FILED IN: Parenting

I’ll have an eggnog. And make it a double.

Well, the Halloween candy has been condensed down to one bowl, and all of the Fun Size Snickers have been picked out of it. You know what that means. It’s time for Christmas preparation.

Am I the only one who dreads this time of year? I make Scrooge look like Martha Stewart.

It used to start after Thanksgiving, but nowadays, right after CVS marks down the flammable SpongeBob Halloween costumes and moves them next to the laxatives, Christmas takes over.

The boxed sets of fugly, sparkly Christmas cards. The plastic candy cane tubes filled with red and green M&Ms and topped with the severed heads of licensed kiddie characters. The articles in women’s magazines detailing easy methods for making festive napkin rings out of things you can find buried under the sofa cushions.

Oh, God, I’m depressed.

There’s something about a drugstore window display with cheap foil wrapping paper stapled to the sides, featuring a Styrofoam snowman listing drunkenly, that makes me want to reach for the Zoloft.

Every year it’s the same nonsense. I say I’m going to get everything done early. That’s always the plan. This way I can just shuffle through the actual day of Christ’s birth in a Zen-like fog, trying to find a happy place to go to in my brain so I can calmly rise above the sugared-out children and the sullen adults tearing paper off of L.L. Bean gift boxes. So I can pretend to be thrilled with the ten-pack of trouser socks.

Who am I kidding? I’m always the idiot at the dollar store on December 23rd looking for stocking stuffers. I buy three packs of knock-off Dove soap and cheapo crayons that are all wax and no tint. Hair scrunchies and Brand X 500-count packages of paper napkins.

And what do I get for my pains? Confused looks and heavy sighs from the kids. Ungrateful children.

Some of my disillusionment comes from years of effort gone unnoticed. Lord knows I’ve tried. I used to haul the kids off to Sears for the family Christmas portrait, threatening them with a stocking full of coal if they didn’t smile and look happy, dammit. (I even IRONED THEIR CLOTHES beforehand so they looked less feral.)

I’ve stayed up till the wee hours on Christmas Eve assembling race car tracks that would perplex Watson and Crick. I’ve suffered pine needle puncture wounds dragging surly Douglas Firs into the living room. I once waited hours in the emergency room for a tetanus shot after accidentally stepping on glass ornaments. Did anyone notice? Heck, no! Did I get a thank you? Nope. Santa got all the credit.

Once upon a time, though, I had the Christmas spirit down. I was in the game. I remember the year I popped popcorn and strung it up with cranberries.  I researched and compared different stuffing recipes, eventually settling on a version calling for oysters and corn meal. I took out a second mortgage and bought a huge assortment of candy and frosting and graham crackers so the kids could assemble a “gingerbread” house. I brought my children to the family service at church and actually sang along to “Come All Ye Faithful.” And, to my shock and delight, the Almighty did not smote me. Yup, I did all that!

One of the blessings of age is being able to say that I did it. And now I don’t have to do it anymore.

Part of me admires the good-hearted folks who put Christmas wreaths on the grills of their cars. Who get weepy at the piped-in Christmas carols blasting over the loudspeakers at K-Mart. Who wear holiday themed sweaters with matching ornament earrings. It must be nice to exist in their world. Or at least, exist on the medication they’re on.

But that’s not me. Now it’s all about getting through the season with the least amount of pain possible. This involves getting a fake, pre-lit tree and a lot of Bailey’s.

Thank God for online shopping. It allows me to avoid the primary-colored fluorescence that is Toys ‘R Us. And thank goodness for my iPod. While I’m plugged in I can tune out “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” making one more year I can avoid committing murder. Another blessing of the season is the avalanche of Perfect Family Form Letters that arrive daily, providing hours of mirth and merriment.

All that aside, I think the main thing that drives mothers nuts this time of year is seeing the true nature of the monsters we are raising. Greed, gluttony, sloth…my darlings are the poster children for the seven deadly sins. Can I have this? I want that! Are those ALL the presents? Aren’t there any more?

The only thing that will combat that is having them sweep through their playroom, the one filled with wonderful toys they’ve never even opened. I’ll make them collect a few and take them down to the post office where they are collecting toys for needy families. From families like mine who are needy in a different way.

We need something more during the holidays. It’s not another cheap pashmina wrap or another gift certificate to the local day spa. Don’t worry; I’m not getting preachy. But the only thing that makes me feel good this time of year is giving something, anonymously, to someone who really needs it and appreciates it.

That, and finding a way to unload the platter of Hickory Farms crap that I just received in the mail.