Happy Holidays – Whatever That Means to You

Merry/Happy Something

It’s the end of December, and avoiding a holiday of some sort would be a difficult task.  This is the time of year that emotions and social activity seem to hit a crescendo, sounding a tone that provides a soundtrack for our lives for at least a few weeks, if not more.

As the activities increase, often so do the responsibilities…and the expectations…and the preconceptions…and the guilt.  We want to make sparkly shiny holidays to remember for our families, and we try either to overdevelop or hide these Martha Stewart-esque tendencies as we go about our professional lives.  We entertain fantasies of moments under the mistletoe based on Hallmark Channel movies, (you can admit it – this is a safe space), while trying to maintain a tough, no-nonsense attitude on the jobsite.  And we make donations to the Charleston Animal Protection Society by buying their annual Firefighter Calendar (FIREFIGHTERS WITH PUPPIES) while trying to pretend we’re really excited by the annual ASCE Bridges calendar (okay, maybe you are, but FIREFIGHTERS WITH PUPPIES).

The holidays don’t change the issues we deal with the rest of the year.  We’re multi-faceted, interesting women who can’t be pigeonholed.  The only way we can reinforce that idea is to share with each other all of our stories and special moments to affirm their importance.

We wish you a fabulous Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Winter Solstice/After-Christmas Shoe Sales, or whatever you’re celebrating.  Good luck making a papier mache lobster head, or baking 4,000 cookies, or finding the perfect gift, or even getting your hands on a signed copy of the ASCE Bridges calendar. Let us know what fabulous things you’re doing – here are our versions:

Helen- Christmas is a Checkbox

Right now a lot of things in my life are a blur and get finished “just in time” or are deemed noncritical and shuffled to another list.  If possible, this kicks into an even higher gear during the holidays.  Christmas has always been one of my favorite times of the year, and was one of the reasons I wanted to have my wedding in late December.  Now it is more than a little emotional since I got divorced last year.

At this time in my life I am in Mama Bear/Warrior Woman Mode, or MBWWM for short.  I typically sleep 4-5 hours a night and then charge about the rest of the time from one thing to another, juggling two demanding part-time jobs, involvement in professional societies, three young children, multiple sports and activities for the older two kids, one Brownie troop, and a partridge in a pear tree.  The days are long but the years are short, as they say.  My life exists in lists: grocery (of course); long-term professional endeavors such as technical paper topics; what is due this week in school: homework, quizzes, pretzel money, basketball sign-ups, contribution to a class party, or the book fair; clients to reach out to for business development; and what we are planning for the next scout meeting, outing, or camping trip.

There are also the worries: are my kids eating healthy enough, brushing their teeth sufficiently, getting enough exercise, doing okay with the divorce, making the right friends, learning enough in school?  Is it time to go through their clothes and sort things that don’t fit, give some toys away to charity or to younger cousins, or potty train the youngest?  Am I progressing quickly enough in my professional career, is the specification I wrote sufficient for that project, will the contractor change the schedule yet again, and am I getting exposure inside my company and beyond it? These worries don’t stop because of the holidays- if anything they intensify for me.

I am not just playing Negative Nancy to Peggy’s Suzie Sunshine.  The “before-children me” avidly followed Penn State football and Phillies baseball, loved having dinner parties and making breads and desserts, read books from numerous genres voraciously, loved hiking with my dogs on the weekends, binge-watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, ER, and the X-files, and made plans to have drinks with friends bi-weekly.  But right now I am the “single-mom with young children me” and much of that has been pushed aside while I have fully taken on this role.

But I am very fortunate to have met women through professional societies who report that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  Their children are grown and they are free to travel, work more, play hard, and rediscover themselves.  An overwhelming majority of them are divorced as well, which I thought was interesting enough to point out, but I won’t speculate on this point today.

So, if all that is part of my “normal” life, what does it mean for the holidays?  Aside from more lists: addresses for Christmas cards and gifts for the bus driver, teachers, the kids’ nanny, etc., it means instilling hope, love, and thankfulness in my children.  I carry on the traditions of lighting an advent wreath at family dinner, cutting down our own Christmas tree, going to Christmas Eve mass, and leaving cookies and milk out for Santa.  We have new traditions including making gingerbread houses, seeing a festive movie with the scouts, and doing good deeds with the help of our Kindness Elf (not Elf on the Shelf!).  It also means stopping to appreciate the wonder that a 7, 5, and 2 year old experience on Christmas morning and expressing the gratitude that I feel toward my family and friends, and especially my parents, for the support they give me.  Then I’ll cross Christmas off the list and move on to the next thing!

Peggy- It’s a Wonderful Life!

I grew up in a very close, Irish Catholic family, and we had more Christmas traditions than I could describe.  In addition, I am a hopeless romantic, and the sparkly happiness of the holidays feeds right into my rather ridiculous love of all things sappy and festive.

Every year I hear and read endless comments/articles/doctoral theses about how difficult the holidays are and how tragic it is that everything is so commercial.  But I tend to take the opposite stance.  I love the holidays because there is more optimism, more kindness, more love than during the rest of the year.  A pessimist would say it’s sad that people can’t be as kind and generous as they are during the holidays.  I say isn’t it wonderful that people are better versions of themselves for part of the year?  Doubters decry the commercialism of Christmas; I am happy that the holiday gives a number of people money to feed their families, and the constant commercials make some people take a moment to reach out to loved ones when they normally would not.  Yes, I am Suzie Sunshine, and I’m not sorry.  The guys on my construction sites get homemade cookies from me, and they’re not sorry either.

Many of my favorite things are holiday-related, because the season seems to act as an amplifier for emotions and reactions.  My favorite date scene in a movie is the shopping/dinner date in the 1994 version of “Miracle on 34th Street.”  My favorite dance scene in a movie is the Vera Ellen/Danny Kaye number at the club in Florida in “White Christmas.”  My favorite shopping day of the year is my annual day at the mall in December with my mom and my little brother.  And although it’s not my absolute favorite food, I absolutely love spending 5 or 6 hours making fruitcake in mid-November from my grandmother’s recipe and soaking the 12-pound cake in bourbon every week so the family can enjoy a little bit of family history at Christmas dinner.

It amazes me when clients ask for last minute drilling the week before Christmas, but I’m much less angry than I am when confronted with unreasonable requests the rest of the year.  And sexist remarks have much less sting when Harry Connick Jr. is singing about Christmas Dreaming in the background.  The happier I am, the stronger I am to take on those who don’t believe in me.

Even if you don’t live in my little glitter-filled, sugarplum-encrusted world, I hope you can find a way to experience some joy in the holidays (FIREFIGHTERS WITH PUPPIES).  Every little bit of happiness makes you stronger, and there’s a lot of stray bliss lying around during the season.

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