the busy times

December is the season of failure for academic women. Writing deadlines succumb to deadlines to order next semester’s books, write the final exams, and alas, grade. Students whom you have encouraged to meet with you all semester suddenly take you up on it. Coffee dates “before the semester ends” emerge out of nowhere. And holiday get-togethers pepper the month when babysitters are so scarce they become just an abstraction.

It is just this time of the year when the holiday cards get sent (or don’t), when we finally get new, not homemade tinfoil, ornaments for the tree (or don’t), and when we are asked to bake something for the bakesale, bring a dessert to this gathering or that, and take care of all the things that keep us from showing up empty-handed when we see friends. And that does not even count shopping for the official presents.

Last year, I ran into a neighbour in the park. He has three kids, and I only have one, so I was imagining it was tough for him. Got all your shopping done? I asked him. No, he said, but he only has to get one gift, for his wife, so he wasn’t too worried. For a moment, I dreamed about having someone plan out, shop for, purchase, wrap, and mail all the gifts for my mom and dad, my kids, my grands and uncles and aunts and brothers and sisters and whoevers. I would buy just one gift, for the person who did all that for me. That better be a freaking awesome gift, I thought.

And then my thoughts returned to my own family. My in-laws, Husband’s seven nieces and nephews, his grandparents, they all deserve presents, or at least nice, handwritten cards. In our house, it’s not my job to get these gifts, and yet, Husband doesn’t do it either. It just doesn’t get done. Most years, cards don’t go out at all. And even though it’s not my job, I feel guilty about not doing it, because the world (specifically, gender norms) tells me it’s my job, even though Husband tells me it’s not. I hope they don’t think it’s my job, but I imagine that they must, at least a little.

If I get the grades done, and the course set up for next semester, and I meet with my students and have coffee here and there, make some social visits, get the tree, get and wrap the presents, get the gifts to my kin out the door, and cook up the holiday feast, and even if I get holiday cards done this year (ha!), I still will have failed to get it all done. Maybe I can make a fresh start on New Year’s Day.

4 thoughts on “the busy times”

  1. Something a good friend of mine started doing a few years ago (and I’ve followed suit some years) is sending Happy New Year/winter cards – AFTER the Christmakkuh hubbub. Makes a lot of sense to me – also, that way you don’t forget anyone who sent you a surprise card.

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  2. good post, tina, i’m right there with you. this is pretty much why i haven’t blogged in weeks. i am too busy planning/baking for my daughter’s 3rd birthday party this weekend (at which i am praying to get a good picture of all of us to send to snapfish to mail to all my friends and family as a holiday card) while trying to do all the stuff you mention in your post… worst offense: i had no time to do cutesy invitations so i sent evites to everyone.

    it’s just wrong that she was born during the holiday/grading/end of semester/new course prep crazy time!

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  3. I don’t even try to get my holiday letter out until after Christmas, and one year sent it Feb 1. I do it primarily to keep track of people, as I’ve lost contact with many of my old friends from failing to send an annual note out. (Mail does not get forwarded after a year.) Some of the people I send cards to never send them to me. For years, I sent cards to my relatives and left the cards for my spouse’s relatives to him, but he never did his, and after a while I felt like I wanted to stay connected with them, so just did it.

    Our holidays have become very bare now that the children are grown and our families have abandoned gift exchanges. But back in the day I used to argue that gift exchange should be January 6 — Twelfth Night — as Christmas begins (not ends) on December 25, and that would give me time to actually prepare for the holiday. That never sold, though.

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  4. Oh, do I hear you on this. I decided a few weeks ago that I’d had enough and informed my husband that he will be doing everything for his side of the family. Then I called my MIL and told her that although I loved them very much, I was feeling overwhelmed and was putting her son in charge this year. She sympathized and wished she could have done the same many years ago…I will need to remind myself to be entirely supportive of his gift selections and wrapping…the other key of this strategy.

    We also decided that we are attending the obligatory work holiday gatherings plus ONE additional party and that is it this year. Will see how that goes, but our December looks much better than usual.

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