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Lights, Squirrel, Stripping Santas

I don't have to tell any parent that December is the busiest, most hectic month of the year. I can feel the anxiety and expectations of the holidays bubbling up in my stomach just writing that sentence. It's the same feeling I get on a roller coaster as I'm slowly going up the steep incline about to plummet down. Both experiences are fast, thrilling, create everlasting memories, and there's always that feeling of joy when I make it to the end alive. I love the excitement and magic.

The first Christmas with just me and the kiddos is one that the they love to talk about. It will be a legendary family memory that we will still laugh and smile about when they are all grown up. It's funny how we can give our children so many different experiences, but they will choose the ones to remember that mean the most to them.

I had no idea how that first Christmas was going to turn out. Nevertheless, I was hopeful, concerned, and determined to preserve as many of the kid's holiday traditions as possible, which also meant hosting our annual ugly sweater party. That year, the roller coaster had a few extra twists and turns.

From other blog posts, you are aware of my bestie Natalie. She is continuously pushing me out of my comfort zone; it's one of the things I love most about her. She had a big plan to bring extra Christmas magic that the kids needed that year. Natalie wanted to sneak into our home after the kiddos had fallen asleep and decorate the entire house for Christmas so that when the kids woke up, they would come down the stairs and think elves had been there. At the time, we lived in a large, 7 bedroom house and had a ridiculous but gorgeous amount of Christmas decorations. I thought she was totally crazy and told her no way; that would never work. However, when Natalie is determined, it happens.

After the kids were tucked in fast asleep, we worked all night barely talking to each other, which we usually have a hard time getting things done because we chat too much. By about 5 am, we had accomplished our mission. Natalie hid out in the guest room, more like passed out, while I got the kiddos up to get ready for school. Their reactions were worth staying up all night. The next day when I picked up my then 12-year-old son Oliver from school, he said he thought about it all day, and it must have been magic because there was no way I could have done that all on my own in one night.

With the inside decorated, I set out to tackle the outside on my own. In previous years, we had paid to have lights professionally installed. So my youngest and I headed to Home Depot. He wanted every lawn blowup he could see. Trying to keep it simple, we settled on a light-up reindeer and sleigh combination and a few wreaths. It felt empowering to take this project on my own. If Clark Griswold can do it, I certainly could figure it out.

On the day of our ugly sweater party, I set out to assemble the sleigh, reindeer, wreaths, and string lights around the two evergreen trees on either side of our front door. All the kids were home, and my youngest was eager to help. Unfortunately, I learned not all the outlets were in working order. It was also confusing what switches in the garage turned out which outlet. With my 7-year-old, Tennyson helping, we only managed to string one of the trees upside down, so the wrong plug component was to plug into the outlet at the end.

Nevertheless, I told myself this was a learning curve, and I felt pretty confident about my light installation abilities. Neighbors walking by even admired our work with very encouraging words. Then came what has become the infamous sleigh incident.

All of my good friends describe me as a steady, level-headed person. That's also the person my kids see 99 percent of the time. The one percent is from the sleigh incident. They should have just labeled the box, a million pieces, impossible to assemble good luck. Every time I got a part of it together, something would fall off. But, seeing that this project required a person to have a dozen hands to be successful and mom's frustration level rising, the kids were more than willing to help.

We could not get this sleigh to stay together, and our communication was going just as well. Then, finally, I hit a wall, and the events and frustrations of the past year all came flooding out. I was holding in so much that year to keep things normal when the year was anything but ordinary.

I don't remember exactly what came out of my mouth. I just picture something similar to the tire scene in A Christmas Story. One of my besties, Seann, showed up because she received an SOS call from my daughter that mom is melting down over a sleigh. Seann has established herself as my ride-or-die friend many times. Just with a look, she validated all my feelings and managed to deescalate the situation. Somehow we ended up successfully assembling the sleigh, and it was beautiful. Looking back, the kids, Seann, and I all find this hilarious and laugh over it now, especially when we get out the sleigh every year. That nightmarish sleigh in our front yard has become a beautiful symbol for our family of perseverance. Naturally, though, I will never make a purchase like that again unless it comes preassembled!

With the house fully decorated inside and out, we were ready to host our party. It also happened that Oliver had the lead role of the Nutcracker in a local production that afternoon. He had dreamt about this role since he was four and in his first show. I have earned my Ph.D. in multitasking with three kids, but that entire day and night would not have been possible without Seann and Natalie's help. I cannot stress enough how important it is to find your tribe and let them help.

The kids were overjoyed with the turnout, and my heart was filled with so much love from friends. My divorce was still pending to be official the next month. I hadn't seen a lot of these people since my marriage imploded. I was well aware there was a lot of small-town gossip going around that I had decided that I wasn't participating in or validating early on.

That night, the kids had authentic genuine smiles because this was our biggest ugly sweater party ever. We even had impromptu salsa dancing. The party didn't wrap until well into the morning hours, and all the love our community showed us that night made me feel everything would work out.

The surprises didn't stop that year. The evening after the Ugly Sweater Party, I was making dinner when I noticed something mad dash from the kitchen to the main tree in the family room. I do not do well with rodents of any kind. The boys and I went into my room and shut the door in a panic. I remember Oliver grabbing towels and stuffing them under the door, so whatever terrifying creature was out there, it wouldn't get in. I was trying to think of a game plan. Leaving our house and going to a hotel wasn't off the table. After a while, I realized we might be slightly overacting. I opened the door and slowly walked toward the living room. Our three dogs were all oblivious that anything was happening, and this was pre covid, so Covid Cat was not yet with us.

I used a phone a friend to call Seann's husband Mark. He wasn't available immediately, but Seann's son Jack and his sitter Andrew showed up to help, but probably more because the story seemed ridiculous. The creature left our tree but was insanely fast that we couldn't even tell what it was. Mark showed up, and now 6 people were searching the house. The youngest was Tennyson, who thought this was fun and hilarious and told us several times the rodent was sitting on a blanket on the back of a chair in the kitchen. We continued our search, and sure enough, I saw it, sitting on the back of the chair in the kitchen just watching all the commotion like we were its entertainment. It was a small squirrel! I backed out of the room. Mark didn't miss a beat; he scooped up the blanket with the squirrel inside and tossed it out the back door. Coincidently, I was storing drinks out that door for the party, so it was open a lot the night before. Last week, Tennyson asked if we could have a squirrel in the house this year because that was so fun.

That year, my ex had the kids the first part of Christmas break, with them returning home at 9 pm the night before Christmas. Knowing this was the first Christmas on my own, my parents offered to come on Christmas Eve and spend the night. They brought a Christmas Eve feast with them that I wasn't expecting but was super grateful for because I would have just eaten cookies in between wrapping gifts. While my mom prepared dinner, I wrapped gifts in the basement. My dad sat down in a basement chair to keep me company or could have been to get out helping in the kitchen. I turned off the episode of Shameless I was watching because that just didn't seem like a show to share with my father. Tossed him the remote and said, put on anything you want. He scrolled through the Christmas movies and settled on Bad Moms Christmas because he had never seen it. So, I got to share the experience of watching stripping Santa's dance on a bar and a man getting his balls waxed with my dad.

I got all the wrapping done and had a nice dinner with my parents away from the TV. I am one of four, so I never get to be an only child and have them all to myself. When the kids got home, they were elated to see their grandparents. Everyone put on matching PJs and ate a lot of cookies before calling it a night so Santa could make his appearance. Christmas morning was magical because, of course, my parents brought a crazy number of gifts for their grandchildren. The presents took up half the family room that year. However, when the kids talk about that Christmas, they don't remember many presents. Instead, it's opening gifts together, Papa putting their toys together, and playing with all of them, including a whole family Nerf Gun battle.

I knew I was determined that year Christmas would be spectacular. I wasn't going to dwell on the past year and feel sad. Instead, I was going to soak up all the love and moments of joy I could find. As it turns out, those moments were ones I had no control over; they made themselves. So when that roller coaster of holiday magic came to an end, I was grateful with a full heart, and yes, I wanted to do it all over again. Unfortunately, no matter how many times the kids ask, I won't be able to recreate that Christmas. Still, I know great unexpected memories and moments will come. That's what makes it a wonderful life!


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