How Can We Celebrate When We Can't Have It the Way We Want?
Here’s something funny that both new motherhood and a pandemic have in common: It’s easy to lose track of what day it is.
For most of us, we don’t have those usual time markers. No Friday evening happy hours after work. No school buses making their usual stops on our street. Nowhere to rush to. Weekly grocery shopping trips are now done with the click of a button at home instead of a pleasant Sunday outing.
In spite of all the changes, there’s still plenty to do. Dishes and laundry must get washed. Dinner still needs to get made (or ordered). Our babies still need to be fed. As much as we might put it off, we do have to shower eventually. We might be tracking in outside dirt less often, but somehow our floors seem to get just as dirty (or moreso!) as they did before. It’s enough stuff that I definitely find myself questioning, “Didn’t I just do this? How can it possibly be time to do it again already?!”
We are so adaptable.
We’ve figured out how to work remotely and stay connected with loved ones in a safe way. We’ve pushed through fears of contracting COVID-19. We’ve sanitized and then sanitized again. If we’re lucky, we’ve also figured out some modified self-care with new morning rituals, at-home workouts, or at least a few extra minutes in a steaming hot shower.
When you look back and really think about it, we should be amazed at ourselves. But, let’s be real, all this adapting is draining. Every pivot tests our mental capacities and zaps our energy stores.
Professor Aisha Ahmad of the University of Toronto speaks about the “6-Month Wall” during times of crisis. Many of us definitely hit that wall this summer and we are still trying to muddle our way through it.
This is just the very tip of the iceberg. There are bigger issues weighing on all of our minds.
What will happen with the presidential election? When will there be a vaccine and will it not only be effective, but also safe and accessible? What natural disaster is Mother Nature going to throw at us next? How as a nation are we going to make it through this long winter?
There is so much we don’t know and so much discomfort and chaos we’ve had to accept just to make it through the day. It really makes life hard to plan for.
And now, look—it’s already November. (Excuse me, WHAT?!) The holiday season is upon us.
There’s one takeaway from October (well, OK, there are MANY takeaways, but here’s just one), we can carry into the holiday season: Halloween has shown us that we are going to have to modify our expectations for the holidays.
Although Halloween is a holiday that we don’t typically expect to gather indoors for like we often do for Thanksgiving or Christmas, we still had to make adjustments to keep Trick-Or-Treat Night within a reasonable level of COVID safety. Thankfully, we were still able to participate. I know that wasn’t an option everywhere. And I’m so inspired by the creative ways families have been able to still make the holiday memorable for their kids.
And that’s exactly the heart of what I want to talk about today:
Why we should celebrate even amidst the chaos and how we can do it.
Esther Perel, a relationship expert and child of Holocaust survivor parents, once said, “In my community, there were two groups of people: There were the ones who did not die and the ones who came back to life.” According to her, the difference is that some came out of the trauma of the Holocaust too wounded and fearful to allow themselves the experience of joy and pleasure again and others insisted on experiencing it as a celebration of life and a refusal to die.
In other words, they were able to "turn tragedy into victory”.
I’ve always been struck by the power in that comparison, but never more so than in this present moment. We are living through something big. It’s hard and scary and none of us will come out of this experience unchanged. It reminds me that there is still plenty to celebrate. That, as long as we are here, we deserve moments of joy, pleasure and celebration. But no one is necessarily going to give it to us. We have to make it ourselves.
Now let’s state the obvious: We can’t do things the way we’ve done them before.
Maybe there are no big holiday parties to go to this year. Or at least, probably a lot more individually wrapped party food and hanging outdoors, weather permitting. We might not do much traveling for the holidays. And it might not be worth the trouble of dragging out every single ornament this year. For some of us, these things might be blessings in disguise. For the rest of us though, these things can feel tragic and unfair. There might be family members we don’t get to see this year. Certain dishes we won’t get to eat because we aren’t gathering quite like we used to—and no one makes pie quite like grandma does!
But not everything has to change.
If you’re big into gift-giving, online shopping has made that really easy. Picking out your freshly cut Christmas tree can still be safely done, since it’s outdoors. For all the technological advances we’ve made in communication (just imagine the pandemic without Zoom!), I still don’t know a single person that doesn’t love getting a holiday card in the mail. And, I promise, busting out your favorite holiday decorations is still worth it, even if those in your household are the only ones that will see them. (I’m predicting people will go especially nuts this year with the outdoor holiday lights because, darn it, don’t we all need a reason to smile while driving away from the safety of our homes to the store to pick up more disinfecting wipes?)
The point is, safely do what will bring you joy in this crazy world to celebrate what matters to you most. Because you deserve joy, your family deserves joy, and it’s so healthy for your family to see you feeling joyful.
So, if we have to do holidays differently in a year that consistently laughs in our faces whenever we plan anything, how do we move forward? Consider what is really calling to you.
What do you want for your little family?
Before you get too involved in planning anything, before you drag the boxes of holiday decorations out of storage, before you thoughtlessly jump into doing what you’ve always done (it’s amazing just how much of what we do is automatic!), the first step is to consider your core values and what you’re really longing for.
Maybe do a little journaling on this and definitely have a conversation with your partner about this too.
Consider: What are your favorite things about the holidays? What is the most meaningful to you? What makes you feel connected and loved? What holiday memories do you hope your children will carry with them as they grow? Then, consider how you can hold these values in a way that is safe and realistic, given the pandemic and everything else you have on your plate.
If travel is out of the question for Thanksgiving dinner this year, what could you do to help you feel connected to family while you have a smaller-scale Thanksgiving meal at home? You might do a Zoom call during dinner with family members. You might serve dinner on your grandma’s antique china dinnerware that has been collecting dust all these years. You might try your hand at your great aunt’s famous sweet potato pie recipe. Maybe you could even Zoom with her while you make it for a one-on-one tutorial and quality connecting time. (Even better, what if you saved a recording of the call and shared it with the whole family?! Talk about a family heirloom!)
Or, if you’re getting stir-crazy at home, can you plan a small staycation instead? Lots of hotels, cabins and AirBnB’s are making adjustments for COVID concerns. And if you can determine what travel parameters will make you feel safe, then you can find something that fits. One example from a mom I know: she and her little family found a cute cabin that they could get to and back on a single tank of gas. That way, they wouldn’t have to stop in any of the little towns along the way, reducing the risk of spreading the virus.
If you’re concerned about what your babies are going to remember about the holidays or worry about them missing out on connecting with your parents and other relatives, first of all. I completely get it. So many of us are mourning that right now, but I think that couldn’t be truer for those of us with a new baby at home.
Let’s try to shift our perspective a bit: How can we seize the opportunity of this time to make our own magic?
What if you called your mom up and asked her one question about her life every single day from now until December 31st? What if you recorded her responses, either on video or good old fashioned pen and paper? What if you compiled all of those responses into a book or movie? Between now and the end of the year, you’d have 61 questions and answers that paint a fuller picture of who your mother is that your baby could cherish for her entire life.
These are just some examples. Only you can know what matters to you most and I know you have it in you to innovate a little bit.
As you dream up and plan out your holidays this season, I have 10 important tips to keep in mind:
1. Manage boundaries and expectations with other friends and family upfront.
Let them know what you’re willing and unwilling to do this holiday season and explain why. By now, we already know whose feathers will get ruffled by our refusal to travel for visits. Let’s tackle that head-on and hope that they understand, given the circumstances.
2. Stay flexible.
It can be hard to know how to plan ahead when our plans can be so easily thwarted by circumstances. Dream up backup plans for your plans and be ready to pivot last-minute.
3. Let spontaneity take over whenever the chance arises.
Young children are great at inspiring this, but babies can do it too. Just think about how much fun babies have destroying wrapping paper or making a mess of their smash cakes! All we have to do is follow their lead. Sometimes as we get older, we forget that we can be just as imaginative as young children are, but they’re so good at helping us remember!
4. Create romance, don’t wait for it.
Ask your partner to slow dance with you any opportunity you get (who cares if you’re still in your pajamas with spit-up on your shoulder!). Hold hands. Talk to each other about something completely unrelated to kids or work or chores. Find reasons to laugh together.
5. Sometimes you just need to fabricate a reason to celebrate.
It doesn't have to be an official holiday or major milestone. Baby started giving you slobbery wet kisses? Hot fudge sundaes all around! Curious about who makes the best tacos in your city? Get several delivered from multiple taco shops and make it your mission to find out! (Maybe even celebrate with a margarita when you finally find the winner!) Just happy that you survived another week this year? Sounds like as good a time as any for a living room dance party!
6. It’s OK to grieve the memories you can’t make right now.
Because time and memory always have their way with us all, grief and celebration go hand-in-hand. Let yourself feel sad or angry about what you’re missing out on right now. The only way out of it is to move through it.
7. We never know what memories we will cherish later until later comes, so act as if it could happen at any moment.
Stay open and flexible. Sometimes our most cherished memories are the simple ones on ordinary days.
8. Do for someone else. If you’re feeling down about the holidays, this one never fails to give a boost. Give used baby clothes to a mom in need. Pay a bit toward an elderly neighbor’s electricity bill. Donate to a cause that matters to you.
9. Remember that not every holiday will be like this. No one knows exactly what “normal” will look like once this pandemic is over, but one thing is for sure: It won’t always be this hard.
10. Remind yourself that you matter and are worth the trouble. Period.
Burn the expensive yummy candles. (They sure smell better than hand sanitizer!) Dress your baby up in every fancy or seasonal outfit they have and take photos just for fun. They’re gonna grow out of it all way too fast anyway, so you may as well. And if you have to choose between baking your favorite holiday recipe or pushing to lose 5 pounds, now is the time to bake!
Lastly, I want to again validate any sadness or frustration this year has left you with. 2020 has overthrown so many of our plans, holidays included.
I hope you find your reasons to celebrate too because you and your family deserve it. Here’s to our resilience and joy in spite of it all.
Esther Perel’s TED Talk, “The secret to desire in a long-term relationship” where you can hear her speak about the aforementioned quote at about 11:00-minute mark. See also: An amazing conversation between Dax Sheperd and Esther Perel in Armchair Expert podcast, episode 101, where again she talks about the aforementioned quote from about about 6:00 minutes to 12:58.
Advice on adapting and supporting yourself through the “6-Month Wall” in this article: Professor Ahmad’s Six-Month Wall: Rehumanizing The Virtual Workplace
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