Fritz could be my kid! I was thrilled to have this realization during one of my many, many viewings of The Nutcracker. I love The Nutcracker — the music, the dancing, the costumes. And I am lucky enough to have seen it performed professionally several times.
My dad took me to see it as a kid and even in college. I made my husband take me when I was pregnant with our first child, and I forced my sons to go with me once they were old enough. This is actually not as hard a sell for boys as you might imagine. After all, there are sword fights, the Mouse King, and all sorts of acrobatic dancing.
When most people think of The Nutcracker, they picture graceful ballerinas and a Sugar Plum Fairy, but the story is actually not so sweet. If you recall, the titular Nutcracker is the gift given to young Clara by her beloved godfather on Christmas Eve. Her brother, Fritz, gets jealous, grabs the Nutcracker from Clara, and breaks it. That’s totally something my kids would do.
Since becoming a parent, a big part of my holiday stress is due to the expectations involved in celebrating Christmas, including my children’s outrageous wish lists, which are filled with live animals (hedgehogs and hamsters), loud musical instruments (a drum set and ukulele), and every other page of the Lego catalog.
Then there’s the jockeying of relatives, all of them intent on getting equal time with my children. And there are the endless invitations and obligations, all of which seem to cost money and time I don’t have.
But mostly my stress is caused by this ridiculous notion that kids are supposed to be good and patient and grateful at all times in the midst of this melee, all while jacked up on sugar and up way past their bedtimes. The naughty/nice list is too much damn pressure on an energetic little kid with no concept of time or delayed gratification. Anyone who playfully warns that “Santa’s watching!” while wagging a finger at a kid who is having a hissy fit should be choked with a string of twinkle lights.
People who picture the holidays filled with cherubs in footy pajamas sweetly clutching teddy bears while visions of sugar plums dance in their heads need to come to my house in December. It’s all broken ornaments, tantrums, and time-outs around here.
I am seriously considering having “Kids are why we can’t have nice things” stitched on a throw pillow.
But The Nutcracker reminds me that this is normal. Kids are sometimes (OK, often) cranky and tired during the holidays. Sometimes they are unhappy with their gifts. No matter how much you coach them to force a smile and thank Aunt Betty for the hand-knitted wool socks, kids don’t have good poker faces. They might frown and pout when they get a boring gift. And let’s be honest: Plenty of adults do too. Some of us just have better poker faces.
At Christmastime, I try to keep my expectations low and my décor replaceable. I may never have a nutcracker to pass down to my grandchildren as a family heirloom (mostly because my own kids will have destroyed it first), but nutcrackers make bad gifts for kids anyway. You’re better off picking something out of the Lego catalog. May I recommend page 32?