I love the holidays. But I used to be old geezer Ebenezer, a total Scrooge who complained that “the season moved too fast” from the moment Halloween candy hit store shelves (alongside school supplies) until New Year’s Eve party glasses were 80 percent off.

As a mom though, I had to change. I couldn’t grumble through the holidays complaining every time I heard Bing Crosby crooning over Target’s intercom mid-November or tsk-tsk-ing over eggnog displays in October. What Grinch scowls when children’s faces light up in anticipation of Santa, even if it’s 60 degrees outside? Clearly my attitude needed some twinkly lights.

So, I learned to embrace the hype, from the rainbow-bright zebras at ZooLights to choosing from the 400 “Breakfast with Santa” options. Although the details might change (matcha shortbread, anyone?) I have realized that the stages of this unique time of year are basically their own tradition, early eggnog and all.

Now I enjoy every stage from ignoring Nutcracker ads in August to final yuletide acceptance on December 25. Here are my five stages of surviving yet another holiday season as a parent.

Stage 1: Denial

It’s too early. Didn’t we just go trick-or-treating?

My fingers are still sore from sewing all those handmade costumes. Okay—really from pushing the “purchase” button on the Amazon app but, regardless—it’s too early for mulled wine. Gobstoppers still have to be sucked and rotting pumpkins still have to be thrown away—you know, fall stuff. Yearly, I promise to embrace fall beyond Pumpkin Spice Lattes and the Hot Chocolate 5K. I pledge to actually rake the leaves instead of hoping they blow into our neighbor’s yard.

But then the holiday catalogues start to arrive, marketers publish whimsical scenes on Instagram—and a little bit of my resolve wavers. The final blow comes when every email blast has a link to a list of “Top Ten Things to Do with Kids Over the Holidays!”

I reach into my kid’s Halloween candy hoping for a lingering York Peppermint Patty to restore my resolve, and in a way, bridge the two holidays. Thoughtfully chewing, I refuse to skip fall and buy into this Christmas season already. I delete the emails.

I promise myself that we are not ordering our customized holiday card until at least Dec. 1. Why rush? We’ll enjoy our Thanksgiving and then begin thinking about where to hide the Elf on the Shelf.

Stage 2: Anger

I couldn’t make it to Dec. 1. The sale was too good so I ordered the holiday card. I didn’t really want to rake up those leaves anyway and the rotten pumpkins are kinda cute if I squint and pretend they are part of a cornucopia. Now that the cards are ordered, I feel like I can’t slow down—T-Day will be here soon followed by the full onslaught of candy canes and sugar plums. Why not join in?

I don’t want my kids to miss the Holiday Train again this year simply because I missed the noon to 5p.m. window on that one Tuesday it was on the Red Line. Perhaps I can take a vacation day.

Then I get mad at myself. Didn’t I say that I wasn’t going to rush into the holidays this year? Why didn’t I rake those leaves and sip that PSL? I should’ve learned how to make a turducken this year— surely that would’ve occupied me until the Holiday Tree Lighting parade.

Stage 3: Bargaining

Pffft… Extending fall is for next year. This year we are packing it ALL in, baby.

We search the already-published lists of holiday things to do in Chicago and turn to our only respite—future activities—and plan, plan, plan. But we can’t do everything and some serious negotiations start to emerge. Which zoo? Botanic Garden’s train exhibit or that trolley tour?

Panic sets in as we debate learning the words to the school’s holiday play or a family sing-along at the Bean? Breakfast with Santa at Macy’s or a picture with the trees at MSI? The shortened timeline is real. The pressure’s on, tickets are purchased, events are added to the calendar. First event we can squeeze in is Chicago’s amazing ChristkindlMarket!

My husband excuses himself to search the local liquor store for mulled wine or a seasonal beer. Maybe both, because not everything needs to be argued. We are back in the game.

Stage 4: Depression

We drag our little elves downtown to Daley Plaza, blissfully unaware that we chose the same time to arrive as an entire fleet of tour buses. After 30 minutes of standing in line, we share a table with two tourists from Ohio who compliment our well-behaved children, who I know are actually frozen in disbelief that I snatched away their sixth pack of mini Haribo gummy bears. Sipping on our now-lukewarm drinks, I gaze at the scene unfolding around me.

The new mom pushing her snazzy stroller into a crowd as thick as the vendor’s German accent. The mom shouts towards her childless friend, who balances her designer handbag and a holiday mug, all while offering a hard pretzel to the newborn. A toddler emerges from the crowd—high on gummy bears—who runs into the friend, spilling Gluewein on everyone. A grandmother in heels appears, screaming for the child and wiping up the wine with a gum wrapper.

What. Is. Happening. Here.

Deep down, I know we could’ve skipped this event—even though it fit our timeline. My mind wanders back to the bargaining stage and what I gave up to be here with half of the city. Why didn’t we rake those leaves?

I hand the gummy bears back to my kids. It’ll be ok, Charlie Brown.

Stage 5: Acceptance

Somewhere between riding back on the El with frozen toes, arriving at the 5 p.m. show with 2 p.m. tickets and moving the Elf the Shelf to the same position for a second time in the same week, my holiday bubble bursts.

THIS IS TOO MUCH.

If I wanted to fit everything in, we’d have to start the holiday season before school starts. Next year we will cut back on events. Next year we will rake the leaves, and next year I will buy my own York Peppermint Pattys.

There are only so many hours between the turkey coma and seeing the pure joy in my kid’s eyes on Christmas morning. The weekends fly by and yes, we want to do everything—but no, we can’t. It’s up to me to balance holiday spirit and the holiday burn out, whenever it starts.

“Embrace the traditions,” I tell myself—even if it involves wrestling someone to the ground for a Hatchimal. Or drinking eggnog in July. But let’s skip the raking.

See you next year.

Featured Photo Courtesy: Hamburger Arts via Unsplash