Here I am, out the other side of a really hairy pre-Christmas weekend, and one that went better than it looked like it was going to, considering the state things were in on Thursday afternoon.  The tree got decorated,

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the groceries got bought, the cookies all baked, and the whole thing would have gone up in flames if I didn’t have three daughters who know how our little corner of the world works, and executed Operation Gingerbread brilliantly. Everyone was arriving at 6, and shortly before that, I was totally in the weeds. Dinner for 25 half done, none of the furniture rearranged, no icing for the cookies… I’d simply run out of time and me to make it all work, and in stepped The Ladies. They were a Christmas party machine. Samantha made the icing, Amanda coloured it with the littles, all while I said things like “Sam – I’m going to need… ” and she’d jump in with “All the forks, Mum, even the ones from the box. I’ll put them on the table.” Or I’d cast about looking wild and say “Meg… if you could…” and there she’d be. “Make the salad? You bet. The apple one?”

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Big hands helped little ones do tasks without being asked, coats were spirited away, glasses of wine appeared in hands as though by magic.  Platters of food were carried to trivets (they even knew to put trivets on the table. It was surreal.) Spills of icing were cheerfully cleaned up with an “I got it Mum!” and the wee ones were supervised, amused and delighted by my darling army of daughters.

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When the time came for singing, instruments were snatched up, and they were charming and talented, and robustly sang for the amusement of Luis, Myrie and the others, and it was all the right songs. (Chris and Kosti did well too. Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer was an especially big hit.)

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I stood there watching them – all three of them, and I sort of couldn’t believe it. All I could think of was the last two decades of Gingerbread parties, parties where I said things like “Please use your gentle touch with the baby” and “Go practice for your music lesson” and “It’s not that hard to make a salad Megan, please don’t give me that face” or “Cookies are not for throwing” or “Samantha, icing goes on cookies, not walls” or “Go help your grandmother you demon” or “Are you people animals? Get a trivet before you put that hot pot on the table.”  “Amanda, you’re not going out with your friends – tonight is the Gingerbread party, I swear do not make me kill you this close to Christmas – I’ve already bought your damn present.”

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All those years. All those corrections, all those reminders… all those times I didn’t kill the bloody lot of them and leave them at the edge of the woods in a shallow grave.

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It all payed off as they waltzed gracefully through the party. At the end of the night, I heard someone say that they didn’t know how I did it, and Amanda said “I know. Mum is a machine.” It made me laugh, because after all these years of doing it FOR them…

This year how I did it WAS them. Thanks Ladies.


264 thoughts on “Payoff

  1. Thrilled to hear your weekend was better than expected and your ladies rocked it in the best way. We had our party this weekend, too, and our boys did amazingly. Does a mom’s heart good! Cheers and a joyful Christmas season to you and yours! (Now, go knit.)

  2. All those years of high-investment parenting really pay off, don’t they? Mine are 16 and 18 now, and they’re the kind of people I was hoping I’d make – interesting, compassionate, funny.

    Good job, Steph! You just passed your Final Exam for parenting. Except, of course, they passed it for you.

  3. Wonderful. Just wonderful. It’s the best part of parenting, and you have clearly done an awesome job. (I may have wiped a tear or two reading today’s post.)

  4. There will never be enough time for doing all you WANT to do. But there is always time for family.
    Merry Christmas to you and yours!

  5. You are one of my parenting role models, especially as my sons enter tween years. “All those years of doing it FOR them …” exactly. Beautiful.

  6. Thanks for the lovely photos!
    Glad the elves aka Ladies could step in without even realizing they were doing it. Clearly so well-trained!
    We can really use the candle light on these dark Toronto days.
    Enjoy the holidays!

  7. Elves indeed!!! Brilliant! And very fun to have another post, most grateful that in the midst of life and your own holiday season you are keeping us in the loop with tongue firmly planted in cheek, as ever. Most grateful Stephanie!!!!!!

  8. As a frazzled mama to a three-year-old and an eight-month-old, both boys, I needed to read this today!
    Just have to wait two decades for it to pay off 🙂

  9. Congratulations! You have done a wonderful job raising three lovely ladies. I’m sure Joe helped a little with that too.It’s an amazing moment when you realize they are grown ups.

  10. Sometimes it’s better to be a cog in the machine, not the whole machine. There’s so much beauty in doing things with like-minded souls. You trained them for it, and gave them the joy of helping you when you needed it.

  11. What a beautiful, happy post. Thank you for reminding me that the Christmas cookies can be done by my children when they arrive in town and they would surely love to do them. I had somehow forgotten.

  12. Bravo for The Ladies!
    Hint: Next Christmas let go of the reins of panic, you are now the coordinator/facilitator of the party and The Ladies are the muscle.

    • I’m always a cheerleader for Joe as My Favorite Literary Character, but no swooning until after the Dance Party. That’s where the legend hits megaglow.

  13. Next year:

    1. Get a pre-decorated tree;
    2. Don’t wrap the cat;
    3. Refrigerated chocolate-chip cookie dough can substitute for homemade gingerbread;
    4. Many supermarkets and delis will cater a party, so find out if yours will;
    5. The song “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” is a big hit with the little ones, especially if the appropriate grandmas are there (or if the lyrics are changed to “Aunt Steph Got. . . .”); and
    6. Start your Christmas knitting NOW!!!

  14. Funny, when I read your previous post I thought “the girls are adults now, if they want the gingerbread party THEY can bake the cookies and do the prep work”. And look, they really are adults.

    Isn’t it amazing that they really do grow up?

    • That’s exactly how I felt, Patti. I miss my girls so much! And now they are hosting parties of their own, with little ones in tow. I mean… I planned it this way, and my plan is working. But I miss them being here underfoot.

  15. You had me marveling at your wonderful women-daughters, laughing through the things you’ve said the last two decades, and crying at the end, daring hope that SOMEday I will be able to say something half as positive. You see, I have ONE child, a just-turned-14-year-old son, and I haven’t yet written my Christmas letter because I can’t think of an upbeat way to portray my life with a testosterone-poisoned, homeschooled adolescent. I must bookmark this; I might even copy the link in my Christmas letter!

  16. Best wishes for the Holiday season to you, Joe and “the Ladies” for a super job done well. Hope everyone had a fantastic evening. Take care, all. 🙂

  17. Amazing how all those hours and tears somehow suddenly pay off, isn’t it? My two daughters are both now married and have morphed into astonishing women. Your daughters have also grown up into wonderful people.

    This is your real Christmas present. Merry Christmas!

  18. Christ, how did that dust get into my eye?

    I’ve got a toddler now, and I’m looking ahead at the long road. I’m enjoying my toddler– I love her to bits– but thinking about all the little and big steps between now and her becoming a tall, graceful, capable lady like your young women (or, well, that’s the hope!) makes me a little woozy. And makes me sit up straight and say to myself: “Talk to her like a young woman, listen to her like a young woman, and she will one day know how to be a strong, independent young woman.”

    In other words: I hope I’m following your excellent example! You supported your family, and now they’ve got your back. Be very, very proud.

  19. My day has been made. In fact my entire season has been made. This is, in fact, what we do. Raise and harrangue children until they blossom into beautiful beings. What a wonderful reward to both you and them that they could do it and that you could see it.

  20. What a joy to look up and observe that your children have morphed into charming people. My “children” are long grown with magic babies of their own. My montra when I was raising them (when I wasn’t contemplating, self-preservating ways to harm them) was, “raise them well and you will actually like them when they are grown”. I look at them now with wonder. Lol. Such a gift! Happy holidays.

  21. Oh how you just gave me so much hope and encouragement today. When you are in the weeds with five kids under the age of ten it’s hard to think about the long term effects of your training. Thank you for this slice of encouragement, and Congratulations for your stunning young ladies.

  22. This is a very happy post. And it makes me a little sad. My family use to be like this. But then divorce happened and a couple of key people died and everything changed. Still trying to figure out how to fix xmas. I don’t think we could have this again, but surely we could have something nice.

    Man…Luis is growing up sooo fast! Crazy pants!

    • You can’t “fix” Christmas. But by being gentle with yourself and trying to think about what blessings are left perhaps Christmas can become something new and wonderful in your life. Don’t set yourself up for failure with overly high expectations. Blessings.

    • Judith is right, you can’t “fix” Christmas. But you can build a new kind of Christmas. Slowly, with thought and care, you’ll choose the things that are important and make them happen in ways that will support you as you go forward in your life.
      Chris S in Canada

    • I agree – make a “new” wonderful Christmas. I lost my husband, father, two best friends in past years, and this year, my mom. But my brother and his family and I are close and one of his sons is getting married in March, so we’re gaining another member! And my boyfriend from CA is joining us this year – I can’t wait!!

  23. You are so far ahead of me.
    I still have icing on every available surface – and this year it’s been joined by glitter. Where did all the glitter come from ???

    • I still remember how on my 7th birthday, my mom had a ‘cookie decorating party’ for me. I think there were sprinkles and sticky frosting-covered surfaces every where in the house after that. For some reason my party the following year was at McDonalds…go figure.

  24. I have a friend who claims that chocolate, wine, and well-trained children are proof that love is at work in the universe. Gingerbread fits in that context, too. 🙂

  25. And they wouldn’t have believed you back then if you’d told them they’d have the best fun doing it. And they’d have thought you were soppy if you said they were your best present. Look how you go on being right.

    (And you remembered to take pictures! THAT’s impressive.)

  26. P.S. My second-favorite reading is always the lists people give you of ways you can cut corners/drop activities/do things ahead. Never gets old (wiping eyes, holding sides.)

  27. Congratulations on raising three fine young women who will be able to do this all for themselves in another few years so you can sit and play with your grandbabies.

    I love the photo of the two girls playing music while Joe beams with love and pride in the background.

  28. You’ve made me cry before, and I have no doubt you will do so again. (Dammit, woman. I’m COUNTING on that, really.) But seldom have I been touched quite so deeply. Perhaps because I’m also the mother of (gasp, dare i say it …) “a grown up.” And it is rather special, now, isn’t it?

  29. That is all kinds of awesome! You raised them right. Kind of gives me hope that my 3 boys (all young adults now) might be able to step up when needed.

  30. You said you were going to need elves and they came through. In the middle of raising kids the payoff seems so questionable. Welcome to the payoff.

  31. The Ladies rock! As does their Mum. Well done, all.

    But you can’t fool me. I see those TARDIS-interior patterned living room curtains. You totally warped the space-time continuum, didn’t you? It’s okay, I won’t tell anyone…

  32. Happy tears today! I along with the rest of the blog was waiting to see if the girls, ahem young women, would step up to the plate. They hit a home run! This is a wonderful tale for the season, better that it’s a true telling. Bask in the glow mum, you’ve earned this.

  33. Well this post gives me so much hope for the future when my two might be old enough and wise enough to take pressure off rather than adding it.

    It’s going to be a long road to get there, as the elder is still younger than Sam was when you started this blog.

    I might make gingerbread tomorrow.

    Thank you for sharing your journey.

  34. You’ve raised them well! It’s starting, soon it will be their turn to have the gingerbread parties and you will get to relax and go to their house.

  35. Isn’t it just lovely when the maniac teenagers morph into wonderful, responsible adults? I had suffered with Noro Virus just before Christmas and while no longer contagious or ill, I had zero energy. My two grownup children charged right in and cooked Christmas dinner without any problem at all. God bless us, every one!

  36. Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t. My folks had seven kids. Same genes, same parenting, pretty much. We are SO different. Some would do what yours did last night (or whenever) and others would be hundreds of miles away, on purpose. Nature is a large part of personality, and you never know what you’re going to get.

  37. I miss my babies, but being the mom of delightful grownups has its own charm. It’s great to reap what you’ve sown. Congratulations on arriving at the far side of parenthood!

  38. I think the first time you make a request of a teenager, and the response isn’t an eye roll, but completion of the requested task…well that is a mighty occasion. I think it is up there with learning to blow their nose.

  39. Oh what a sweet post, thanks for sharing those beautiful moments with us. You’ve done right by the lovely ladies! I don’t know if three boys ever will step in the way three girls could, but at Thanksgiving the 21 and the 20 year old were willing and pleasant helpers, the 15 year old rolled his eyes and grumbled but did as asked…I guess we’re on our way!

  40. How beautiful they are, inside and out!
    (And I’m so glad you didn’t have to pull it all off alone!)
    People like your girls give me hope for the future.

  41. Would they please come to my house and help me? And it would be beyond ok with me if they brought some of that lovely gingerbread.

  42. Thanks, After an evening of trying to keep an exasperating little person moving, it’s good to know there’s hope for the future 🙂

  43. I teared up reading this. Isn’t it wonderful to watch traditions and family culture pass on seamlessly to the generation of people who, amazingly, seem to be turning out to be a lot like us–and they’re people we genuinely like and appreciate. A special joy of the holidays!

  44. You did it again, Steph- you made me cry. I’m sitting her with my four year old daughter at the end of a very long bedtime battle (it is currently 9:55pm on a Monday night), watching her FINALLY sleeping, and reading this…seeing her in my mind’s eye growing up to be like your daughters because of all the nonsense I’m putting up with and all the holiday work I’m doing now? Helps so much to see the light at the end of the tunnel actually exists. Thank you for sharing your life with us!

  45. Thank you SO much for this. I, too, managed to see my two girls through to adulthood without any deaths or addictions, or loss of body parts. A HUGE accomplishment these days. And, now, when they call me to share my some of my grand children’s latest antics, a serene smile just spreads across my face…

  46. Have you ever shared your gingerbread recipe? If not, please do! I haven’t been happy with any of the ones I’ve tried from the internet.

  47. Yes, you and Joe did an excellent job of raising beautiful children, who have started raising beautiful children of their own. Thank so much for sharing these lovely photos too. It gives me hope that family holidays can indeed be joyful and fun, not just stressful and nuts. I love love love your tree! Gorgeous!