Survivable Holidays: Adapting to a New Kind of Christmas

Just over a decade ago, my husband changed jobs. His new position required frequent moves to be able to climb the promotion ladder. We’re talking cross country moves, not unlike military families. In the past ten years we’ve lived in Missouri, Washington D.C., Utah, New York, and now Colorado. For the most part, it’s been a fun adventure. We’ve always managed to coordinate our moves in the summer months, and were able to buy/sell houses, then settle in, without disrupting the kids’ school schedules.

This last move has been unlike any other. It mainly boils down to the terrible housing market. Our New York house, which had been fully updated and perfectly staged, languished on the market for weeks, then months. It went on the market in April and by late summer, when we should have been settling into our new home in Colorado, it still had not sold. It soon became apparent that the tidy moves we’d had in the past were not going to transpire this time around.

Christmas joy comes from being with people you love.

My husband moved out to Colorado with the two younger boys, who had to start elementary school and high school in mid August. Our oldest son then had to be dropped off for his freshman year of college in Utah. Our oldest daughter remained in her apartment in New York. I drove the boys out to Colorado, then flew back to New York to do anything I could think of to get that house sold.

This chain of events led to our first ever apartment rental. Even when we were first married, my husband and I have always chosen life in a teeny tiny house, over a larger, newer apartment. We liked our own space.

But with school looming, and a mortgage still due in New York, we broke down and rented a condo. It’s not quite 800 square feet, but it’s clean, it’s managed well, it’s affordable, and best of all, it’s right across the street from the boys’ schools.

The autumn months continued to roll by, with no offers on the New York house. I finally flew back to Colorado to join the family. To say it’s been a bit stressful would be somewhat of an understatement. Not just having our housing situation eating us alive financially, but managing life with very tall children in such a small space. Fortunately one of my GeekMom super powers is the ability to find joy in taking a scene of chaos (life with four children) and keeping it organized.  My powers have been used extensively in the past six months.

My son and nephew - best of buds

 

And now it’s the end of December. The house finally sold, at a 70 thousand dollar loss to our financial picture, and the movers have packed up all of our things and loaded them on a truck. My college boy will be home for his holiday break in just three days. His older sister has decided to move out to Colorado also, and is staying with us while she locates her own apartment.

So if I haven’t totally lost you in this story, that translates to mean six people will be sharing this almost 800 square foot living area. Five of them are adults, whose average height is six feet tall. That’s the situation we find ourselves in, now that Christmas is around the corner. Time to call in my GeekMom super powers once again.

Since all of our worldly possessions are in that moving truck, and will end up in moving storage until spring, we have no familiar holiday decorations gracing the mantel or draped over windows. All of my holiday dishes and serving plates are in storage. All of our preschooler created ornaments, the pipe cleaner candy canes and toilet paper roll angels, will remain rolled in bubble wrap until this time next year. We have four white walls and a few token pieces of furniture we scored at the local thrift store.

But it’s still Christmas. Especially for my just turned eleven year old, who just learned about the secret of Santa last year. He puts on his big boy face most days, but when it comes to kid holidays, he’s still four years old in his heart. We can’t just coast through this holiday season. We have to make an effort, some kind of unique new kind of effort, to make it a special holiday for my baby boy.

New Lego sets on Christmas - Santa's the man!

And so, as happens in all life challenges, we adapt. We re-group and don’t let it bother us that this holiday is coming at a really inconvenient time (February would really work better for me this year….is there any way to vote on this?).

My daughter and I stumbled upon a pretty great little tree at the thrift store yesterday. Just big enough to feel like Christmas, not big enough to take up valuable floor space in our tiny environment. We bought a few inexpensive ornaments, mainly colorful glittery snowflakes, to add color. We’ll cut out millions of tiny snowflakes and maybe even string some popcorn this weekend. By golly, we’ll have a tree, upside down life or not.

Years like this are actually good for me. I’m forced to pare down the expectations, to include only those that work for us this year. Our kitchen barely has a counter at all, so big batches of homemade cookies are out this year. But keeping in touch with people we love is on the top of my priority list, so the Christmas cards are in envelopes and ready to be mailed. The real estate fiasco drained our bank accounts so the pile of gifts under the tree won’t happen this year. But all four of my children will be here, in my nest, when we wake up Christmas morning,  and they will spend the day playing in the snow together, playing board games, and making new inside family jokes. Those memories will last much longer than any battery hogging gadget I could find at Radio Shack.

Some years my focus is on creating the holiday spirit. This year my focus is on surviving from day to day – getting six people showered, fed and out of each other’s hair as much as possible. But it doesn’t mean Christmas will be any less special this year. In fact, because it’s so out of the ordinary, this might be the one they remember most, when we’re reminiscing in the years to come.

In all of my years of raising a house full of kids, especially the years we moved them and their belongings across the country and back, I’ve finally come to accept that sometimes life doesn’t play out like the Good Housekeeping magazine articles. Sometimes you just have to stop the frantic forward motion and reassess. There are lots of ways for Christmas to feel special. And honestly, not many of them include maxed out credit cards and stressed out moms.

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