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  • Melissa Westemeier

a fresh start

We tried something new and pretty radical this year for Christmas. For years I've done all the mom things required of me, baked and shopped and wrapped and decorated and un-decorated and organized and mailed and planned. My baby is 15 and we're well past the magical phase of Christmas. To shift the focus and alleviate the burden this year I declared an escape. Instead of the traditional celebration, we'd go on vacation. Kind of like the Kranks, but without the regret and last-minute backing out--we weren't boycotting the holiday, just making it what we wanted it to be.

I booked a trip to the Florida Keys (more on that shortly) and downsized the rest of our holiday plans. Team Testosterone balked. I countered by handing each of them index cards where they could write the two things they most wanted to do for Christmas celebrations--if somebody wrote "get a tree and decorate it," by golly, I would make it happen. But if they didn't care about the things, well, I wasn't going to make it my duty and obligation. One kid wrote things on a card. The rest couldn't be bothered. So, while my colleagues and friends fussed and checked their lists, I packed a duffel bag with shorts and swimsuit. I paid the neighbor kid to check in on the cats. I put out a few decorations that pleased me and did the bare minimum gifting.

We went to the airport on December 22nd and I made some discoveries this Christmas.

1. No one in my family seemed to care about not opening presents. We agreed that we have everything we need and most of what we want, so the extra gifts at the holidays are definitely superfluous. I was relieved to not have to act excited about a gift I didn't want to get, nobody's expectations got out of control, no one felt disappointed or indebted.

2. I do enjoy decorations. I don't mind not having a tree, but I appreciated the beautiful lights and decorations, especially at the airports we traveled through. Miami International and Chicago's O'Hare put up some stunning displays. Even Appleton's little airport had a sweet gift-wrapping station for travelers disembarking their flights. The select few things--a wreath, the olive wood nativity-- I put out at our house please me.

3. I don't miss baking and we had plenty of treats between the work parties and other holiday gatherings. If anything, I feel less bloated and gross by not adding to the mix of cookies and candy.

4. I enjoy giving the perfect, thoughtful gift. I didn't miss checking lists and endless wrapping and the fear of missing someone. Downsizing this part of the holiday eliminated a lot of stress for everyone. The kids got money from their grandparents and bought what they wanted, I don't feel overwhelmed by having extra possessions and we were able to focus more on other aspects of Christmas, like reflecting on God's great gift to us and spending time as a family together.

5. Going somewhere new over Christmas is fun. My kids, however, hated it, and I'll never do this to them again. But I will definitely take myself somewhere over the holiday season in the future to enjoy other people's decorations, food, festivities and traditions. So home we'll stay for the next few years' of Christmases, but I won't rule out another escape--maybe when they have their own homes and traditions D and I will travel.

6. The Florida Keys is awful. In hindsight, most of the people who raved about it are middle-aged and mainly like to sit around and drink. Our family should've gone to Mexico instead. We prefer a more active vacation, the kind of spots where we can grab snorkel gear and go explore or hike a trail. The Keys are crowded and don't offer nice beaches, the snorkeling and fishing are not good since Hurricane Irma and everything is touristy-trappy to an exponential degree. The resort where we stayed was clean and nice, the people were all friendly and helpful, we ate some good food. But the weather was lousy (strong wind from the north meant a small craft advisory, which meant no kayaking or riding wave runners or swimming or sitting around wearing just a swimsuit). Booking this particular vacation was a mistake. We can all say "been there, done that," but we definitely won't do it again.

Last night I spent New Year's Eve in bed with a box of Kleenex, chugging from a bottle of Mucinex Cold/Flu medicine. Today I've caught up with a lot of reading and resting and now it's time to look ahead--2020. My new book is close to publication, I have an idea for my next writing project, and I hope to return to Room 209 without my head fogged up with decongestants.

Spill it, reader. What traditions have you successfully rebooted in your world?

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