"What is that?"
"That! That music!"
"I don't know. Sounds like Christmas music."
"Yes! It's Bing Crosby! And all he sings are Christmas songs!"
So went the exchange between Sam and me on a family trip to Menards in September. As if I needed any other reason to loathe Menards, they were piping in Christmas music prematurely. I started hyperventilating, and right when we were boarding that magnetic moving walkway that transports customers with their carts up to the second floor and back. I had to grab onto the handrail to keep my balance, until I ended up looking straight into the eyes of a plastic reindeer that was on display. Unfortunately, reindeer in September aren't soothing to me. I sat down on one of the display toilets at the top of the walkway for a minute to compose myself. But then a gruff contractor wearing coveralls and a pencil behind his ear shooed me off so he could see the toilet's model number.
You might think I was overreacting, but I don't need anyone to push Christmas at me any faster than it's already coming. Every day that Christmas grows closer, I feel the walls closing in more tightly.
I'm not alone, of course. Lots of people feel pressure at the holidays. I just feel more pressure. That's because I'm one of those unfortunate wives whose husband's birthday falls a week before Christmas. I secretly scorned my in-laws for giving birth to a child on December 17 and then selfishly handing that child off to me, 25 years later, to handle the delicate issue of a Christmastime birthday. But then, a few years later, I gave birth to our daughter on the very same day of the year. That's right, there are now two people in my house who were born on December 17. For that, B and I have no one to blame but ourselves. (But really, I blame him.)
The reason that it's stressful to have family birthdays in December (aside from the obvious reasons, which are that you're strapped for cash and can't afford birthday presents in December, and you have to wedge birthday parties into an already overbooked party season) is that you have to take pains to clearly separate a mid-December birthday from Christmas. For instance, you have to be very careful how you wrap the presents. If a person has a birthday on December 17, and you hand that person a present wrapped in paper that looks even remotely Christmasy, you should quickly take cover, because Hell hath no fury like a December birthday boy receiving a birthday present wrapped in red or green. And unfortunately, more colors have become associated with Christmas as savvy designers stray from the traditional, leaving us very few safe colors for mid-December birthday presents. Silver and gold, of course, are no-nos, thanks to our pal Bing; and blue, pink and purple are really out too. And yellow is too close to gold. Once I even tried wrapping birthday presents in black wrapping paper, but then I was accused (accurately) of using clearance Halloween wrapping paper, and apparently that's offensive too. You can't win. By mid-December, it's also hard to find a place in the house that's not decorated for Christmas; last year we had to open birthday presents in the laundry room.
B is celebrating his 40th birthday this year, and for a time, the planning for this celebration only amplified my stress. After all, the Big 4-0 calls for a Big celebration! However, for years, B has been talking about putting another garage on our property. Why, you ask? I'll explain for those of you who are uninitiated city natives, like me: it's common in rural areas for homeowners to have multiple outbuildings, or garages, on their property, the purpose of which can range from snowmobile storage to poker parties. Because we a) don't live in a rural area (although my siblings and father might argue that), b) don't own any snowmobiles and c) our house has successfully accommodated several poker parties, I didn't see the need for us to add yet another space that I won't be able to keep clean. But, B works hard. He plays hard. He grew up in the country, and he's been dreaming of this garage for years. Therefore, his 40th birthday gift is a 1350-square-foot building at the edge of our property, much of which B built himself, and which we have dubbed The Party House. There. One present down.
The Party House is still in progress, but it's getting close to being finished. In fact, if we feel the need to add to the already overwhelming strain of the holiday season, we can do what we did last year, which was invite our entire neighborhood over for a Christmas party. About 70 people showed up, and when that many people are in your home at once, you never know what's going to happen. One neighbor, William, repeatedly exclaimed, "How brave of you to invite us all into your home! How brave!" He expressed the sentiment more and more as the eggnog flowed more freely, and I began to wonder what he meant. Were people stealing from us? Did someone clog the toilet? Or, Heaven forbid, did someone go into the laundry room and see the pile of junk that I shoved in there during a last-minute cleaning panic? Just then, one of the little girls from the neighborhood confessed to me that she'd dumped the gigantic bowl of Chex Mix on the floor. No stranger to spills, I was about to console her, but then suddenly her demeanor changed from remorseful to accusatory. "But YOU left it right on the edge of the table! THAT'S why it fell over!" And then she stormed away. I cleaned up the Chex Mix, and although I would never serve it to guests, I nibbled on it myself throughout the holiday season. Yes, William; I am brave.
One of my sisters and my brother also have birthdays in December. In case you've lost count, that's four birthdays I'm responsible for commemorating in a month that already includes the birthday of the Savior and Redeemer of the World. My brother, however, is so averse to aging that he insists that we not even acknowledge his birthday. I don't argue, because he's really hard to buy for. And the poor guy's birthday is on Christmas Eve. If I told my in-laws that we were skipping Christmas Eve at their place to celebrate my brother's birthday instead, you can bet I'd find something worse than coal in my stocking Christmas morning.
The flurry of December birthdays keeps me so busy that I don't get to do everything I'd like to do during the month. Like caroling. I've always wanted to go old-fashioned Christmas caroling, where you get a group together to go door-to-door around the neighborhood singing, wearing muffs and sipping wassail. But I'm afraid that even if I found the time to cajole a group of friends and family into actually dressing up like Victorians and singing at people's doors, we'd be arrested. So I've decided that I'm just going to carol on my own continually through the month of December. That way, everyone can enjoy my off-key rendition of "Mele Kalikimaka" while I'm cleaning, baking, shopping, and wrapping birthday presents in nondenominational clear plastic.
Another thing I'd like to do that I never have time for is make decorations. Unfortunately, my lack of talent and artistic ability makes it really difficult for me to create things like the adorable felted wool owl ornaments that I've seen on Pinterest. Even those projects that claim to be "easy" and "made with materials you already have on hand" are anything but. Last year, in my attempt to find something the kids and I could make in a couple of hours with things we had "on hand," there weren't a lot of choices. (And I wasn't about to make the trip to Menards to get anything.) I don't have on hand different sized embroidery hoops, rolls of canvas, or metal primer. In fact, the only project I found that we could make with materials we actually had were these pathetic-looking trees made of twigs. And when I told my kids that we had to gather the twigs first, Sam argued that if we had to go out to the yard to gather the twigs, then that wasn't really something we had "on hand." (He's lucky Santa left him anything last year.)
So here we are, nearing the middle of November, and I can feel the minutes ticking ever closer to December and the boom of birthdays. You know, I didn't appreciate it when I was young and didn't do anything in December except make an ornament in Sunday School and watch A Charlie Brown Christmas. I might have done more, except I also spent an inordinate amount of time compiling a detailed list of everything I wanted out of the Sears catalog and being disappointed every year on Christmas morning when not one thing from my list was under the tree. I could elaborate, but that's a story for another time. Perhaps after I finish therapy. And included in my therapy sessions will be the trauma I suffered by hearing Bing Crosby at Menards in September.