Like presents under the tree

This past few days have had their usual share of frustrations. The kindergartner’s virtual learning on Friday resulted in, among other things, him hiding under the chair and refusing to come out unless I sat next to him for the duration (thankfully he started in-person school again today). The baby fought sleep.

But every time something unpleasant happened, I would remind myself that “In a few hours you’ll get to do …” — fill in the blank with some sort of treat. On Thursday I knew I was going to my in-person (masked and socially distant) choir rehearsal and recording session, so I’d be singing part of The Messiah among other things. On Friday, I went to the new house and played the piano and sang Christmas carols for a delightfully uninterrupted hour. We ordered in sushi for dinner. On Saturday our nanny came to work for a few hours and my husband and I went out to celebrate my birthday (with a walk around our new neighborhood, and then a dinner at a mostly-empty restaurant). I’ve got my solo Longwood Gardens trip coming up.

I was conscious of planning in fun stuff because it was my birthday weekend — I wanted to feel festive. But I’ve also been thinking lately of how different time can feel whether you have something to look forward to or not. It’s the difference between a calendar that feels bleak, or one that induces the same feeling a kid might have looking at lots of wrapped presents stacked up under a Christmas tree.*

Of course, a kid is generally not responsible for having put all those presents under the tree– and here we encounter a major obstacle to turning a calendar into the equivalent of a full stocking. Most of us will need to do a lot of that logistical work ourselves. It seems like a lot of bother. We’re tired.

I am able to overcome that inertia around my birthday because I want to make the time feel special. If I need to do the time equivalent of wrapping presents for myself, so it goes.** I’m less motivated for a more average stretch of time.

But nothing I arranged was over the top. It was more about frequency than intensity. Frequency requires intention. As does spending time well in general. Happiness takes work. This is a challenging lesson to learn, but not really more complicated than getting a tree to stand up straight in the stand and hanging the lights roughly equally over the boughs.

*Or stacked for a birthday, or any other gift-giving occasion.

** I should mention here that I did receive real presents from my family, which were wrapped, and not by me!

11 thoughts on “Like presents under the tree

  1. I’ve been so trying to be better about planning things to look forward to – not having as many options has been the a hard part of this pandemic. But my motivation has waned some because those plans haven’t held up well and I don’t seem to handle the letdown when I’ve looked forward to something and it goes bust. We took a “vacation” in early November – just to see some family who live near the beach – I cleared my calendar and had someone else to entertain my kids for a bit while I was somewhere that was not home. And then the 2 year old got a fever 24 hours after we arrived and we had to leave for testing and relative isolation. (Not CoVID in the end!). It was rough to come back to the same house we’d been stuck in with loads of open time with small children who don’t entertain themselves when we’d been looking forward to something different! How to others balance looking forward and the disappointment crash?

    1. @Sara B – disappointment when plans don’t work out is tough. This is one reason to go for a volume strategy. If you have lots of things to look forward to, at least some of them are going to work out. For smaller stuff, it also helps to build in a back-up time. You plan to go for the long solo run on Friday morning but if that time is taken away from you, Saturday morning is also an option. That sort of thing.

    2. Oh, I feel this disappointment. We have been SUPER cautious with COVID, and I was excited to find a local “Fall Festival” event that was all outdoors, supposedly masked and distant and entry-controlled to limit the number of attendees. I looked forward to it for weeks because it was literally the first time we had taken our kids to any event since March! And when we got there, we found masks not enforced, people not maintaining distance AT ALL. We left within 30 min and it was so disappointing. My 8yo cried (and I wanted to also). Unfortunately where we live we have a lot of anti-maskers so I don’t feel safe booking anything else like this, though I did book a visit to our botanical garden because they’ve been good so far about limiting attendance. I think it’s just chance and being willing to try again 🙁

  2. I’m all about doing the work to make your birthday feel festive! Mine was late November and this year I watched a movie I’ve been looking forward to, read a book I’ve been saving, made shrimp scampi for my lunches for the week, took the time to sew myself a birthday shirt (a “nice” sweatshirt this year, ha!) and did take-out pizza at a new restaurant (soaking up the cozy bar scene while I waited was almost as good as the pizza!) I planned and cooked my birthday lunch (just my inlaws over), the kids put up some dollar store decorations, I got a few presents I had asked for and it was one of the best birthdays I’ve had in a long time! Very little of that would have happened without planning, but it was well worth the effort.

  3. I just had a birthday as well. I find it harder to get excited about it the older I get. We went out for a restaurant dinner that was mediocre and the service was not good. It was a bit disappointing. I wish I would have planned more fun things for myself during my birthday weekend, like you describe.

    1. @Sarah K – the birthday itself is not that fun when you’re older (it’s not like there’s anything new I can now do at my age…) but since it’s an occasion for festivities and celebrations, I figure why not seize it? There’s always next year!

  4. Happy birthday! My birthday is later this month and since our family visit fell through with rising case counts, I love the idea of stacking lots of small treats to look forward to over the holidays and birthday time and make it feel special.

  5. “Happiness takes work.”
    I think this is so true! To go on a vacation can be a ton of work! I sometimes think about how I want to instruct my kids about this. As a kid things just happen! But then you become an adult and then you need to work to make it happen. My kids are teens… so trying to fit in all those little lessons about life… easier if you learn these things as early as possible!

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