In Defense of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and Why Grandma is still invited to Christmas

Beep. Beep. Beep.

Winter has arrived and lately, I have been hitting that snooze button over and over and over again. The lyrics to “Baby It’s Cold Outside” are, quite frankly, my inner monologue each morning as I fight to leave the comfort of my bed.

I really can’t stay.

          Baby it’s cold outside.

I’ve got to go away.

            Baby it’s cold outside.

I got a text message from my friend the other day. A week had passed since her annual “Girls Night In” Christmas party and someone wanted the recipe for the Jell-O shots I brought.

Hey, What’s in this drink?

The answer: Fireball.

When “Baby It’s Cold Outside” comes on the radio, I don’t think about that one time in my twenties when someone actually did slip something in my drink, rather I think about my favorite scene from the movie Elf.

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That scene, much like the song, captures a moment.

We’ve all experienced moments like this—times when our good sense and reason gave way. When our hearts didn’t listen to our minds.

It’s every make-out session in a car that rubbed our lips raw. It’s every broken curfew of adolescence. It’s the too-expensive Christmas present you buy for a loved one. It’s the ladies at my friend’s Christmas party who put on their coats to leave but then stood around for another twenty minutes talking and laughing (and doing just one more Jell-O shot) before finally heading home.

Last year, I wrote about how I just couldn’t Christmas. This year, I’m thankful to say that isn’t the case. In fact, the one thing that has moved me this holiday season is the music.

I find myself humming a few bars from a traditional Christmas tune while I’m waiting for my students to settle down at the start of class. Like a musical meditation of sorts, it’s helped to calm the frayed nerves of a teacher in December and remind me that Winter Break is on the horizon.

I sing a few verses of Same Auld Lang Syne while blow-drying my hair till I can’t remember what comes next and start back at the beginning. “Met my old lover at the grocery store. The snow was falling Christmas Eeee-ee-eeve.”

I purposefully scan through the radio channels till I get to the one that plays non-stop Christmas music because this month, the cacophony of modern music annoys me.

There are a lot of things we do around the holidays that are antiquated. Mailing cards, chopping down trees, and baking cookies from scratch are just a few, but these things, like the Christmas songs and movies that we’ve grown to love, serve to remind us of simpler times.

The holidays are about traditions and traditions, like my Grandma, are old-fashioned. Grandma doesn’t always say the most appropriate things, but we still love her, just like we still love “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and all the other traditions that make up Christmas.

I don’t think it’s fair to apply the standards of today’s political correctness to the classics of yesteryear.

Rather than analyzing a single line from a song or a single scene from a movie, let’s take a step back and look at the bigger picture. If we criticize George Bailey for his attempted suicide and the way he verbally attacks his family (ugh, and that poor teacher), we’ll never enjoy the moment when he realizes that It’s a Wonderful Life.

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The last time I handed my grandma a family photo that we’d had professionally taken, she took one look at it and said, “Ooooh, you look like an old lady!” Rather than taking offense, I threw my head back and laughed. “I shouldn’t have said that,” she added. “I’m just not used to seeing you in a long dress.”

“It’s okay, Gram.” I chuckled. Secretly, I live for the shit my gram says. And seeing as how I don’t often get to visit with her anymore coupled with not knowing how many more Christmases she’ll have–or any of us for that matter– I want to cherish every moment.

“Baby It’s Cold Outside” is seventy-four years old. My gram is eighty-eight. Both are welcome in my home for Christmas. I love them just the way they are.

 

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There’s No Place Like Home

When you pack up all your belongings in a U-Haul and move to the other side of the country, everything changes. Your relationships with family and friends, the way you travel, and especially holidays.

Growing up with a mother who has six sisters, you end up having more cousins than you can count on both hands. There was only a slight age gap between my youngest aunt and my oldest cousin, and each year, our family grew.

From games of Yahtzee in my grandmother’s basement to Secret Santa gift exchanges at Christmastime, family parties were a regular occurrence. There was always lots of food and even more laughter. Family members would take turns hosting; warm homes would welcome us from the cold. Women would cluster around the kitchen table and gossip on sofas while men stood sentinel around the cooler, drinking beers and smoking cigars. Children would run and play games until the time when we’d all load our plates high with homemade favorites, vying for a place to sit. Whether it was Christmas, Thanksgiving, or Easter, there’d be a cake and we would gather round and sing, for someone always had a birthday nearby.

Moving to Nevada, perhaps the hardest adjustment to make was redefining the holidays, especially once my husband took a job where he didn’t always have them off.

I remember our daughter’s second Christmas, I sat on the floor in her nursery and rocked her in my lap while she sucked at a bottle. I felt the wetness of my cheeks and I felt the loneliness. I couldn’t put words to my sadness, but it was as heavy as my daughter’s little body on top of me. My husband was at work and we were at home alone. No one would know that we had stayed in our pajamas all day, but we hadn’t gotten dressed for there was nowhere to go. Santa had come the night before so that my husband could watch our little girl tear at the wrapping paper, but even that had felt wrong. That morning, I wasn’t quite sure what to do. I picked at the leftovers from the dinner I’d prepared the day before. Hours spent in the kitchen for a meal for three. There’d been no procession of tinfoil covered dishes, no hotplates plugged into every wall. There wasn’t a line of women with dishtowels ready to grab the next pot or pan as it had been washed. All day long, I talked to family on the phone, hearing the clatter and din of their company in the background, hearing the TV in mine.

Eleven years after moving, I’d like to say that I’ve adjusted. Most years we spend Christmas with my folks and Thanksgivings with my sister. Even when she moved to California, one of us would make the drive so that when we gave thanks, we were holding each other’s hands. Some years, the friends who have become our family have joined us, adding a few more place settings, making it almost feel like home.

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This year, however, things have changed. My sister lives in Florida now, making a Thanksgiving reunion not possible, my friends are traveling for the holiday, and while my husband will be off from work, it will just be the four of us.

Realizing this, I spent weeks musing about what we could do. I felt the need to make the holiday different somehow. I mean, it was already going to be different, but maybe if we did something so unlike our traditions, I wouldn’t feel the sadness I feared. Could we rent a cabin in the woods and get away? I pictured us playing a board game near a fireplace, snuggling into flannel sheets and waking in the morning to take a hike through pine-scented air. Yet I knew that renting a cabin wasn’t really in the budget so soon after our vacation to New York and one month before Christmas, and besides, we could do all those things from our own home. Still, I kept wracking my brain and asking my husband what we were going to do.

“What do you mean, what are we going to do? We’re going to have Thanksgiving.”

He didn’t understand, and I didn’t know how to tell him.

“Yeah, but it’s just us, so like, what are we going to do?”

This need to do was palpable.

If I could come up with a plan, if there was an itinerary, perhaps it would be enough to distract me from the fact that it was just us, perhaps it could thwart the sadness, because if I felt the sadness at Thanksgiving, I most certainly was going to feel it at Christmas when my husband would be at work and when it would, for the first time in a long time, be just me and my girls, because this year, my parents weren’t coming for Christmas, and this year, we weren’t going there either, and I wasn’t quite sure how I would handle that.

I wish I could say that I only wept that one Christmas when my daughter was two, but the Holiday Blues are something that I have felt each year. Sometimes, after Christmas has passed, I begin to cry and it’s days before I can stop. I’ll be standing in my kitchen with a cup of tea, steeped in sadness and shame. What’s wrong with me that I cannot feel happiness at what’s supposed to be the most joyful time of year? Despite combatting it every way I know how, sometimes it’s stronger.

A few weeks into my quest for what we would do on Thanksgiving, I was driving in my car, listening to Pico lyer speak about The Art of Stillness when I realized that I didn’t need to do anything for Thanksgiving, I needed to be. It didn’t matter if we decided to go cut down our Christmas tree or run the Turkey Trot. It didn’t matter if we stayed in our pajamas or got dressed up. It didn’t matter if we deep fried our turkey or went to KFC. Whether there were four of us at the table or twenty-four, unless I could be fully present with my family, there would be no hope of holiday cheer.

You can’t have your body in one place and your mind in another and feel anything but conflicted. The answer wasn’t in the doing, the answer was in the being.

Thanksgiving is a time to be full. Full of food, yes, but also emotionally full. We take time to reflect all that we’ve been blessed with. When I think of my family—both near and far—I know that I have so much to be thankful for.

I can’t say for sure that I won’t end up feeling the Holiday Blues this year. I know that I will miss my sister fiercely come Thanksgiving and that Christmas isn’t going to be the same, but I am going to try hard to remember this: “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.”

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The Perfect Christmas Gift

It’s that wonderful time of year where my children view every retail destination as if it’s FAO Schwarz. Whether we’re food shopping in Walmart or making a restroom stop at a gas station, they’ll hold up some toy they’ve spied and give me their best Puss-in-Boots eyes. Usually, by the time they sit down to write their letters to Santa, they have forgotten most of the things they had pleaded for, which suits me just fine. However, this year proved otherwise.

With the help of her big sister, my five-year-old wrote out her Christmas list rather early. Among other things, she’d written down an American Girl doll, a giant Beanie Boo, a Kindle, and lots of Legos. But it didn’t end there. On and on and on it went. Everything from sneakers to pajamas to hair bows. She took inventory of her sister’s room and recorded anything she’d seen that she herself didn’t own. She wrote till the construction paper ran out and the marker went dry. She may as well have scribbled the lyrics to “Santa Baby” while she was at it.

“You have a lot of expensive things on that list.” I told her.

“Mom,” she sighed as if I were the five-year-old, “Santa doesn’t buy the presents, he makes them.”

I couldn’t help thinking that my five-year-old was outsmarting me at Christmas, a sure sign that we were in trouble.

“You know,” I told her, “You’re only supposed to ask for three things: something you want, something you need, and something to read.” I later found out that something to wear is also included in this minimalist version of the Christmas list, but she was getting the gist.

My nine-year-old was suddenly curious. “Really? Is that like, a rule?”

“Well, it’s not a rule so much as a guideline.”

My five-year-old, in all her wisdom, pointed to her list. “Something to read: Kindle.”

I’m certain I rolled my eyes.

I know I’m not alone in feeling overwhelmed by the consumerism that is Christmas. This year, I felt it more than ever when I couldn’t find a single gourd for my Thanksgiving table yet poinsettias were aplenty. We hadn’t even carved our turkey and they were selling me fruitcake.

As a parent, I struggle with not wanting to spoil my children at Christmas, while still hoping to dazzle them with the magic that Santa brings. But this year, Santa was already exhausted, and he hadn’t even started shopping yet.

In an article humorously titled “Christmas is Ruined by Children,” Trevor Mitchell states, “parents these days are time-poor and over-compensate for this by indulging their offspring.”

Mitchell may be right; when it comes to time, there isn’t even a jingle in my pocket. And in Christmases past, I had indulged my offspring. While staring at the piles of wrapped boxes, I would often ask my husband, “Do you think that’s enough?” No matter his answer, I would find a way to sneak in an extra trip to Target for a few more stocking stuffers.

This year, however, I just can’t Christmas.

Sure, my tree is up and there’s lights on the house, but every time I set foot in a store, I have a visceral reaction that makes me flee.

Take a mother’s mental load and add in a major holiday where children’s happiness is at stake, and it’s a recipe for a spontaneous midlife crisis. It’s no wonder that I often find myself having a psychotic break come Christmas.

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My psychotic break, unfortunately, does not resemble this scene from Bad Moms 2.

As I tucked my kids in the other night, I pulled Once Upon a North Pole Christmas from the bookcase for their bedtime story. Dot, our Elf, had delivered it as a special treat the year before. In it, the grown-ups are grumpy and tired, “trying too hard to make Christmas too perfect or running around everywhere.”

A story I thought was intended for children, turns out, might have been for me.

Shoot, even the Grinch comes to realize a few things before his book is through.

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The truth is, when I came right out and asked my kids what they were most looking forward to this Christmas, my oldest didn’t hesitate. “Spending time with family” she said, and then after a brief pause, “and eating quiche.” Despite her long list, even my youngest rattled off a good three or four things before any mention of gifts.

And so, this Christmas, rather than going to ugly sweater parties and standing in check-out lines, I want to stay in my pajamas and abuse Amazon Prime. Rather than feverishly baking cookies to exchange and sending out Christmas cards, I want to order pizza and play Parcheesi. Rather than giving more presents, I want to give more presence. If I can figure out how to do that, I think it will be the perfect Christmas gift for everyone on my list.

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The Pillars of our Beliefs

Well folks, we made it through yet another Christmas, and I am happy to report, we are still parents to two believers.

This year, we flew to Florida to share Christmas with my mom and step-dad. A few days before leaving for our trip, I was on the phone with my mom going over some last minute details. Before we hung up the phone, my mom said, “Oh, and one more thing…Does Peyton still believe in Santa?”

I confirmed, with confidence, that she did.

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Recently a friend of mine suspected that a couple of her older children no longer believed.  She thought the kids might be pretending that they did either not to diminish the magic for their younger siblings, or not to impact the number of gifts they might receive.

While the more materialistic motivation sounds like a pretty clever tactic, I would bet that they are less worried about the quantity of presents under the tree than they are about the fairy-tale disappearing for good. I can clearly remember when I was a child and that house of cards tumbled. One question followed another. The moment after I knew the truth, I so badly wanted to go back, but it was impossible.

When it comes to my own children’s belief in Santa, I know that the number of years I have left are limited, and while I’ve read about the suggested ways a parent can break the news, I am still not sure what I’ll say when I am forced with that question, but I do know that I don’t look forward to that day.

My step-dad is a skeptic. He thinks that my oldest daughter already knows. There may have been a close call with a price tag that was accidentally left on a stocking stuffer, but we survived, despite his snickering.

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A few short days after Christmas, my daughter and I were headed to the store when she started talking to me about how she knew Santa was real. She listed all of her evidence for Santa’s existence. Should any of her friends suggest that he is not, she was going to offer up a detailed plan that involved sending parents to bed first on Christmas Eve. I’m hoping she forgets it by next year.

Back when she was learning about Greek gods and goddesses in school, we had a conversation about beliefs. She realized that some people only believed in one God, while others believed in many. Which was correct? I asked her, “What do you want to believe?”

She remembered what I said to her, that people can choose their beliefs and they can believe in anything they want, that the more beliefs a person learns about and can accept, the more open-minded they become.

She reminded me about that conversation and then she proceeded to list all the things that she believed in: unicorns, mermaids, fairies, Peter Pan, the Easter bunny, the tooth fairy, God, Jesus, all the Gods and Goddesses, and of course, Santa. She said she believed in thousands of things. And then she asked what I believed in.

So I told her, “I believe in all that too.” But I also told her that I also believe that some things, like Peter Pan, are just stories. And that stories are often inspired by things that have actually happened, yet over the years, the stories grow, and people add to them.

“Like the pillars,” she said.

I didn’t quite see the connection, but then she explained what she had learned about the pillars in school: The Egyptians had first made pillars in triangle form. As time went on, other people changed the form so that they were stronger, better. Eventually we were left with the pillars we use today, a final product of the Romans.

“Yes, just like the pillars.”

Saint Nicolas gave presents. It may not have been on December 25th, and he didn’t wear a red suit. He evolved from the man he was to the legend he has become, and that evolution began with a poet and an illustrator. People needed what he represented so they reinvented his story. They added some flying reindeer, some elves, a sleigh. They chose a day that historically was marked with loud, drunken debauchery and created a family-friendly, child-centered, religious holiday. They improved upon the pillars.

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Our beliefs are extremely personal, and in that, they have to fit within our own personal stories. I want my daughters to know that their beliefs are what will guide the way the live. That their beliefs are theirs to select, change, or abandon as they see fit for their lives. That no matter what others believe, they do not have the right to tell them that their beliefs are wrong. And vice versa.

Just this year, a unicorn fossil was discovered. Somewhere along the way, that story changed too—from a fat, hairy relative of the rhino to a majestic mare.

The stories are what hold the magic; the story tellers create it.

I am not lying when I tell my daughter that yes, I believe in Santa Claus. I do. I am creating a story and I believe in what the story represents. While I know that I will have to tell her the “true” story  one day, I hope that even after I do, she continues to believe too.

Some Families Dress Up for Halloween; My Family Dresses Up for Christmas Cards

There are a lot of things to love about the Christmas season. My sister-in-law loves shopping on Black Friday. My friend loves to host an annual cookie baking party. Ugly sweaters. The scent of pine. Eggnog. Fresh snow.

Me? I love Christmas cards. I love opening the mailbox each day in December and finding envelopes that reveal the faces of family and friends. Each one feels like a hug.

If you were lucky enough to receive the 2016 edition of the Kwasna Christmas card, you may have found yourself a little perplexed. It’s okay. You weren’t alone. Text messages to both me and my husband ranged from WTF? to Bravo!

We knew going in that there would be only a small percentage who would pick up on the allusion, but my husband argued that even if people didn’t quite get it, the picture would still be funny and awkward—his sole desire for a family Christmas card.

So we forged ahead, shopping for our outfits at Savers, purchasing the perfect wrist brace, crafting a ribbon-baton, and lovingly applying layer upon layer of red lipstick.

The result of our genius and hard work was this.

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True, my mother-in-law was disturbed by it, and I’m fairly certain that there were other members of our family who found themselves scratching their heads. The last time we sent out an awkward Christmas card some relatives speculated I was drunk. Confusing the elderly was a risk we were willing to take. My husband would like nothing more than to have a secret hidden camera that records people’s reactions when they open our card.

The other night, he stopped by our friend’s house and was thoroughly amused to see all of her Christmas cards on display. Among the smiling, loving, happy families-perfectly coiffed and polished…there was ours. Like that one Hanukkah card, only better.

But our card was not just meant to be awkward. It was an homage to the Netflix series, Haters Back Off!, a show that clearly not enough people are watching. With its Napoleon Dynamite-like humor, we were hooked from the very first episode.

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The main character, Miranda Sings, is a home-schooled, narcissistic, teenager who dreams of fame. Her creepy Uncle Jim reminisces about when he was a ribbon dancer in his high school’s color guard and attempts to catapult Miranda towards stardom with his 5-phase plan which starts with a viral YouTube video and ends with magic. Miranda’s mother-who works as a grocery store clerk-is a hypochondriac with “undiagnosed Fibromyalgia.” The only somewhat-normal member of the family is Miranda’s sister.

We started watching it on a whim and couldn’t stop. Some episodes left us laughing till we cried, and other times we gaped at the screen like rubberneckers at a gruesome crash. Either way, it was entertainment worthy of more than that one star it received.

If the goal of our Christmas card was to portray the show, as I finish up this post, I realize that on so many levels, we did a better job than I anticipated.

But the real goal of our card was simply to give everyone who got it a laugh, whether or not they got it. Yet for all those who didn’t get it, the next time you’re scrolling through Netflix and you see those tell-tale red lips, add Haters Back Off! to your list. After watching an episode, you might just find that our Christmas card becomes even funnier, if you’re not a hater, that is.

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