It's no secret that pretty much everything in your life changes when you have kids—and that includes Christmas. Here's what Christmas was like before kids, and Christmas after kids.
Before kids: Wander around, floating from store to store. Stay out of the ones with the holiday crowds so you don't get driven crazy. No rush to buy—you were just getting ideas today.
After kids: Wrangle the kids into their Christmas outfits and stuff them into their car seats. Cringe at the mile-long lineup to see Santa but get in it anyway. Wait for 2.5 hours. Take turns with spouse walking the kids through the mall to let them burn off steam. Get to the front of the line and present the kids to Santa. Both kids balk and scream their heads off. Force the issue because you can't have waited for 2.5 hours for nothing. The picture looks horrible but you still order the 5x7 for $19584059.
Before kids: You've scoped out the mall for ideas, but decide you have lots of time and put it off. On the December 23, you go out for three hours and get your whole shopping list completed. It's crowded, but whatever.
After kids: Begin shopping in March when you see a toy on sale that will be perfect for your little one. By the time December rolls around, you realize they've outgrown it. Spend September to December picking up little things every time you're out. Feel totally done, and then on December 23 you realize there are major gift gaps. You go out for three hours to finish up. It's horribly crowded...but it nonetheless feels like a vacation because you've left your kids at home. #MeTime
Before kids: Go for an invigorating walk through the tree farm woods. Admire all the trees. Pick the perfect one and bring it home. Decorate with tasteful, fragile decorations from top to bottom. Post on Instagram.
After kids: Naively believe your kids when they promise they'll walk the whole way at the tree farm so you leave the sled in the car. Tromp through the woods. Child A gets exhausted and cries to be picked up. Child B runs ahead and doesn't hear (ignores?) your calls to stop where they are. Carrying and chasing ensues. You pick the first tree you see on the way back to the car (it's a bit of a Charlie Brown tree but at this point you don't care). Somehow get the tree home, vow to do artificial next year. Decorate with gaudy plastic dollar-store decorations and ornaments your kids made at daycare (fully knowing the daycare teacher did 85 percent of it). Throw a few of your tasteful fragile ones near the very top and hope for the best.
Before kids: You watch all of the Christmas classics, one each night with a glass of eggnog and a bowl of cracked Christmas nuts. You feel warm, fuzzy and nostalgic.
After kids: You watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer on repeat while drinking cold coffee and eating Cheerios off the coffee table. Reassure your kids that the Bumble is really a good guy. When they're finally in bed, you put on one of your favourite Christmas classics—and promptly fall asleep.
Before kids: You sip a glass of Chardonnay and eat appetizers while gazing out the window as the snow softly falls. Listen to the sound of the crackling fire and the instrumental Christmas carols playing in the background.
After kids: Try to create a magical scene, but you're rushing around managing everyone's needs and end up burning your appetizers to a crisp. You watch an inane Christmas cartoon while balancing two kids on your lap. You don't even notice that it's started to softly snow because you're busy trying to convince your kids that soft instrumental Christmas carols are way better than Chipmunks Christmas (you do not succeed). Put out the milk and cookies for Santa, convince the kids to get in bed, and spend the rest of the evening putting together the 2,300-piece doll house with your spouse. Four hours of bickering later, you stand back and look at it in exhausted admiration—then realize that you still have about two hours of gift wrapping left. Cry.
Before kids: Sleep in. Wake up gradually and slowly realize it's Christmas morning. Have a hearty breakfast while sitting on the couch and looking at the twinkling tree lights with soft Christmas music playing in the background. Open presents. Go back to bed.
After kids: Wump! Someone jumps on you. It is your kid. And it's 4 a.m. "Is it time yet?" "No, go back to bed!" Repeat process every hour until it's a "reasonable" time to get up. Head down and rip into the presents with no order or schedule whatsoever. Look around at the absolute mayhem that is your living room. Smile as you realize that every bit of the frustration, expense and exhaustion was totally, 100 percent worth it.
Despite it all, Christmas is magical when you have kids—it's just a different style of magic than your pre-kids life. And truth be told, you wouldn't have it any other way.