Getting Ready for Christmas at the Pediatric Psych Ward

Warrior Princess will be happy to tell you exactly how many days it is until Christmas, as she asks Alexa about twelve times per day and is dutiful with moving the candy cane each morning on our Advent calendar. The other day Young Son got to the calendar first and moved the candy cane before she could. She was not pleased and gave her brother an earful about his poor choice. Then she moved the candy cane back to the previous day, stared him straight in the eye while slowly moving it back to the current day’s pocket. She threw in an extra pissy glare at him to solidify her domination of the Advent calendar, and then stomped off to take names elsewhere. He stood there slightly stunned, looked at me and mouthed the word, “WOW!” I could only shake my head and shrug in response. Sorry pal. Get used to it.

As usual, I’m behind schedule and all my hopes and dreams of a peaceful, memorable holiday season are all but nil. But at least The Pediatric Psych Ward’s annual Christmas card is finally wrapped up and in the mail. Every year I keep promising myself (and our photographer) that next year will be better — more organized, less yelling, and not a complete debacle of epic proportions. Alas, the annual nightmare continues. Here’s how it usually goes:

In October I start thinking, “I’m going to be organized this year and get our Christmas card done in November. I better start coming up with a fun idea for this year’s design.” I started doing crazy cards when First Born was two years old. (Like you expected The PSW’s cards to be classy??) Since then it has become an expectation from people that each year will be creative and goofy. Friends and family start asking me months in advance if I have my card planned out. (Cue the start of the holiday stress.) Every single year I wrack my brain to come up with something new and amusing and present my ideas to The Warden to see if any stick.

After we’ve come up with a final plan, I loop in our photographer to my weird ideas. Let me tell you, the woman is the patron saint of patience. She has been chronicling our crazy since we got married over fourteen years ago, and she hasn’t blocked my number yet. She has SIX boys of her own, and either they have completely broken her and my crew is a walk in the park, or she uses it as a reality check. “Oh yeah. I guess I DO have it good.”

Photoshoot day is always a complete cluster, but she just rolls with it…or maybe she just heavily medicates before she comes in. The inmates take over her studio, chaos ensues, props are abused, fights are fought, outfits tugged on and someone is crying (it’s usually me.) Then First Born starts trying to run the photo shoot, striking bad senior portrait poses, making weird faces or yelling at his brother to smile like a normal person. Then I start yelling, sweating, bribing, threatening and begging. Over the years I’ve finally learned that I just need to leave the room and let her work her magic, because let’s be honest. I am half of the problem.

This year she came to our house for the annual torture fest. As soon as she pulled up, the inmates were clamoring over who got to help haul in her expensive equipment. (I mean where are these punks when I have a trunk full of groceries?! Not helping me, that’s where!) As she was setting up, they were all up in her business asking her rapid fire questions about her lights and backdrops, telling her vast details about Minecraft or showing his or her latest stupid human trick. Oh to have just a fraction of her patience and grace…

Then came time to get down to business. Young Son put on his outfit without a fuss, Warrior Princess squirmed around and grabbed her crotch a lot because her tights were too short, and then First Born saw the sweater I’d bought for him. Holy hell. “WHAT?! I’m not wearing that! That’s hideous! I could enter an ‘Ugly Sweater’ contest in that thing and I’d win first prize!” (Mind you, it was a plain burgundy V-neck sweater. Do you see what I live with?) At that point I left the room after giving a stern reminder that Miss Sarah was in charge and to listen…or else!

She started to pose them and I kept hearing, “Okay! Look at me…No. First Born, stop making that hand gesture. Thank you, now straighten your head…Warrior Princess, can you tilt your chin down like I taught you so we don’t get glare on your glasses? No. Not that far. Okay. Better….Young Son, look at me. Okay. Smile nicely. No, I don’t need to see ALL of your teeth…First Born, seriously. Stop with the hand gesture! Okay! Ready…one…two…Young Son, look at the camera!” And it and on and on it went. How she never breaks down into a puddle of tears and profanity at some point is simply amazing. (Note to self: ask Miss Sarah which happy pills she takes.)

All the while, The Warden had been hiding out in his office avoiding the whole spectacle. This year I decided it was time to take a whole family portrait again. Because really, why not add to the torture? He hates having his picture taken even more than I do, so I considered it a win when I got to make him miserable for awhile. I called him out of his office and heard muttering and shuffling. “Why exactly are we doing this??”

“Because it will make our mothers happy. Suck it up.”

“Sigh…Fine. Guys, come on. Let’s get this over with.” We all sat awkwardly together and tried to look as if we liked each other. First Born started in again being obnoxious and the Warden got after him through clenched teeth, “Will you knock it off?! This is totally uncomfortable sitting like this. Can we get just get done already for the love of God??!”

Miss Sarah shot pictures as quickly as she could. She scrolled through the images, tried not to grimace and said, “Okay…I think can work with these.” Let’s just say I’m extremely grateful for her PhotoShop talents. The Warden made a beeline back to his office and shut the door. Mission accomplished.

It was finally time for Miss Sarah to pack up and head back to try to work miracles on the photos she shot. The inmates helped her wrestle all her gear out to her car, and I thanked her profusely for putting up with the nightmare once again. As she was pulling away, Warrior Princess said, “I bet Miss Sarah’s going home to take a nap now.”

And miracles she did work. Among all the pictures taken, somehow she was able to cobble together a nice one. First Born either had his eyes shut or was making weird hand gestures in half of them. In the other half, Young Son was doing his bizarre side-eye smile. (I swear to God, the kid always looks like a crazed serial killer in every posed picture.)

After about 80 of my obnoxious revisions to the copy and layout, our Christmas card was born and they are now in the mail. I am having an anxiety attack just thinking about how they will be received. Will people like them or just think I’m really weird? Will relatives call my mother and ask if I’m not well in the head? Every year, people. Every. Year.

So now that this year’s Christmas card insanity is put to bed, it’s time to start baking and wrapping gifts. I have neither baked a single stinking cookie nor wrapped one present. I went into the season with my usual good intentions, but as always things just fell apart. Why do I do this to myself year after year? I hope when the inmates look back at the Christmases of their childhood, they’ll at least know that I tried to make it magical and wonderful.

In the meantime, I hope you have a beautiful and magical holiday season!

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