Suzanne Tobias

Children offer perspective on holiday stress

I can't remember when I first saw snow, but I know my reaction must have been different, purer, more reverent than now.

It was a child's response, that feeling of gazing up at a silver sky, its horizon more blur than line, sunless, murky, like breath from heaven, and knowing something special was about to happen.

"Do you think it might snow?" Jack, my 9-year-old, asked recently, looking out.

"Hmph," I grumbled. "They said freezing rain."

Freezing rain meant chaos and ice scrapers and traffic delays and the Emergency Accident Reporting Plan. I didn't need freezing rain, didn't want it.

"Well, I hope it snows," Jack said, unfazed, smiling. "That would be awesome."

Awesome. Indeed.

Too often I see wearisome, not awesome. Exhausting, not amazing. My children, thank goodness, offer perspective.

Each Thanksgiving, my parents give the kids advent calendars to hang on the wall, the German kind with a piece of chocolate behind each door. December is greeted with gleeful shrieks — oh glorious December! best month of the year! —and a race to find door No. 1, then the requisite pleas to eat candy before breakfast.

Yes, I say, and ask them only to decipher the shape: Is it a Christmas tree? A crescent moon? A chocolate stocking filled with toys?

Jack stops chewing just long enough to look up: "Ummm."

"You didn't even look," I say. "Did you?"

"Yes I did," he answers, still chewing. "I think... it was a reindeer head."

I glance every so often at those calendars and panic: Eighteen days. Thirteen. Seven to go.

My children can't open the doors fast enough, tortured by sluggish time: Sixteen. Fifteen. Fourteen. Come on!

It's the difference between dread and sweet anticipation, between sleet and snow.

Part of my panic, like everyone's this time of year, is the fear of incompletion. Tasks surround me like Pooh's heffalumps and woozles —"before your eyes you'll see them multiply, ply, ply, ply!" —and rest is no option.

Too much to do. Too little time. Too many people to try to please.

The best strategy I've found, year after year, holiday after hectic holiday, is surrender. It takes me a while to admit it — longer, it seems, with each subsequent season — but eventually I let go, breathe and just enjoy the ride. I realize the kids' point of view is best, certainly healthiest, so I sit by the fire and savor the stillness.

I think of Anton Chekov, the author and playwright who faced Siberian winters and wrote, "We shall find peace. We shall hear angels.

"We shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds."


That's so much better than sleet or snow or freezing rain.

Or maybe it's the same thing.