Lots of heavy stuff going on in my life with LM right now…but it’s Christmas Eve, so let’s do a fun post of holiday movies. I haven’t gotten around to seeing all of these this year before Christmas, so I deem it perfectly OK to celebrate Christmas past December 25, right through the end of the year. Isn’t Christmas supposed to be 12 days, anyway?
As a Christmas movie aficionado I feel myself qualified to name the movies you should watch, and ones you should skip. It will be tempting to share these all with your kids while they are home for winter break and driving you nuts, so I’ll include some parental advisories.
Do you agree with my list? In no particular order:
Love Actually: This is definitely one to watch after the kiddos have gone to bed. Lots of cursing and (possibly unnecessary) nudity. And some latent sexism. But despite all that, it’s hard not to love the spirit of this movie. How can you not feel a rush as the kids put on “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” or choke up as Colin Firth declares his love in broken Portuguese? Despite it’s flaws, for pure Christmas spirit, this one makes the list.
Elf: Will Ferrell goes all in, in his hilarious portrayal as a human adopted by elves who comes to New York to find his birth father. It may bring up some questions about adoption for kids, but everything is presented positively. The clash of Buddy’s pure innocence and his father’s New York cynicism is a great combo. So many great lines, it’s hard to pick a favorite, although “Santa, I know him!” comes close.
Holiday Inn: I’m not a huge fan of White Christmas — I prefer a younger Bing Crosby and the original version of the song, performed in Holiday Inn. Yes, there is a very unfortunate blackface scene (which is usually shortened for television). One could argue that’s just a reflection of the times, although that doesn’t completely excuse the bad taste it leaves in your mouth. But if you can move past that, this wonderful movie starring Fred Astaire shows off dancing and songs from the golden era of Hollywood.
Christmas with the Kranks: OK, you might think I’m a little crazy for including this comedy with Jamie Lee Curtis, Tim Allen and Dan Aykroyd. But after discovering it on cable a few years ago, I can’t stop watching. Why? I think I’m intrigued by their neighborhood, which, although for most of the movie is extremely nosy and all up in the Kranks’ business, at the end comes together to save Christmas. I wish I felt that way about my neighbors. As JLC says at the end, they have shown her “the true meaning of community.” Love that. Oh, and “Free Frosty!” Hilarious.
Meet Me in St. Louis: This year-in-the-life movie takes place in turn-of-the-century (you guessed it) St. Louis. I want to live in their house, a grand old Victorian. I want to wear those gorgeous dresses. Full of nostalgia for a time that probably didn’t even really exist, this movie features my favorite Christmas song, Judy Garland’s original “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” And the family dynamic, four sisters and one brother, makes me want to be part of a brood of five kids.
The Family Stone: This is another recent movie that might surprise you to see on the list. The characterizations are multi-layered, and I notice something new every time I see it. This year, I realized that each of the five grown kids in the family (yes, another big family) has a sweet, cathartic moment with their mother, played by the great Diane Keaton. It’s a very bittersweet, even sad, film, but it’s beautiful. Bonus points for paying homage to Meet Me in St. Louis. Some adult themes, so probably want to save this one until the kids are older.
It’s a Wonderful Life: OK, how can you beat this one? I would go far as to say this may be the best movie of all time. So relatable — the frustration at life not turning out the way you want it to. But then the realization that he did make a difference, that everyone makes a difference. Jimmy Stewart’s elation when he realizes he wants to live is so palpable, it’s impossible not to share his joy. And as he reunites with his kids and his wife, wow, such a beautiful scene. I would say, though, there is a lot of dark stuff in this movie. Not for small kids.
A Christmas Carol with Patrick Stewart: This version of the many that are out there was actually made for TV. I wrote about it when I was an editor for DirecTV’s television guide, and attended an event at the Plaza in New York. So I may be a little biased. But I love Patrick Stewart’s interpretation of this character. Watching it last weekend, I realized how timeless this story is, nearly two hundred years after it was written. How perfectly it illustrates why we should have generosity of spirit, as well as with our money. The ghost of Christmas future is kind of scary, though, and there is much reference to death and dying. I’m a big fan of Mickey’s Christmas Carol, the animated Disney half-hour version, which is more appropriate for kids, but still a bit scary at the end.
Home Alone: The ridiculousness of this movie doesn’t stop me from loving it. Beyond the pretty stupid (not to mention violent) antics of the burglars, it’s a heartwarming story about the importance of family, even as they drive you crazy. Watching it as a parent, I have a new appreciation for the mom’s desperation at trying to return home to her son, as well as her expression of pure love when she actually does.
A Christmas Story: I used to think this movie was kind of depressing when I was younger — not sure why, maybe the dark and somewhat dreary 1940s-era home, or the seeming-meaness of the dad. It wasn’t until I was older that I fully appreciated the irony that the one person Ralphie didn’t think to ask for his most wished-for present — his father — ultimately is the one to give it to him. He’s actually not mean at all! So sweet. The atmosphere of this movie, which is supposed to take place in Indiana, reminds me of Syracuse, where my parents are from and where I spent most of my childhood Christmases. Somehow I picture my dad as a little boy experiencing Christmas in Syracuse the way Ralphie does in this movie.
Miracle on 34th Street with Natalie Wood: I actually think the remake of this movie is pretty good, except that they change the ending explanation for “proving” that Santa Claus is real — why was that necessary? The original is a classic, though, even for someone who never believed in Kris Kringle. Although, I have a bit of a problem with the notion that just because a kid doesn’t believe in Santa Claus, or fairy tales, that means they have no imagination or magic in their lives. I think kids are perfectly capable of having a rich inner life of pretending and imagining, without actually believing such things are “real.” This movie, though, may bring up the question of why people wouldn’t believe in Santa Claus, so that might be something to consider if your kid does.
EDIT: Number 12!
The Family Man: I totally forgot about this great reverse-It’s a Wonderful Life, in which successful bachelor businessman Nicolas Cage gets to see what would have happened if he had married his college sweetheart. At first he thinks family life is dull, and inferior to his previous existence as a man about town, but he comes to see how it’s richer with people you love. What I love about the ending is that it sticks to the rules of the premise — this was just a glimpse, not permanent — but it is still thoroughly satisfying. It’s not totally a Christmas movie, but it is obviously inspired by Wonderful Life, and imbues much of the spirit of the season.
Close, but didn’t make the list: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (a bit too ridiculous without enough heartfelt sentiment at its core, like, say, Home Alone), The Holiday (a sweet romantic comedy but not really about Christmas), The Polar Express (never saw the whole thing, can’t get past the creepy animation), The Santa Clause (too silly).
Do you agree with my list? Did I forget any? Have yourself a merry little Christmas if you celebrate! I will be taking a bit of a holiday break but will see you in the New Year!
Every month I look forward to getting my Martha Stewart Living magazine. It’s beautifully photographed and just by opening it, I believe I am affirming myself as an organized, crafty, together person.
But once I’m done, I find out it’s actually made me feel worse.
Truth is, I have never once made a recipe from the magazine. I’ve never once attempted a craft I’ve seen there. And although I do enjoy gardening, I do not have the green thumb that the people featured in Martha Stewart Living do.
I have Martha Stewart Syndrome.
Also known as the “Plague of Pinterest,” this condition draws you in, luring you with beautiful pictures and easy-to-do activities. It promises to make you a better housekeeper, a better wife, a better mother. It holds you up to a standard of excellence that you come to believe we should all be judged against.
One of my favorite things to read in the magazine is the opening column called “Martha’s Month.” It details what she’ll be doing on each day, prosaic activities like “gutter cleaning,” “replenish baking supplies,” “schedule doctors’ visits for 2016,” to take some examples from this month. Readers also get a glimpse into her life, as she lists friends’ birthdays, events she’s attending, and dinners she’s having at her country estate in Bedford, New York. Oh, and she includes her exercise schedule, with two to three days a week of yoga, pilates, cardio and core, or weight training.
Maybe this is what I need. “Gentle reminders,” as the column’s headline reads, for all the things I need to accomplish in a month. Maybe if I could write it all down, see it in black and white, it would seem manageable, doable, organized.
I contrast this with the chaos of my life as the mom of a toddler. Is it possible to do it all like Martha? Or is that just wish fulfillment? Does Martha actually do all of the activities listed here, or are they just for the benefit of her readers, to keep up her image? When she says, “clean out closets,” does that mean her assistant is doing it? I’m sure she definitely has a housekeeper to “clean out refrigerator and freezer thoroughly.” She probably does go “cross-country skiing in Vermont,” though.
Especially at this time of year, it’s almost impossible to keep up. Christmastime is both the best and most stressful time of year. Things that are supposed to be fun, like shopping, giving gifts, baking, even putting up the tree, seem like chores. It’s a mad rush to get it all done by December 24.
Unless you’re Martha, right?
When I was a magazine editor we had a meeting to discuss what effect our magazine was having on readers. How did it make people feel after reading it — better about themselves or worse? And did that make people more or less likely to buy it?
For Martha, it seems that her readers are gluttons for punishment.
I will keep reading, though. I will keep aspiring to all of the life “hacks” that others post about on Facebook and Pinterest. “Want to have your house smelling wonderful?” one friend recently posted. “The next time your kid eats a clementine, take the peel and put it in some water on the stove. Add a cinnamon stick and some nutmeg, and it will smell great!”
Sounds simple. And I will probably never, ever do this.
All of this stuff sounds so easy. That’s the key to the marketing of Martha and everything else — it seems easy, like anyone could do it. It’s within reach. But taken together, how does anyone have the time to do all of these so-called “simple” activities?
It’s keeping up with the joneses, ’50s housewife-style. And I admit I’ve bought into the posturing. Haven’t I posted pictures on Facebook of my homemade strawberry jam? Haven’t I shown my son helping to decorate our tree? Haven’t I talked about delicious meals
my husband has we’ve cooked?
Facebook, like Pinterest, lies.
It seems like Martha is perfect. Even the “oh see how normal I am” attitude evident in the everyday activities she lists in her monthly calendar are calculated to make you believe that not only is she good at everything, her humility makes her human, too.
I don’t know Martha, so maybe she is perfect, or as close as a person could be. Maybe she’s one of those highly productive people who doesn’t waste time and only needs four hours of sleep.
Or maybe she’s just a fantasy.
Do you feel like you need to aspire to an unrealistic expectation, too? Do the holidays have you feeling like you can never accomplish enough?
The season of giving seems to have turned into the season of being pissed off — at non-traditional Santa displays, at coffee cups that don’t adequately express the holiday spirit, at the people who are pissed off about the Santa displays and coffee cups. But the biggest so-called controversy is when we should start celebrating Christmastime, as every year it starts creeping earlier and earlier in an attempt to capitalize on the holiday shoppers who are chomping at the bit to start spending money.
Some stores are rejecting that notion, in a savvy marketing move to gain publicity (and therefore, dollars) by bucking the trend. “See us, we are keeping the sacred holiday timeline!” they shout. “We uphold all the traditional values you hold dear!”
Normally, I would agree with them. I hate the commercialization of Christmas, I hate change, and I love companies that seem to stand up for what’s right in the face of what makes money.
But not this time.
“We haven’t even celebrated Thanksgiving yet!” you exclaim. “The day after Halloween, the stores roll out the Christmas decorations! It’s just wrong! Can’t we have one holiday at a time?”
This is a fair point. But here’s the thing — Thanksgiving just doesn’t have much of a lead up to it. It’s one day, and besides a bit of preparation at the grocery store or a day of pie-baking, there’s not much that happens in advance of the holiday. It doesn’t need time to celebrate besides the actual day.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Thanksgiving. It’s just not that exciting. It’s a cozy, stay-home-and-stuff-your-face-and-watch-football kind of day. It doesn’t need nearly a month of lead-in time.
But Christmas does — and more. Every year after Thanksgiving, I scramble to get in all my Christmastime reveling in the month before the holiday hits. Never mind the shopping — what about Christmas parties and cookie baking and Christmas movie watching and Santa trains and tree trimming and caroling and card writing?
It’s nearly impossible.
I’ve often thought that the holiday season needs to be more spread out. Wouldn’t it be great if we could take the calendar and just move things around a bit? There’s really nothing of interest that happens between January and April. It’s such a boring, dreary time of year. What if we could add in a little more time between the summer and Halloween, and then between Halloween and Thanksgiving, and finally (and most importantly) between Thanksgiving and Christmas? Then all the holidays could get their due, no one would be complaining that Thanksgiving is getting the shaft, and we’d be saved the boring-ness that is the winter and early spring. (At least the winter has the possibility of snow days. Don’t even get me started on the drab, dull, brown month of March.)
So this year, I’ve decided I’m OK with the blatant disregard of Thanksgiving in favor of a jump-start on Christmas. Turkey Day, I haven’t forgotten you. I will look forward to your yummy deliciousness, Macy’s parade, football, and my favorite (only?) Thanksgiving movie, Home for the Holidays.
But Christmas, I welcome you early. I don’t mind if radio stations have started playing Christmas music already — just today I heard “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” my all-time favorite holiday song from my all-time favorite holiday movie, Meet Me in St. Louis. I don’t care that I’m currently watching a Christmas commercial for the Hess truck that came on during a football game in which the players are dressed in bright red and green (a subliminal message?).
I embrace the winter-themed decor in stores, traditional or not (after all, I never believed in Santa anyway). Even though I’m still eating Halloween candy (what? better me than my two-year-old), I will start thinking about my holiday eats and actually might start my Christmas shopping.
I love Christmas, so I don’t mind jumping on the early bandwagon.
How do you feel about starting Christmastime early? Do you think we should wait until after Thanksgiving?
In my post-holiday haze, I feel like I finally have a chance to reflect back on the crazy rush of the past month. Part of me feels like I missed it. As I discovered, that’s what happens when you have Christmas with kids.
I used to have time to revel in the magic of the season. The twinkling lights everywhere, the smell of fireplaces in the air, the way everything just seemed transformed into something magical. Even the hustle and bustle at the mall filled me with warmth. I used to take my time deciding on the perfect gift for everyone, to rewatch all my favorite Chrismas movies, to simply sit and stare at the beauty of the Christmas tree in the living room.
Then I had a baby.
Last year, baby’s first Christmas, was a blur. With a three-month-old child, I was too foggy to remember much of anything. I’m lucky anyone got gifts.
This year was the first one I hoped my son could sort of participate in. No, he wouldn’t truly know what was going on, and there was nothing on his wishlist. But I thought he might be able to enjoy unwrapping gifts and playing with his new toys.
Unfortunately for me, this involved actually having time to wrap gifts and buy him presents. The holiday season went by in a whirlwind that rivaled last year’s. I didn’t have time to watch many Christmas movies, and although we did put up a tree, I felt like I never had time to truly take in its beauty. Present-wrapping occurred at midnight a couple of nights before Christmas, not because I wanted to hide them from LM (after all, we’re not doing Santa), but rather because I simply had no other time.
I’m learning over and over again that having a child just makes anything and everything else more difficult. This probably seems obvious, but it continually surprises me. Today I’ll go shopping, I think. Then a failed nap followed by a poopy diaper and a temper tantrum puts that idea to rest. This weekend I’ll bake Christmas cookies, I think, until a fever in LM turns into a bad cold for me and we’re all down for the count.
This is not a complaint – it’s just a recognition of how children change everything in your life in ways that you don’t even imagine until you have one. The day-to-day necessities of feeding, changing, and generally caring for a young one take up so much time and mental energy that it’s hard to do other things. Then you look back and say, where did the time go?
So Christmas came and went in a week of travelling around from one house to another, all filled with love and family and friends – but also with messed up sleeping schedules and bouts of crying and trying to get LM to eat something besides Christmas cookies and general parental exhaustion.
I felt like I didn’t really get to enjoy the holiday.
Then I realized that Christmas as a parent is no longer about you. It’s about your child. It’s about taking him to see family and buying him things that he’ll one day appreciate more than the box they came in. It’s about sharing with him the magic of the season and the lights on the tree and your favorite Christmas movies and songs (which will maybe one day become his favorite).
Driving home from my in-laws after Christmas, we heard Joni Mitchell’s incredibly depressing but very beautiful song “The River,” sung by Rachael Yamagata, on my Christmas playlist. As I listened to the song, a wave of sadness came over me. I remembered how I listened to it the Christmas after I got my infertility diagnosis, which occurred in October, and after we lost Samantha, which also happened in October. Those Christmases, as well as the ones in between, were such emotionally difficult times for me. I wanted a child so badly, and Christmas just somehow has a way of amplifying everything you feel, good and bad. I remember being at a Christmas party surrounded by children, and it was all I could do to keep from bursting into tears. All I wanted was a child to spend the holiday with.
And now I have one.
Happy holidays to everyone, and Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it, as I do. This week will be a whirl of family get-togethers, so Foggy Mommy might not be updated much in the next week (although check back tomorrow for a fun announcement!). In the meantime, please enjoy my 12 Days of Christmas parody, the mommy version! Thanks to my husband for helping with some of the lyrics!
The 12 Days of Baby
(I’ll start from the top)
On the twelfth day of baby, my little one gave to me:
12 loads of laundry
11 sleepless nights
10 tantrums throwing
9 ceaseless cries
8 pumps a-milking
7 silly smiles
6 slimy spit-ups
5 minutes of peace!
4 food stains
2 leaky boobs
and the joy of being a mommy!
Even before I dealt with the infertility that stunted my family-growing plans, I’ve been enthralled by families with many kids. Especially around the holidays, when everything is so focused on families and children, I get to thinking about what it would be like to be a part of such a large brood. I used to imagine myself as one of the children – now, I think of myself as the matriarch.
I have one sister, and although a two-kid household seems to be the norm when we think of the typical nuclear family, I feel like I’m increasingly surrounded by families with three, four or even five kids. And as LM gets a little older and my mind starts to wander to the possibility of trying to have another, the ease with which these big families grow makes me, well, a bit jealous. I have no idea if and how we will be able to have any more children – that’s a topic for another post. But needless to say it will not be easy. I am forever grateful for the one child I do have – after all, for a long time I thought I would never be able to have any at all. But unlike the desperation I felt before I had LM, which was a deep, all-encompassing, soul-crushing agony, what I feel now is more of a dull ache, ever-present in the background.
What would it be like, I wonder, to be able to get pregnant whenever I wanted – even when I didn’t exactly want it, which is the case in some of the large families I know. What would it be like to have to actually work hard to prevent it from happening, instead of working hard to make it happen? What would it be like not to have to say to myself at every turn, “This might be my one and only time I get to experience this”? To be pregnant not once but three, four or five times? To have the experience of another life inside you, and then to have the beautiful experience of breastfeeding, over and over again? That would be amazing. Maybe by the fourth or fifth child you are over it. But for me, I just wish I could do it again.
At Christmastime is when I think about this the most. Many of my favorite Christmas movies feature big families: Little Women, Home Alone (although there it was used more as a plot device to explain how parents could possibly not notice that one of their kids is missing). But my all-time favorite is Meet Me in St. Louis. I first saw this 1944 classic when I was in middle school. I was always kind of an old soul, and became obsessed with the nostalgia of this movie. Taking place around the turn of the century (the 20th century, that is), the film follows the Smith family, who lives in a large Victorian house in the title city, and consists of four daughters and a son. Star Judy Garland sings the classic holiday song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” a melancholic tune that was always one of my favorites, to her youngest sister in the movie. I’m not sure what it is about the Smith family that I love so much, but something about the relationship between the five siblings always fascinated me.
Another Christmas movie I’ve discovered recently that also explores the family dynamics of a brood with five children is The Family Stone, which first caught my attention because it was filmed in my hometown of Madison, NJ. In this case, the kids are all grown and are returning home with their significant others for the holiday. It’s funny and eventually kind of bittersweet, and actually pays homage to Meet Me in St. Louis by featuring a scene from it, which then leads to a montage set to Judy’s classic song. If you haven’t seen it, you should check it out – lots of stars are in it too: Diane Keaton, Sarah Jessica Parker, Rachel McAdams, Luke Wilson, Claire Danes and others. Like Meet Me in St. Louis, it’s a study of the relationships between the siblings and their parents.
I just love idea of the jumble of grownups and kids and the loud atmosphere of a house brimming over. It brings me back a bit to my own childhood when I would visit my extended family – my mom is one of four – and there would just be people and laugher and chaos everywhere. It makes me long for a family of my own like that. Would I really want to have five kids? No, probably not. Even if I had not dealt with infertility I don’t know if I would have had more than two. Maybe three. (Although I would have liked to have been able to make that decision.)
I guess the question comes down to, why, in this day and age when we don’t need a lot of kids to help out on the farm or because many of them won’t make it to adulthood, do people still continue to have large families? Kids are expensive, messy, noisy. But yet we continue to have them. A house of many children may be chaotic, but I bet it’s a happy place to grow up. As a parent it might drive you crazy sometimes. But I bet the love that you get in return, and that you see your kids show to each other, is reward enough.
Do you have a big family? Have you always wanted one?
After my Huffington Post piece about how I don’t plan to introduce the concept of Santa to my son, I received a lot of feedback thanking me for going against the grain of what’s “expected” for your kids at Christmas. I’ve also read a lot of other articles, and heard from other moms in my FB groups, about the pressure they feel Elf on the Shelf puts on them. Coming up with new and exciting poses for a creepy elf doll every night? No thank you!
But this got me wondering: We talk about the peer pressure that kids face, but is there a sort of peer pressure for parents as well? As if you need to follow certain trends, or just “the way things are done,” and if you don’t, you – or worse, your kid – will be ostracized?
This worries me, because in many ways I don’t feel like I’m the “typical” parent. I don’t follow all the rules, Santa being one of them. For all the positive messages I got from secret Santa-haters (people who secretly hate Santa, not people who hate participating in secret Santas), I bet there were a lot of other moms who thought I was downright weird for not including him in my child’s Christmas celebrations. Maybe this explains why the piece itself got ten thousand likes, but when I posted it on my own Facebook page it got a grand total of…three.
Because of my past experience with struggling to have a child, I still sometimes feel like I’m on the outside looking in. So things that might seem to other moms who fell into motherhood easily to be just the way things are done, don’t seem that way to me. I already feel like I’m an outsider, like I’m different, that that is all strange and new. So I just don’t “get” many parenting trends.
I blame Pinterest for a lot of it. Like Martha Stewart‘s magazine, looking at all the cute and crafty ideas for everything from birthday party decorations to desserts to Elf on the Shelf setups has the (unintended?) consequence of feeling that you need to aspire to do them; and that if you don’t, well, you’re just not as crafty or smart or involved as the moms who do. I love looking at that stuff, I admit it. But I do feel inadequate afterwards, because I know I don’t even have it in me to attempt any of it. It just exacerbates my mom guilt.
And it’s not just about making things. It’s also about what family activities you do, what traditions you have, what social expectations exist for us as parents. And a lot of that is fueled by social media. For example, I never did the monthly sticker pictures – every month in the first year of your child’s life you put a sticker on his onesie and take a picture (and, even more importantly, post it on Facebook). Although, I admit that I did do the ubiquitous smash cake for LM’s first birthday. Other items to check off your family Facebook to-do list: Taking a hayride to a pumpkin patch in the fall. Getting professional holiday photos done. Sitting on Santa’s lap. Everything is a photo opp, and though I love taking pictures, I hate that there has become a social expectation that you will have certain photos for every season, and you will dutifully post them on FB just like everyone else.
Does this mean that I’m a secret non-conformist?
I’m sure it will only get worse when my son starts school. At holiday time, maybe he’ll come home asking why we don’t have an elf, or why he doesn’t get gifts from Santa. Or he’ll ruin Santa for kids who do believe, the way I outed St. Nick to my first-grade class, and then all the other moms will hate me.
I don’t know how I will handle that when it happens. For now, I’m still working on not comparing myself to other moms or my son to other kids. I’m trying to make peace with being a mom who’s, well, maybe a little lazier than others; or maybe one who just puts more emphasis on different things. Maybe there are other kid-related activities I would rather spend my time doing instead of coming up with 30 ways to position an elf. So maybe our family will have other traditions that aren’t the norm.
The interesting thing is, I don’t know any actual moms who make me feel peer pressured (yet, anyway). But somehow the inertia of Facebook and Pinterest put forth the idea that there are all of these “things” I need to do in order to be a good mom. I’m tired of holding myself to some impossible, cookie-cutter standard that probably doesn’t really exist anyway. I just don’t have the time, or the energy, or the inclination.
Do you feel parental peer pressure? Do you think it comes from social media, or other moms, or both?
No, it’s not because LM has been naughty! Check out my latest Huffington Post piece to find out why I’m not a believer.
Bah, humbug! Merry Christmas!