As If Our Mental Load Wasn't Heavy Enough, Here Come the Holidays

A mother's brain is not a pretty place. Sure, it seems like it would be, given the fact that our primary job is to make things better and make life lovely for the people we take care of. But behind the scenes — behind all those sweet lunchbox notes and clean socks and multivitamin gummies — a mom's brain looks like a buzzing, bustling Wall Street stock exchange: an incessantly updating, constantly changing, formidable database of, well, literally everything from social security numbers to cereal preferences.

It takes a lot of work to streamline family operations, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. We not only have to keep day-to-day familial operations running smoothly, but ensure individual well-being too, meeting needs both general and highly specific. And we must mentally balance this workload at all times. Even when we sleep. Even when we relax.

(LOL, totally kidding — moms don't ever really relax.)

It's exhausting to have a brain that never shuts off, which is why we only use the word "tired" to describe ourselves at the end of the day — because a more accurate term doesn't exist. There is no word to describe the deep, bone-penetrating level of fatigue that comes from running our daily mental marathon. If you look closely enough, you may be able to see wisps of smoke emanating from our ears.

Despite all this, we press on, momming hard and kicking ass at it every day (whether we think so or not). We work like champions to keep our calendars organized and our fridges mold-free, among a bazillion other things. But suddenly it's November, and there's a nip in the air, and we realize it's game time. I don't mean football season; I mean the season when we're expected to keep everybody alive and jolly.

The season of remembrance (How am I supposed to remember the steps to guarantee a perfect turkey when I only cook it once a year? Where did I put my address book? Where's the extension cord for the lights?). The season of celebration (Thanksgiving dinner, work Christmas party, Hanukkah feast at the neighbors', canned food drive at the shelter, cookie-decorating party with friends, holiday gift exchanges with day care and book club and moms' group). The season of keeping track of every get-together, every rarely attempted holiday recipe, every gift, every dollar, every ugly sweater.

Ho-ho-holy sh*t.

We put a ton of pressure on ourselves during this time of year, working 'round the clock to ensure that everyone else's holidays are Pinterest-perfect. As the once-overabundant supply of Halloween candy dwindles (not that we're stress-eating it or anything), our thoughts turn to hosting and happiness — not our own happiness, of course, but that of the people whose holiday memories are going to hinge on our ability to create a festive season. So we pile our to-do lists with extra items as if we aren't already running at full capacity.

We put a ton of pressure on ourselves during this time of year, working 'round the clock to ensure that everyone else's holidays are Pinterest-perfect.

We purchase turkeys, but only after keeping tabs on when they're sale-priced because they're freaking expensive. We pin recipes and save those sped-up Facebook cooking videos that make it look easy, and then remember where they're saved and what ingredients we need (and shop accordingly for said ingredients, struggling our way through throngs of other shoppers like salmon swimming upstream). We scour our houses to create the appearance of year-round spotlessness. We mentally categorize where we've stored our decorations, what goes where, and any empty spaces we'd really like to fill with that cute wreath we saw in the Pier 1 catalog.

We make sure to send out cards and invitations in a timely manner and keep track of RSVPs. We juggle a full calendar of holiday parties, dinners, and other occasions, both ours and everybody else's, and remember to schedule a sitter in advance (which is hellish enough in and of itself). We know when the kids' Winter break from school starts, and that the week before is "holiday week" where they're supposed to wear themed attire for each day and we need to send in cookies or candy canes. We conjure up costumes for plays, either begging everyone we know for each component ("Does anyone have a plain red bathrobe in kids' size eight?") or sitting at the dining table after midnight surrounded by felt and sequins and hot glue.

And gifts. Let's not forget about gifting and the insane amount of thought/preparation/money it requires. Have we covered everyone on our list? Have we kept things reasonably even among the kids? Have we gotten the things they really want? Have we snagged the best deals and the lowest prices? Have we boxed and wrapped and taped and tied? We're saddled with the monumental task of finding the best, most heartfelt, most awesome gifts, keeping them hidden until it's time to put them in fancy paper under the tree, and doing all of this within the constraints of a budget that has already been strained since, oh, sometime in late October when we purchased costumes and candy.

But moms are champions at keeping track, at being awesome, at taking very little and making it into something grand — and the holiday season, though it's a test of our maternal fortitude, is when we shine. We're pros at handling the demands that come along with the festivities. Now, if our families had the ability to just realize that and appreciate it . . .

That one's going on my wish list.