Question: Are the holidays worth the stress? The consensus around here is, well, yes and no. At our place stress is shared unevenly because my wife Sandy does the lion’s share of the worrying. She plans the meals, buys most of the presents, and generally worries herself through some sleepless nights hoping that all goes well. In my defense, I do participate, but at a much lower level of activity and involvement. Curiously, and perhaps this is a male/female thing (no irate letters please!), I do worry and fret a bit, but about different things. With respect to the gender comment just made, I have always felt that the planet would be better off if women had more to say about its upkeep and general condition. Sandy has much better judgment about most things than I do, so deferring to someone far more competent than I is as easy as pie.
My worries operate at a baser level and for the most part are self-inflicted. For instance, even before guests arrive I figure on the coldest nights someone will leave the door open, some scamp will covertly switch on the upstairs heat switch, there will be no water glasses in the kitchen cabinet when I wake up for my post midnight quaff, and of course someone will either have left the lights on or not turned off the TV properly. With respect to the latter transgression, the real crime is not putting the couch pillows back where they belong or neglecting to put the easy chair back in its proper place and at the right angle. Just a few more things. Whenever someone turns on the hot water I cringe. It takes all the strength I have to keep my mouth shut. I have this notion that I am the only person around here who worries about our well water supply. I cringe when one of the little ones starts snooping about the refrigerator. In reality, they only keep the door open for several seconds. But if I am sitting nearby watching this perfectly normal operation it seems as if the door has been open for hours and my savings have gone down the drain keeping up with electric bills.
There are a few things that will haul me abruptly out of the deepest of sleeps. The upstairs bathroom is right over our bedroom. If someone has the gall to flush the toilet late at night it sounds as if Niagara Falls has paid a visit. That does not bother me so much. If that were all I could head back into dreamland within seconds. No, I lie there until I am certain the toilet tank has filled and is off. Every once in a while I sneak upstairs just to satisfy myself that the water has indeed turned off. When it is just the two of us around here only the most unusual night noises will wake me up. I suspect that the irrational demons that harbor within me take great pleasure in expecting the worst. I would like to think that I am no more or less demon driven than the average person. At times I wonder.
Were it not for Sandy stockings would never be full and presents would most likely be gift certificates. I do, however, muddle a bit over one thing. It has become a tradition for me to give everyone a book. Sandy takes care of the rest. I used to worry that few if any of the books I gave would be read. Not any more. It is not worth it. Is it not the gesture that counts? I look at my own book notes, check out some lists of notable books of the year that I track, and make my choices. Truth is I enjoy giving books. Even more, I love getting them. I have made it clear a book will suffice for any gift-giving occasion. The level of stress I experience during the book selection process pales before the many holiday exigencies that Sandy deals with.
Eating is a huge part of holiday occasions. Friends know how much I abhor food talk. I like to eat food, not talk about it. I enjoy fine food just as much as the next guy. But I am not about to agonize for weeks, or at least days, over menu selections. I realize this is to some extent a minority viewpoint. In this regard I am absolutely no use to Sandy. She will often present me with two or three meal possibilities and I, in my characteristically unhelpful way, will shrug and say, “ I really don’t care. They all sound good.” The truth is I could eat rice and vegetables most of the time. Toss in a good piece of beef now and then and I am in heaven.
Holidays will always be with us. I am glad of that. The only solution is to go with the flow, see stress as the price one must pay for those joys that matter. It also helps to have a full wine cellar.