My dad, wielding the champagne bottle, Charlie, my brother's partner, and me, surviving New Year's Eve dinner.
My dad, wielding the champagne bottle, Charlie, my brother’s partner, and me, surviving New Year’s Eve dinner.

It’s January 3, I’m on Day One of my post-holiday austerity plan (no booze, kale for lunch) and trying to remember what happened over the past four weeks. Well, for one thing, I didn’t write a damned thing that I wasn’t paid for. Also, what do we think the shelf life is for a gluten-free chocolate cake that’s been in the ‘fridge since December 24?

Never mind. The purpose of this post is to share with you, after nearly a month off, what I’ve learned about surviving the holidays. Every year I say that I’m going to take it easy, that I’m going to be prepared, that it won’t be stressful. But it always is, goddammit. There’s no way to get through it all without some stress, particularly if you have children or family of any kind, but I’ve got some helpful tips. Which are no good to you this year, but maybe you’ll remember.

  1. Go out, right now, and buy Christmas crap. It’s probably picked over, but here’s what I’m getting for next year: A ton of little gift bags, ribbon, festive tissue paper and a box of generic holiday cards. Put it in a bin, and then put a reminder on your phone for November because if you’re anything like me, you’ll forget. Then, next year …
  2. Buy a bunch of iTunes, Amazon, Starbucks gift cards. Also, little bottles of liquor (those were a hit) and little packages of coffee beans. Then, assemble a bunch of little gift bags with the generic cards, coffee and gift cards for people like your dog-walker or your regular babysitter or the UPS guy or the neighbors. One year, our neighbors all brought us stuff and I had to send Steve to the store to buy 12 bottles of wine and a bunch of gift bags. This year, we were READY. (And only two neighbors brought us stuff. Oh well. It’s the thought that counts.)
  3. Give something to the garbage collectors. We gave ours booze, and the recycling guy was so appreciative that he got out of the truck and wheeled the emptied bin back up the driveway. It’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
  4. Ship gifts directly. If your family, like mine, lives out of state, you have two choices: Pony up for the gift-wrapping at your favorite online store or gift-wrap yourself and ship by Dec. 10. (See No. 5).
  5. Ship by Dec. 10. If you don’t, the little weasel at the post office will try to scare you by telling you that your giant box of gifts won’t make it by Christmas. By Dec. 14, the post office is like Mad Max. You don’t want to be there with your kid. Trust me.
  6. Find a funny picture for your holiday card.  We kept putting off the family-in-front-of-the-fireplace-with-the-timer thing, so two weeks before Christmas, Steve and I just picked a funny/cute picture of our kid and that was the holiday card. I still can’t believe how many compliments we got on that card. Lesson learned: No one cares what you look like, mom and dad. It’s all about the kid. Particularly if he’s adorable, like mine.
  7. Screw your rules about drinking and eating. During the rest of the year, I only drink three times a week. But during December? Please. And don’t be that person at the party who goes on about overeating during the holidays and it’s BAD and food is BAD. You’re a big bummer. Just have the damned Buche de Noel and shut up.
  8. Let your kids watch TV.  Maybe you had an idyllic childhood in Vermont and you spent the holidays sledding and caroling. That’s terrific. I remember spending a lot of time watching “All My Children.” And I lived in Northern California, where it’s always 60 degrees out. Winter break is for allowing your brain to turn into mush. It’s fine. Jeez.
  9. Rent a car. This is hugely controversial with my parents, but we do it anyway whenever we visit. Because even if your parents make their car available to you whenever you want it, you’re still borrowing your parents car. Like you’re 17 years old. You’re already sleeping in your childhood bed with your spouse, so do this thing. Then you can escape.
  10. Even if they make you crazy, try to enjoy your family. I’m saying this now, 24 hours removed from my family visit. But I’m really glad that I have family to visit during the holidays — that my parents’ marriage is intact, that they’re healthy and that my brothers and I like each other. Yes, we all revert to ancient roles and rituals when we’re together and my husband has to retreat to the solitude of his iPad and ESPN,  but it’s good. It really is. (And my mom reads my blog.)

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