Picture Perfect Holidays?

Hello there! Many of you know I’ve been spending most of my writing time on my second novel. Almost at 100,000 words (around 300 pages)! But that doesn’t leave me much time for writing blog posts. Then, throw in the busy holidays..and, yeah. Not really happening. So, I thought I’d repost some of my past ones. Hope this one is helpful for your holiday gatherings 🙂


Disclaimer: The alternate title for this post was “Disney Lies.” But I didn’t want to be accused of being a Disney hater. I’m really not. I love Disney, but I think you’ll get where I’m going in a minute so stick with me:

You’ve probably all seen the advertisements for Disney. But I’ll set the stage for you, anyway. Sweet tinkly music plays as parents tip-toe into their wee cherubs’ room to surprise them with a Disney vacation. Said cherubs awaken with smiles on their faces, leaping for joy at the news.

Cut to the Magic Kingdom. There are no lines or crowds and parents look on happily as their children, with stars in their eyes, meet Mickey, Minnie, Donald & Goofy. There is no whining, crying, arguing. Just pure bliss & happiness with a good measure of gratitude implied. Picture perfect vacation. Yeah. Right. No lines? Grateful children? Ha!

Okay, here’s another one for you. A commercial for Family Game Night:

Two adults, two teens and two kids are gathered around a table. There’s an overflowing popcorn bowl on the table and everyone is laughing. Game play is fast-paced and no one is arguing over who’s turn it is. No one is getting mad because they’re losing. And no one is crying because he can’t keep up with his older siblings. Once again we see pure bliss and happiness. Uh-huh.

You can replay this type of scene from a myriad of commercials. For everything from baking Pillsbury cupcakes together to going out to dinner as a family. Everyone is always so happy. So content. And without realizing it we buy the goods. Not the actual goods. Not the cake mix or the board games but we buy the lie that we can have the “ideal” vacation, game night, dinner out or bonding experience.

The truth is, there’s no such thing as the perfect vacation or holiday meal. And when we set our expectations so high, reality hits like a tsunami. Now, I’m not saying we can’t have great times with our families. But I think we sabotage ourselves with unrealistic expectations. I’ll give you an example from my experience.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, we recently had the opportunity to go on a Disney Cruise for a fraction of the cost. We’d been saving for our first big family vacation anyway so this was a perfect fit. And while the kids had an absolute blast, Bill and I decided by day two that we wouldn’t do a family vacation again any time soon. Like in the next five years or ten years. Haha.

You see, “Eight” and “Ten” can’t stand each other and “Fifteen” and “Seventeen” aren’t exactly peacemakers, even though they try. We have a pecking order. Seventeen tends to parent Fifteen who bosses Ten and then all of them try to parent poor Eight. He doesn’t appreciate that and he’s not the type to kick the cat, so he just yells a lot. At home, I’ve often thought I should wear black and white stripes and a whistle.

Independently, they are truly fabulous kids. Every one of them. But put them together in a room and they can all turn in to petty, easily-offended, argumentative, prideful brats. (Nope…not gonna sugar-coat it…although I will say that Seventeen has matured incredibly over the past few years, so I know there is a light at the end of the tunnel.)

Our hope for this vacation was that they would be distracted by all the awesome things to do on the ship and they would take a break from arguing with each other. WRONG. Cuz wherever you go, there you are. It went something like this:

Me: “Kids, isn’t this awesome? Look at this gorgeous ship!”

Eight and Ten: “I want to push the elevator button!” “No, I want to.” “You pushed it at the hotel.” “No I didn’t!! You did!!” Etc. Etc. Etc. [Insert pushing and shoving.]

Fifteen and Seventeen: “You guys are ridiculous. What’s wrong with you?? Blah, blah, blah.”

Me and Bill: “Seriously?”

Yeah, that was how most of the week went when we were together. And because we subconsciously built up expectations of the “perfect vacation” in our heads, when our kids acted like they always do, we got frustrated. Quickly.

And it got me thinking…we do this with so many things! How many times have you decided to take your kids out to dinner or the movies only to have them bickering over stupid things making you wish you’d hired a sitter?

Now, at Christmas time, I’m struck by how we do this with holidays…all the time. We have this idyllic, Christmas carol picture in our minds. “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”

So when family members fight, or the present we wanted to purchase is sold out, or Uncle George drinks too much eggnog again…we wonder what’s wrong with us, with our family. Why can’t we have the perfect holiday like everyone else? But there’s the lie. We all have frustrations and struggles. There is no perfect. As a matter of fact, often the holidays are the most horrible time of the year for people who have lost loved ones or are just feeling alone. All of the hype about the perfect Christmas gift, meal, _________ (fill in the blank) often magnifies the stresses of life.

But we can have great times together. I’m convinced we just need to adjust our expectations. When we place such high expectations on our family members, they are bound to fall short of those expectations, as are we! Then no one is happy because frustration and disappointment live in that space between our expectations and our reality.

Yet, if we expect them to have their bad moments and we are prepared ahead of time to offer grace, the outcomes can be very different. I’m not being a scrooge nor am I advocating a negative, “glass-half-empty” approach to life. I’m simply reminding myself and encouraging you to give some extra grace to your loved ones as well as the strangers you’re standing in line with at Target this season.

Expect more crowds, traffic, bad weather, arguing children…all in a realistic, not pessimistic way. And then you will be pleasantly surprised when a stranger lets you merge into traffic or your children actually make it through a round of Uno without arguing.

I’ve been quoting the following proverb to my kids for years so I was thrilled to hear Seventeen quote it on the cruise, at one point, when Eight and Ten were being easily offended by each other:

“Good sense makes one slow to anger,
and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”

Proverbs 19:11

Amen to that. Wishing you a Merry Christmas as you adjust your expectations and enjoy your reality!



(Originally published Dec. 21, 2012)


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Welcome to our crazy…

2859898406_2ff6e7dc31Hello again, my fabulous readers. Thanks for tuning in for part two. If you didn’t read my last post, you can find it here. I was talking about how well things were going, one particular day. And, I promised that I’d also share a day that didn’t go so well, just so you don’t get the wrong impression of our family. You know…the impression that because you see smiling pictures of us or because I wrote a book or a blog, we must have it all together, all the time. Yeah. Not.

So, the background for this story goes like this…

My parents live an hour and forty minutes from us (on the other side of Rochester) and mom had planned a family reunion with her extended family. It was scheduled for a Sunday afternoon at 3:30. Well, my youngest turned nine that week and my dad’s birthday was three days later. So, we thought it made sense, since we were driving out there already, to celebrate birthdays before the reunion.

Our church service gets out between 12:15 and 12:30, so we set the birthday party for 2pm and planned to leave right from church.

But when I told Eighteen the plan, she said she couldn’t leave that early. She’s a small group leader in the middle school group and it was the first Sunday of the school year. She had to stay to meet the parents. Okay. Recalculating.

I called my mom, asked if we could push it to 2:30 and just make it really fast, knowing that extended family would be showing up at 3:30. She said that was fine and I told Eighteen we’d pick her and the boys up at the middle school area at 12:45pm, sharp.

So, the weekend arrives and I’m feeling quite sick. (It only took two days of school for one of mine to come home sick and kindly share it with me 😉 Now, Eleven had been begging, for months, to take over Fifteen’s dog watching business. This particular weekend, he had his first solo job, watching our neighbor’s dog, Dakota.

Well, Sunday morning rolls around and I’m still feeling pretty bad. So, I stay home from church and Bill drops the boys off at church, then comes back home to watch the service online with me and help me get ready for the trip to Rochester.

And then the crazy starts. We’re walking out at 12:35…actually ON TIME (which is somewhat miraculous) because I knew the whole schedule was extremely tight. But as I head toward my van, I suddenly think, I don’t remember hearing Eleven go to the neighbors to let Dakota out this morning. Crap. I don’t want the neighbors to come home to a mess and I don’t want Eleven to get fired from his very first job.

I run next-door, let myself in and call for Dakota, while texting Fifteen to have him ask Eleven if he had already done it. Nope. So, poor Dakota comes shuffling toward the stairs. Now, Dakota is very old. I remembered hearing that you need to support her belly when she goes down the stairs so she doesn’t fall. I try coaxing her, “Come on sweetie, come down the stairs.” She stands on the top stair, looking down but not moving while visibly shaking with the effort of considering that first step. I feel so bad for her and yet time is ticking, so I scoop her up (she’s not small) and carry her all the way out of the house, setting her on the driveway.

“Okay, Dakota. Go potty.” Tick-tock, tick-tock. She just shuffles around on the driveway. Meanwhile Eighteen and Fifteen are texting me, wanting to know why I’m not there yet. Oh my goodness. I pick her up again and set her on the grass. (By the way, it’s hard to text and carry a dog at the same time.) She kindly does her business, I scoop her back up, take her inside, lock the doors and run toward my van.

As I run, I glance at my black shirt and pants and realize I’m covered in white dog fur. Covered. I motion to Bill, who’s been patiently waiting in the van, that I’ll be right back. I run inside and grab some duct tape and head back out, making a duct tape lint roller, which I use, liberally, in the van.

We arrive at church, ten minutes late. Bill goes in to get Eleven, while Eighteen and Fifteen climb in the van with Nine. Eighteen says, “So…where are we stopping for lunch?”

I turn around. “Are you kidding me? We have NO time.”

“Well, I haven’t eaten all day!”

Deep breath. You’re eighteen. You live in your own apartment, but it’s my fault you didn’t eat breakfast?  “Between you having to leave later and then the dog, we are down to the wire on time. There is no way we can stop.”

“Well how am I supposed to know that? Stop freaking out.”

“You knew that we were tight on time. I had to change the time of the party just to accommodate your schedule! And I’m not freaking out.” I probably did NOT say that sweetly. She says some not-so-sweet things back to me and the temperature in the van drops below freezing.

Bill gets back into the van, having no idea that we’ve just had a nice little shouting match. We pull away from the church and Eighteen says, “Wait, can we go back? I’m not sure I locked my car.”

Deep breath. TICK-TOCK. Bill turns around and since she’s all the way in the back, I say, “I’ll just get out and check it.”

She says, “Why are you FREAKING out? Geez!”

We all turn toward her and all the boys say, “She didn’t freak out at all. YOU’RE freaking out.”

Bill, smart man that he is, has now realized something must have happened while he was in the church and I can see his jaw twitching.

I get out. Confirm that her doors are locked and we are finally on our way. But, tempers have now flared. Eighteen is not being nice. Bill is getting angry. I’m already angry. And poor Nine just starts crying because everyone is fighting on the way to his birthday party AND we’re going to be late. Fabulous.

Everyone settles into a tense silence as we head toward the thruway. Where Bill realizes we are almost out of gas. Yup.

He says we can stop at the next exit. Meanwhile, Eleven, who has just gotten contacts, says, “Mom, I need to take my contacts out!”


“Cuz, I’m really tired and I keep falling asleep but I’m not allowed to sleep with my contacts in. Three “S’s” remember? No Sleeping, Showering or Swimming with contacts in?”

Eighteen (our other contact wearer) says, “That’s silly, it won’t matter if you take a nap.”

Eleven argues, “No, they told me I couldn’t do it. I need to take them out.”

“Fine,” I say. “I’ll run into the gas station while dad gets gas. It’s a truck stop. They probably have contact solution.” TICK-TOCK.

Thankfully, they DO have contact solution. We get back on the thruway and I fill the little contact cups with solution so Eleven can remove his contacts.

Two minutes later, he starts to panic. “Mom, I didn’t wash my hands first. My eyes are burning. I can’t get them out cuz I need to wash my hands first!”

Eighteen, from the back again, “It’s fine. You can take them out without washing your hands.” The voice of experience does nothing to calm the newly indoctrinated “3S’s” contact wearer.

“Mom, they’re burning! I need to wash my hands.” He starts to cry.

Bill, remaining quite calm, pulls off at the rest stop and offers to take Eleven into the bathroom. TICK-TOCK.

While waiting for them to return, (Bill has noticed that they have a sale on sun glasses, so he has stopped to buy some while Eleven was in the restroom.) I start to text my sister, who is already at our parents’ house, with a bullet-point description of all that has transpired to keep us from being on time. (My dad ALWAYS makes fun of me for being late. Always.) We get back on the road and I’m still typing for some time. Poor sister doesn’t even like to read and she’s about to get a novel from me. I end my extremely long text with these words:

“And now I’m gonna puke, cuz I wrote all this while riding in the car and I’m car sick…but I had to. It was therapeutic. Pass this on…I don’t want to hear ONE damn word about us being late. I’m not in the mood.”


Haha…yes. All of us at our finest.


We only ended up being about fifteen minutes late. We had a record-breaking cupcake and present opening celebration and finished before any of the reunion-goers arrived. And the day turned out to be a lovely day with family.


But, I just wanted to share a little of our crazy with you. Cuz I’m betting you have those crazy days, too. Now you know you’re not alone. And if anyone acts like or tells you they never have those crazy days, they’re probably delusional lying.


Oh, and I checked with Eighteen, before I posted this. I wanted to make sure she didn’t mind me telling about our not-so-sweet road trip. She had a completely serious, blank look when I asked her. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Remember, two weeks ago, when we went to Rochester and we were all fighting in the car?”

“Hmmm, I have no recollection.” (Amazing that I can remember something in such detail and she has absolutely no recollection.)

Bill chimed in, “Remember, you didn’t know if you’d locked your car…we went to grandma’s for a family reunion…”

“Oh yeah. Weird, in my mind, I drove myself that day.”

Bill and I just laughed. And I asked her if I could include that part in this post, too. She said sure.

So, apparently, this whole day may or may not have actually happened.


Photo Credit: Raymond Bryson at Creative Commons

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