Mensches and Elves: Surviving the Mental Load of Celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas…One Year at a Time

Anyone else out there holding together the mental load of celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas? It’s hard. I get it.

It’s not just that there are latkes and gingerbread houses to make, mensches and elves to move around, and gifts that require a spreadsheet and an arsenal of color-coded wrapping paper to keep organized. It’s also that Hanukkah is a moving target.

She has the power to show up early, late, or any time in between. She’s ruthless and an annual reminder that we have control over absolutely nothing.

If you want to survive the war of attrition that is Hanukkah (at least from a calendar perspective), you need to understand what you’re up against. Where Hanukkah falls during the holiday season can make or break—or tear to shreds—your holiday spirit and sanity.

It’s a crapshoot every year, but there’s one thing I know for sure. No matter which one we get—The Mindblower, The Marathon, or the Sneak Attack—we will always have eight nights of candle wax to scrape off the menorah in the end.

The Mindblower. Otherwise known as Thankgivukkah. This holiday mashup seems like a good idea on Pinterest, but does anyone really want to do holiday and back to school shopping at the same time? Does anyone want to make a challurkey (challah shaped like a turkey) or cook fusion food recipes like Maneschewitz-brined roast turkey and sweet potato noodle kugel? Does anyone ever want to drink Maneschewitz and eat noodle kugel? The answer to all of these questions is no. The early arrival of Hanukkah ruins Thanksgiving and is a bitch to spell, and in conclusion, may we never hear the expression “Gobble Tov!” again…at least until 2070 when this holiday fender bender is forced upon us again.

The Marathon. Or, the middle place. When Hanukkah falls after Thanksgiving and before Christmas, you’ll have some breathing room, but don’t be fooled by the runner’s high you get a few miles in. By the eighth night of Hanukkah, when you realize the behemoth of Christmas is imminent, you might cramp up, puke, or pee in your pants a little bit. As my Weight Watchers coach used to say, “if you fail to prepare, prepare to fail.” You need laser sharp focus, endurance, fortitude, and crap loads of wine (not Maneschewitz) to survive the relentless middle place.

The Sneak Attack. This is when Christmas and Hanukkah overlap. It’s a good idea in theory, but in execution? Not so much. Last year, when the first night of Hanukkah fell on Christmas Eve, I naively thought I’d killed two birds with one stone— Happy Christmakkah!—and I was an idiot. Do you know what happens after Christmas Eve, the first night of Hanukkah, and Christmas morning when your house is trashed, your hands are covered in wrapping paper cuts, the dishwasher is on its seventh load of the day, and your kids are swinging from the chandelier with chocolate gelt and candy canes dripping out of their mouths? Seven more goddamned nights of Hanukkah. Be careful what you wish for.

2017 has given us The Marathon. I hope your present on this first night of Hanukkah in the murky middle place of December is a comfy pair of new running shoes because you’re going need them.

Happy Hanukkah! Good luck!

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The Old Bear Way: Under-Scheduled and Doing Just Fine

In parenthood, sometimes we don’t get what we want. Like babies who sleep through the night, toddlers who hold hands in parking lots, or kids who wear pants.

Sometimes we do get what we want only to figure out we were better off without it. Like when your kid learns to tie his shoes and you’re never on time for anything ever again. Or when your kid is finally potty-trained and wants needs to poop in every bathroom within a 50-mile radius of your home. Or when your kid at long last shows enthusiasm for extra-curricular activities and you go from being under-scheduled and wondering if “YouTube connoisseur” will impress college admissions officers to being over-scheduled and googling, “Do Dutch parents deal with this crap?”

For years, we dabbled. Karate. T-ball. Ice hockey. Art. Basketball. Ninja warrior. Cooking. Chess. Soccer. Nothing stuck. If you’ve ever heard a kid say, “I can’t go to soccer practice because my finger is sunburned,” or, “I don’t like karate because flexibility is terrifying,” you’ve met my kids.

I’m decidedly not a Tiger Mom.

Then, all at once my boys wanted to do all the things. Cross country, soccer, guitar, drums, swimming. Add to the schedule the activities everyone loves to hate, like vison therapy, tutoring, and nutritionist appointments, and we were suddenly as busy as everyone annoyingly says, but for realz.

This fall, we had to be someplace—and in some cases multiple places—every day of the week, including Tuesday mornings before school and Friday evenings. For the love! And there was no rest on the weekends. Swimming lessons and soccer games swallowed Saturdays and early morning cross country track meets stole Sundays and all my hopes for and dreams of a hot cup of coffee.

I recently read an article about Dolphin Parenting. Coined by Shimi Kang, M.D. in a book called “The Dolphin Way: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy, and Motivated Kids—Without Turning into a Tiger,” this viewpoint encourages parents to abandon a perpetually striving, exhausted, and over-scheduled lifestyle for a more balanced, natural approach. Kang suggests our current parenting method has replaced free and spontaneous play and time spent with family with too much structure where the “minivan becomes the kitchen table.”

This speaks to me. Loudly.

Why do we spend as much time in the car after school as our kids spend at school? Why are we so worried about our kids turning into quitters if Irish stepping dancing, platform diving, or Mandarin Immersion isn’t their jam? Also, band practice before school and track practice on Friday nights is preposterous, amirite?

No wonder we’re all tired, anxious, overwhelmed, and drinking “mommy juice” from a straw!

We bit off way more than we could chew this fall, and the endless loop of obligations broke us. We’re out of gas, literally and figuratively. The activities everyone originally wanted to do became a burden about which everyone, including me, asked, “Do I have to go today?” and “When is this going to be over?”

Did I make a mistake saying yes to too much in the first place? Probably, but it was hard to say no when my kids finally wanted to do something besides watch “try not to laugh videos” in the basement.

The silver-lining of our demanding autumn has been that we sifted through the muck and discovered the activities the kids truly enjoy. We also figured out what we value as a family— extra-curricular activities in moderation, lots of free time to play and relax, and pajamas. We are pajama people to infinity and beyond.

My kids want to linger with friends on the playground after school. They want to play Minecraft online with their friends, and they want to make microwave popcorn and watch “The Simpsons.”

I want my kids to do their homework without rushing or melting down. I want them to have time to build Legos and practice the instruments they love, and I want to listen to the details of their stories while I cook dinners they don’t want to eat.

I’m digging the Dolphin Way, but now that the trees are nearly bare, the air is frosty, and it’s dark by five o’clock, I’m taking my parenting strategy to the next level.

In Kevin Henkes’ children’s book, “Old Bear,” Old Bear falls asleep for the winter and dreams of the beauty of every season. He dreams of flowers as big as trees in the spring and blueberry rain falling from the sky in summer. He dreams of yellow, orange, and brown birds and fish in autumn and the sky blazing with stars of all colors in winter. He sleeps and dreams and sleeps, and when he finally wakes up he thinks no time has passed. He pokes his head out of his den and it’s a gorgeous, warm, and colorful spring day and it takes him a minute to realize he’s not dreaming.

That’s right, Tiger moms and the rest of you wild (or Dutch) parenting beasts. I’m putting on my comfy pants and settling in for a long winter’s nap. I’m hibernating with my kids and dreaming and sleeping and dreaming… and slowing down the passage time… and paying attention… and enjoying my kids while they’re still kids… and hoping no one wants to play little league baseball in the spring because that seems like a lot of work.

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Uncomfortable

What’s the best parenting advice you ever received?

I used to answer this question with, “Expect the unexpected.” It’s a damn good of piece of advice because parenting is a never-ending game of whack-a-mole, but almost 11 years into this gig, I’ve come up with a different answer. “Get ready to be uncomfortable.”

Pregnancy is uncomfortable. 
Pregnancy loss is uncomfortable.
Pregnancy after pregnancy loss is uncomfortable.
Childbirth is uncomfortable.
Bringing a tiny human home from the hospital is uncomfortable.
Not sleeping for a decade is uncomfortable.
Asking for help is uncomfortable.
Not going back to work is uncomfortable.
Going back to work is uncomfortable.
Leaving your baby with someone else for the first time is uncomfortable.
Making “mommy friends” is uncomfortable.
Potty-training is uncomfortable.
Taking a small child into a public restroom is VERY uncomfortable.
Carrying the physical and mental load of motherhood is uncomfortable.
Standing in a bounce house is uncomfortable.
Playing Candy Land is uncomfortable.
Catching vomit in your hands is uncomfortable.
The first day of Kindergarten is uncomfortable.
Not being invited to a birthday party is uncomfortable.
Realizing your child is nothing like you is uncomfortable.
Realizing your child is EXACTLY like you is uncomfortable.
Giving a kid medication is uncomfortable.
Letting go of unrealistic expectations is uncomfortable.
Watching your kid disappear down the block on his own to go to school or a friend’s house is uncomfortable.
Seeing your child physically or emotionally hurt is uncomfortable.
Letting your child make mistakes is uncomfortable.
Witnessing the world chip away at your child’s innocence is uncomfortable.
Trusting that everything will be okay is uncomfortable.

Realizing you’re not nearly done on this wild ride and that it will never end is—you guessed it—uncomfortable.

If you dislike being uncomfortable like me, know this: You are not alone. Also, sometimes our greatest and proudest parenting moments result from being uncomfortable.

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