingerbread houses. And that f**** elf-on-the-shelf. I mean, come on! (In the spirit of total transparency, I did none of those things this year, except the Elf-on the-Shelf who has probably only moved four times in twenty days because, yup, I suck at that too.)
My oldest son happens to be the most task-oriented of the bunch and he did finally cave to my gingerbread pleas (since he could do it while still watching Friends.) But first, World War III had to break out between him and his youngest brother who, upon seeing his big brother take interest, wanted to be part of it too—as many readers here have likely observed in their own homes, oldest children aren’t always good at working together on tasks with their siblings, so yeah, that didn’t end well.
But alas, even for the one who enjoys tasks, the gingerbread house from Target proved to be too much and despite his best efforts, the frame would not stay together. He accepted failure (good job, son!) and wisely moved onto kit #2 which was smaller and easier to manage—that cute little house now sits on our kitchen counter.
But the larger and harder-to-build house is really where the moral of this Christmas story lies.
I came downstairs and saw a collection of large and small pieces of gingerbread sitting on the dining room table with a tube of white icing lying beside them. Suddenly all the clichés about not crying over spilt milk and what to do when life gives you lemons rewrote themselves in my head to become something like, “when your son can’t get the gingerbread house to stay standing, just squirt some icing on all those loose pieces and eat them anyway.”
And so I did. And it was really really good. (If you remember that Weight Watchers post from a couple months back, it’s not going well.)
I will never have the memories of our whole family building gingerbread houses, clad in matching jammies, while hot cocoa cools in Christmas themed mugs and sugarplums dance in our heads. But I will always have the memory of my youngest son rightfully putting his foot down when my gingerbread house nagging became too much for him to bear.
I will always have the memory of my oldest proclaiming that he failed on house #1 because “the icing was not a good adhesive.”
And I will also always have the memory of repeatedly walking over to the dining room table, breaking off a piece of the failed gingerbread house’s wall, chimney, or front door, smothering it in white icing that I get to squirt out of a tube, and reflecting on how that simple, yet pretty awesome, moment came to be.
For some families, Christmas traditions include gingerbread houses and matching pajama sets. And that’s probably why it works for them. But those of us who don’t share those traditions or naturally lean in that direction would be wise to stop trying to be something — and someone— we’re not.
Christmas is love. Parenthood is love. And love never colors inside anybody else’s lines.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night. (And Happy Chanukah to all who celebrate the Festival of Lights.)
Thank you for coming here in 2019 to learn about and ponder education issues of the day and also to have a few laughs with me about this thing called life. Can’t wait to see you back here again in 2020. Peace be with you.