“It’s different when you’re the mom.”

That’s what my own mom told me. We were talking about birthdays and holidays as I approached the first ones I’d celebrate as a married woman and as a mom.

And I learned pretty quickly that she was right. That first birthday was rough.  It was the first weekend we traveled with our six-week-old daughter, we were up all night, and alternating between nursing and changing blow-out-diapers all day. There was a cake and presents, but honestly, I just felt so tired and drained and disappointed that nothing about this day felt “special” like it used to. There was no “get out of chores free” pass for me; the day was full of the ordinary, exhausting work of motherhood.

Fast forward a few weeks and Thanksgiving and Christmas felt pretty much the same – different, exhausting, disappointing. The special days weren’t full of leisure and treasured childhood traditions; they were full of travel and nap logistics, preparing dishes that didn’t look or taste like they were supposed to, being separated from the party during long and frustrating nursing sessions, and being so very tired.

Looking back on my childhood and remembering all the wonderful, magical things about birthdays and holidays and special occasions I see now what I didn’t notice then: a mom hard at work.

A mom who got early up to make birthday pancakes even when she’d been up all night nursing an infant. A mom who never got to lay around watching the Thanksgiving Day parade because someone had to stuff the turkey and chop the onions and peel the potatoes. A mom who squealed with delight over the worst presents that small children can give (no joke, she once got a painted rock…and she loved it).

A mom who sometimes missed out on the hunt for a Christmas tree because it was too cold for a newborn. A mom who went to bed late, got up early, made cookies and hot chocolate and Advent crafts, bargain shopped and wrapped presents and stuffed stockings, and still managed to have a clean house ready to welcome guests.

She’s right. It’s different when you’re the mom. You are the one to make it special, even when no one notices how hard it is to make it special.

Last year was a shock to my system because I was expecting it to just be special, without all the frustrating time and energy and work that goes into it. But this year, I’m embracing the fact that it’s my turn. It’s my turn to make the magic for my family. And that can be magical and joyful and wonderful, too.

I asked some Facebook friends what they do to combat the frustrations and disappointments that come with the season and I got so many great stories and suggestions for finding balance, having reasonable expectation, and most importantly, taking some time for yourself to pray, relax and enjoy the magic you’ve “made.”

My mom is good at doing this. She makes sure that special days begin with Mass so she has time for prayer and peace before the crazy hits. She and my dad pick a night each Christmas season to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” together, and they get to open their presents last so they can give each other their full attention. And she always gets her cup of coffee in the morning.

Like so many things in life, I’m going to take the cue here from my mom. I’m going to take these last few days before Advent begins to plan out the special things we’ll do as a family and the special things I’ll do as a mom to give me the energy and excitement to push through. I’m thinking an Advent date-night with Adoration, the telling and re-telling of the Christmas story with our little nativity scene, daily Christmas-music dance parties, night prayer in front of the Christmas tree, and plenty of coffee and dark chocolate.

What do YOU do to make the coming celebrations special for you even while you’re “making the magic” for the ones you love?

Copyright 2014, Megan Swaim