The Therapist-Approved, Nerf Gun Battle, Happy Christmas

So that one time, when I was in therapy…

(No, really, I was.  I highly recommend it as well for those of you dealing with special needs diagnoses.  It really really helped.)

So that one time, just after Christmas a few years ago, I was telling my therapist about how I had this complete and total meltdown on Christmas Day… I had spent too much time stressing about getting the house clean, keeping it clean.  We can all admit how holidays and the sudden need to make our house look nicer than usual can bring out the ugly in us.  We pass down this tradition throughout the generations, and then, in one shiny moment of family scarring, the stress levels erupt. Which is how I found myself, at 2 pm on Christmas Day, crying in my kitchen.

I had spent hours scrubbing down the kitchen the day before to make sure it was perfect for cooking Christmas dinner the next day.  However, I forgot to send the family a memo of “Don’t even go into the kitchen.”  They, in turn, decided to cook a big Christmas morning breakfast.

Little kids are not neat cooks.

I walk in to start all the Christmas Dinner meal prep – which I wasn’t really looking forward to anyway – and found a kitchen covered in bacon splatter, Bisquick mix, and dirty dishes.  I saw at least an hour of cleaning and dishes before I could even start cooking.  I was tired, depressed, internally screaming and apparently ripe for a breakdown.

My husband found me in the kitchen crying.  He asked what was wrong.  I’m pretty certain the tone of voice I used could only be heard by dogs, which was fine, because I was crying too hard over dirty counters to make much sense.  But he heard “Dishes” and “Mess!” and “clean before cooking!” and pieced things together. He looked at me and said “Why don’t we just get Chinese food for dinner?  The kids won’t care, they like Chinese food.”

At this point of the tale-telling, my therapist leaned forward and asked almost breathlessly “And what did you say?”

“I said “okay”.”

“Yes!” she exclaimed delightedly,  “That’s exactly what you should have said! Good for you!”

Because at the end of the day, no dinner was worth crying into a (most likely dirty) kitchen towel over, or resenting your family over.  The kids thought Chinese take-away was the most excellent meal, I was ordered to just relax and enjoy the day, and I can’t even remember who ended up cleaning the kitchen – because the dirty kitchen didn’t matter any more. What mattered was us, enjoying our time together, relaxing,  letting kids play with their new toys…

…see, that was also the Christmas we got the boys new Nerf guns.  They were desperate to try them out, and somehow, after dinner, the ground rules were set, teams were formed, and while I sat on the “neutral zone” that was the couch with Maura, the First Annual Epic Nerf Gun Battle commenced. Yes, nothing says “Peace on Earth, Good Will Towards Men” like shooting each other with orange darts.  I was still finding those suckers behind things in June, and laughing over it.

The Nerf Gun Battle became an instant tradition, so much so that the next year, when we went to my in-laws for Christmas, I heard Josh telling his mother on the phone “Well, I did promise the boys another Epic Nerf Gun Battle…”  (She agreed.  And then she took down sons, son-in-law, and grandchildren alike, earning the respect of all.)

It’s funny how things can turn out though, how at 2 pm, you’re crying in a dirty kitchen, certain this is about to become the worst Christmas ever.  Only for it to be one of the most memorable because I had the ability to let go of what “should” have been.  The food didn’t matter, the state of my kitchen didn’t matter.  What mattered was not turning what should be a good day into a heap of ugly. What mattered was that our family had a happy Christmas day.

Sometimes, the Perfect Christmas contains empty Chinese take-away cartons and Nerf darts flying overhead.