Several years ago, after a particularly busy holiday season filled with gift buying, wrapping, decorating and baking, I discovered an amazing, and rather daunting, thing. Most childhood magic is a result of mom’s efforts. Most fun family traditions happen because mom makes them happen. And I am the mom who must put forth this effort.
Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not really complaining. I was just astonished to realize how much I took for granted when I was a child. I enjoyed lovely birthdays, holidays, vacations, and traditions without acknowledging the work my Mom did to make it happen. Now I know why we didn't have homemade rolls or pies at every holiday, and why store-bought ice cream cakes became a family staple for birthdays. Moms (and even dads and grandparents) can’t do it all. Here are some ways to keep the magic alive without exhausting the mother behind all the fun.
Sparklers, not fireworks
Don’t go all out for every holiday. Choose the ones that are most important for your family and focus on them. One example is St. Patrick’s Day. Since our family is not Irish, but the kids like to celebrate, I found a few traditions I can easily implement. We wear green, have Lucky Charms cereal with green milk, and enjoy a simple treasure hunt. When it comes to family vacations, we often choose a “staycation” over an elaborate trip. Each child chooses one day’s activity, or we find new places to visit within a day’s drive of our home.
Family birthdays can be stressful, expensive and time-consuming. The goal is to make the birthday person feel special, so decide which part (decorations, cake) can be store-bought or pared down. At my house each child gets a larger party every other year. On the off years they choose an activity they can invite one or two friends to participate in, like a movie out with mom or dad. Small children hardly even know it’s their birthday, and are satisfied with simple things like helium balloons and small gifts.
I decided years ago that I couldn’t keep up with the Easter bunny mythology. It didn’t fit with what I wanted my family to focus on, so I eliminated it. Now the kids receive a new book, some candy, and one small toy. We joke that the “Easter Amy” visits our house. During the Christmas season we spend a good deal of time talking about the Biblical Christmas story and the values that it teaches. Focusing on giving and serving brings a special holiday spirit into our home. A few other holidays that teach good values are Valentine’s Day, Independence Day (several countries have a version of this) and Thanksgiving.
I am fortunate to have a creative daughter. She’s helped me with invitations, decorations, food and party games. Think of your friends and family. You may have someone who can help you with cake decorating, assisting at a party, making special treats, etc. Be willing to return the favor when your friends need help. Dads are often willing to help as well. Give him a specific assignment, like shopping for a particular gift or taking a child to lunch for a birthday. My brother-in-law has become quite a whiz with streamers and now decorates cakes as well.
One thing you needn’t do as you work your mom magic is stress over ideas. The Internet is teeming with ideas for every sort of party you might want to throw, and every holiday you might want to celebrate. From baby’s first birthday to your husband’s 40th, from Thanksgiving to Flag Day, use the Internet to help you wave your magic wand. Recommended sites include Pinterest, Family Fun magazine, Martha Stewart and Skip to My Lou.
Moms who really understand their magic power know that it can be used any time they need it. Day off from school? Open a restaurant with you as waitress and chef. Make menus and serve your children. Mine is called Chez Ami and the proprietor has a French accent. Grumpy kids who are bored or fighting? Set a timer for 15-minute increments. Let each child choose what to do for 15 minutes until everyone’s had a turn. Everyone sick of the same old thing for dinner? Set a blanket on the floor and have an indoor picnic. Eat only finger foods. Spontaneity is a special form of magic. Use it to your advantage!
Being a mom sometimes feels like the hardest job in the world. It can also be the most fun and rewarding job. So here's to facing a future of birthdays, holidays, vacations and events with new tricks. Here's to Mom Magic.
Amy M. Peterson, a former high school English teacher, currently lives in Oregon with her husband and four children. She spends her days writing, reading, exercising and trying to get her family to eat more vegetables.