Last Christmas I got this message from Mandy, one of my favorite Boy Moms:
Am I seriously the only boy mom who has dreams of decorating together at Christmas only to be faced with three boys totally not interested? Just needing some female sympathy.
Well, here’s your sympathy, Mandy. Glad to oblige.
I have to admit it’s hard to sympathize these days, when almost all of my memories of a four-boy-house-Christmas are sweeter than a Leo’s peppermint stick; the kind in the blue tin that my grandmother kept on her coffee table from early November until late January. That’s what the years have done, made me a sentimental amnesiac.
But I also feel that lightly singed sensation of having survived something. So I thought it might be worth sharing some practical advice on how to make (it through) Christmas in a boy house:
1. Make it destructive and loud.
Chopping down a tree or using the normally off-limits handsaw to trim branches can mean the world to a boy. The twelve days of Christmas include leaping and piping and drumming along with the dancing and milking, after all. Oh, and let them light some stuff on fire while you’re at it.
2. Make it cheaper.
Boys get more expensive as they get older. Open a high-yield savings account when they are young for later. Buy them junk now, because they’ll probably break it anyway.
3. Make it fit your life.
St. Nicholas Day is officially December 6, but we celebrated him and it according to our schedule, and no one was the wiser until our sons were old enough to cut us some slack for tricking them.
4. Make your giving reach beyond your family.
But go easy on your kids in this regard. I remember one year asking our boys to choose one of their toys to give away. We asked them to make it a favorite or near-favorite. One son, who was too young to comprehend sacrifice, much less make one, found a broken pez dispenser, sans the pez, in the bottom of the toy box. He held it out to us with a funny mixture of pride and disgrace on his face. I’m ashamed to say I expressed disappointment in this—which is difficult for a child to separate from disappointment in him. I’ve since realized radical generosity toward others is better modeled than required when your kids are small. Or anytime, for that matter.
5. Make it taste good.
My almost-30-year-old son cannot do Christmas without gingerbread, his wife tells me. It’s probably kind of sick, but this fact makes me feel significant.
6. Make it smell good.
Have you smelled a boy lately? Enough said.
7. Make it adventurous.
One year we took gifts to a family we knew who lived in the projects near us. The boys wore camouflage. They jumped out of the car while I was going about 2 miles per hour (this part was pre-arranged), plunked the gifts on their doorstep, rang the doorbell, and ran. Left me breathless.
8. Go ahead and make it pretty.
If not for them, do it for you. Even if it’s only one corner of one room, make a shrine to outer beauty to remind you of all the inner beauty of Christmas.
9. Make it magical, but not in the way you’re thinking.
It’s okay to pull Christmas out of your hat, which (this is our little secret) we know is not how it’s done. At some point I decided I would whittle the Christmas process down until it was manageable by me alone. I guess I’m saying it’s okay to leave your boys out of the process, because not only do they not care about it as much as you do, they may resent it if their part is too involved or too un-fun.
10. But make it a grace-filled gift.
As in “Here it is whether you notice it or not.” Because they might not, you know. A gift with a built-in expectation of a response is not a gift. Here’s a follow-up message from Mandy:
…I really should have taken a picture of all three little guys on the couch playing devices with Sean on the other couch with the iPad—and I stood back and said at the end of decorating—wow doesn’t it look nice—and they said without even looking up—oh yeah mom—great.
11. Just make it.
Because one day your eldest son, who is eight, will invite a neighborhood friend over to help decorate. Even at eight your son recognizes that his friend’s family is a train wreck. And even at eight your son knows shared festivity can cure a host of ills. And this son will pat the biggest of the boxes you pull out of the attic, and you’ll overhear him say to his friend with a sigh, “Mike, there are so many memories in this box.” You’ll hear something like that, and you’ll know what felt like your solo efforts to make Christmas, whether big or small, costly or cheap, shiny or matte finish, lavish or understated, was worth it all along.