Can you believe we’re into the final months of the rest of this year AND this decade?!?!? It’s been a wild couple of weeks here, during a wild season in a wild year….ok, in a wild lifetime. Is there any other kind?
While you’re reading this, we’re (hopefully!) in downtown Calgary doing a little live T.V. segment about the documentary. My parents and sister fly in this afternoon because it’s Thanksgiving week here in Canada, so there’s a ginormous turkey in our fridge and a bazillion brussel sprouts, too; won’t the children will be so delighted? (Never fear, we also have sweet potatoes and marshmallows hidden away.)
Tomorrow will be cooking and baking and feasting and toasting– and then all the cleanup. A couple of days after that, Nick and I hop on a plane (thanks Mom and Dad!) to go visit a misty little corner of the world that’s been calling to us, and take a couple nights on our own to process all the intensity of the past few weeks.
Then we’ll be back to lessons and carpools and orthodontist appointments and laundry and Halloween costumes– all the normal chaos of life with five kids.
I’m feeling particularly poignant right now about how quickly time is passing. Maybe it’s because our documentary was filmed almost exactly a year ago, and it’s impossible not to see how much has changed in the past year. Maybe it’s because there are more big changes on the horizon for us this coming year, and I can feel them rushing toward me with sweet urgency. Maybe it’s because our two littlest are on the verge of turning 6 and 5 in a couple of months, and something about no longer having a four- and five-year-old feels so bittersweet– they really aren’t babies any more, or even toddlers. They’re BIG, as they keep reminding me. And by the time the rest of this year is gone, they’ll be even BIGGER.
It’s also this danged time of year: leaves falling, the air turning crisp and cool, pumpkins bulging all over the place– or, if you live in Alberta like we do, 12 inches of snow on the ground already. It makes everything feel a little more saturated, extra vivid: strong poignancy notes with a hint of melancholy and a bright berry finish.
And then, friends, the holidays loom– just over the horizon, lurking, lying in wait– and for so many of us, that’s like jumping into the tallest twisty speed slide at the waterpark, the point of no return, the place where all our plans and good intentions and goals fall away and we find ourselves delirious in a shopping mall at 7:45pm madly buying things we can’t afford for people we don’t even like.
So let’s take this moment, loves. Right now, mid-October, before it all speeds into such a whirl that we can’t catch our breath.
I always do a new year ritual in November— I look back at the past year and make plans for the year ahead. Once that’s pinned down, I can let myself just surrender to the gleeful but mad swirl of the rest of the year, knowing my clear-eyed plans will be waiting for me in January when I emerge, bleary and trying to remember my own name.
But it’s not time to think about next year yet. Let’s focus on the rest of THIS year first. Here’s the most valuable thing we could all do in the next few weeks:
Commit appropriate resources to yourself for the months ahead.
Pretty good corporate-speak, right? I bet even your boss’s boss would sign off on that.
In other words, SWEAR TO YOURSELF THAT THIS YEAR WILL BE DIFFERENT.
This is the year when you won’t let yourself get run ragged. You won’t take care of everyone else and then end up frazzled, empty, and resentful. You won’t over-give, over-work, over-shop, over-care until you are depleted and worn and exhausted and in the red in every way possible.
OH MY GODDESS wouldn’t that be just amazing?!?!?
Here is the thing: you will have to steer VERY HARD THE OTHER WAY the rest of this year in order to resist this. There are enormous forces marshaled against you: the advertising industry, intense forces of socialization, families of origin, and a host of glossy magazines and instagrammers who will be tugging on the wheel, steering you right toward empty.
If you go with the flow, you’re almost guaranteed to feel like a wrung-out dishrag by the end of the year. That’s not because you’re weak or you didn’t get organized enough or you just don’t have the requisite willpower. It’s because there’s a tornado of pressure, intensity, emotion, food, alcohol, noise, guilt, longing, and social pressure that’s about to roar into your life.
So what can you do to weather that storm?
Commit appropriate resources to yourself.
The key word here is “appropriate.” Hmmmm, what would be appropriate? Let’s start by taking stock of all the roles you will fulfill in the coming 3-4 months of the rest of this year. Here are a few that are probably on your list:
Head gift giver, shopper, and wrapper, social coordinator, mayor of fairness, deadline watcher, lesson-coordinator, potluck cooker, party outfit picker, holiday card designer, packhorse, holiday meal chef, food preference and allergen watchdog, family outing coordinator, pageant costume designer and god help you sewer, extended family hostage negotiator, school lunch maker, emotions manager, maven of mornings, laundry ceo, meal planner, tip arbiter, gift consultant, driver, clean-up crew, decorator-in-chief, travel agent, parent who shall still parent with all the normal parenting fervor and commitment even with all the extra things you’re doing, spouse or partner to someone who still wants a good portion of your attention and affection, pet feeder and walker and excrement-cleaner-upper, OH AND STILL DOING YOUR NORMAL WORK plus all the extra year-end wrap-up projects from all the frantic people who are frantically frantic-ing that it’s suddenly the end of the year.
Are you exhausted just reading that list? Well I’m sorry. Except actually I’m NOT sorry, because when you look at EVERYTHING you’re going to be handling over the rest of this year, it really seems absurd to expect you to carry on without some extra support in place, doesn’t it????
Why yes it does.
Absurd and kind of mean, honestly. You’d never demand such a thing of an employee, someone you manage, a friend, or even a kid.
So don’t do that to yourself. I beg of you. It isn’t kind. And it’s counter-productive, because when we let ourselves get run ragged, we tend to get sick, get snappy, get resentful, and get grouchy. We overspend, we stay up late, we let our vital energies leach out and then wonder why we aren’t our usual creative, bright, sharp selves.
So. Given what you have coming up in the next few months, what is just gosh darn REASONABLE to put in place?
I have some ideas.
1. Outsource everything you possibly can. Laundry, grocery shopping, present shopping and wrapping, cleaning, driving things to the post office and picking up the dry cleaning, addressing holiday cards, sewing costumes, and anything else that you can possibly think of. I promise there is someone in your community who would be delighted to earn some extra holiday money doing these things for you.
2. Block off some mental health days for yourself. You must LITERALLY block them off in your calendar, immediately, now, today, and I suggest you label them in code so no one tries to encroach on them with their needy needs and neediness. “Strategy meeting with Bob” or “Quarterly data deep-dive” should do the trick. The whole point of these days is that you don’t fill them up with holiday-related chores, mmmkay? They’re there for you, for your mind and heart and creative spirit, for rest and breathing and downtime and comfort and filling back up. But even if, worst case scenario, they DO end up being stocking stuffer trips, at least that’s better than doing that at midnight while weeping.
3. Set a cap on how much you want to spend. It’s sort of shocking how all the holiday spends can add up. There’s nothing wrong with big beautiful generous gifting, if that feels really joyful to you. But sometimes we deny ourselves the things we REALLY want– a trip, that fabulous handbag you’ll use for a decade, tickets to your favorite show– while spending gobs and gobs of unconscious money on– who even knows?!?!?! It can be wildly illuminating to decide how much you’d like to spend on the various people in your life, and the various events (from Halloween costumes to Thanksgiving decorations to December presents, meals, parties, and thank-you gifts) and add it all up. I predict the total amount will stagger you. Ask yourself if another pair of socks and a tie clip for Uncle Bernie are really the best way to show your love. Notice just how much you’re willing to spend on the people you love, and resolve to include yourself in that list.
4. Book ironclad yet JOYFUL appointments that you can’t wriggle out of. I am thinking of things like massages, dinner with friends, manicures, orchestra tickets, massages, yoga classes paid for in advance, a hike with a family friend who never cancels, buddy workouts, massages, a hair appointment, a styling session with your personal shopper. Did I mention massages? These things might seem frivolous, but a little gentle tenderness for our own sweet bodies will go a LONG WAY toward keeping us strong, vital, and resilient– and they’re usually the first thing we let slip when things get busy.
5. Enlist support. One way or another, you’re going to be the engine that gets you and all your loved ones through the rest of this year. Therefore your mental, emotional, and physical vitality are not secondary; they’re of vital importance. This is not the time to skimp on taking care of yourself or try to bootstrap your own support crew. You need good clean fuel to propel you through this season. So get support. Line up extra sessions with your therapist, commit to working with a delightful coach who’ll help you come out of the other side of this season not only alive but happy, arrange a sitter so you can go to extra 12-step meetings, book a weekly walk with a kindred spirit, show up authentically in that online group you’re part of. We aren’t supposed to do any of this alone. Not only are we entering one of the busiest seasons of the year, it’s also the one most fraught with emotionally intense triggers, people, memories, expectations, and situations. So be tender with yourself, and be fierce about creating space for that tenderness.
Listen, if I sound like a curmudgeon who is grinching on all the upcoming merriment, it’s actually the opposite. I LOVE THE HOLIDAYS. I’m totally going to make my family go around and do gratitude shares at our big Thanksgiving feast. (We’ll also talk about how problematic Thanksgiving is, considering what our white ancestors did to the people who were here first, because that’s an important part of observing this holiday too.) We’ll carve pumpkins and string spiderwebs and go all out on costumes and decorations, and we’ll festivate all the festive birthdays, and when we come to December, I’ll go all the way over the top with my 24-day advent calendar of daily holiday rituals. (Not an exaggeration). Come New Years I will wear the sparkliest dress and drink the fizziest champagne and toast to all the wonderful things that may come.
But part of why I love the holiday season so much is that I do a ROBUST amount of preparation. I batten down the hatches, make plans, get all kinds of help, shore up the foundations, make sure I’m working with a coach, start early before I think I need any of it, and put a whole lot of bolstering fortifying nourishing strengthening comforting cheering soothing plans in place for the rest of this year.
Now listen; this all sounds good in theory, but I know that when you look at your list of to-dos in a minute, it’ll immediately become clear that there is no way in hell you possibly have time to do even one of the things on this list.
When it is suddenly the third week of November and you’re breathing into a bag, I PROMISE you will wish you had done them now. The rest of this year is only going to get busier.
Try it, dearheart. You deserve to have the loveliest winter. You deserve to actually enjoy the celebrations coming your way the rest of this year. And most of all, you deserve to come out on the other side of next year satisfied and replete, so you can turn your face eagerly toward whatever comes next.
Because when you declare dominion over your own life, you get to make sure whatever comes next is effing gorgeous. Don’t settle for less.