For the first time ever, I am responsible for the permanent imprints on two young people’s memories. And what bigger memory imprint is there than Christmas? This responsibility left me scrambling for holiday activities I could do with my little ones the entire month of December (and by scrambling I mean spending an inordinate amount of time reading blogs about what strangers were up to for the holidays).

Christmas foreplay, if you will.

So for the record, here’s what went not-so-right despite all that planning and 1st-basing:

1. Not having a clear Christmas budget for each person

This almost always leads to thinking you don’t have enough at the last minute. Which is when you discover’s Christmas Delivery Guarantee–on 12/23–you start ordering more and more.

  • Christmas 2011: As unsexy as it is, next year I’ll define a budget before I do any shopping. And I’ll make sure the Dad is on board.

2. Not having a good idea of what I’d already bought

I thought I was pretty crafty with my gift organization. I took over a drafting table in the basement and separated everyone’s stocking stuffers into separate gift bags. But the rest of it was piled up so high that by the time I went to wrap it all, I found gifts I had completely forgotten about. Even worse, my husband had no idea what I’d already bought for the kids, so he came home from his (1) day of shopping with bags full of cool-design-but-not-so-functional kid stuff to add to the pile.

  • Christmas 2011: Keep a Google Docs spreadsheet that tracks gifts per person, the cost, and the remaining $ left based on that unsexy budget.

3. Letting family members get away with not telling me what they really wanted

Forget this feigned humbleness. Everyone has some idea of what they want, and instead of me spending hours wandering around the mall trying to figure out what my mom, step-dad and brother really want, it would be better for us all if they just listed a few things.

Here’s where that will get you: My mom flew back to Florida today, and in her vacated room I found several of the gifts my brother and I gave to her and my step-dad. I guess she figured she’d get them the next time she’s here. In March. Meanwhile, I told her what I wanted (a Kindle) and wouldn’t dream of waiting until March to use it.

  • Christmas 2011: I’m enforcing a mandatory wish list policy, either via Amazon Wish Lists or Google Docs. If you don’t take the time to fill out 5-10 things you really want, you get a gift certificate. To the grocery store. That ought to get their attention.

4. Saving all Christmas-related to-do’s for the month of December

Doing any Christmas-related tasks before Thanksgiving has always seemed strange and excessive to me. But this year, for the first time ever, it occurred to me that since Christmas is on the 25th of the month, you don’t even have a full month to get everything done, on top of your regular old life to-do’s. I guess having two young children changes things.

Next year, I hope to tackle some of these time-consuming biggies before the thick of the season rolls around. Because when the thick of the season does roll around, I want to be in my Christmas jammies, in front of the fire, watching movies. Not at some crappy strip mall.

  • Now: Sort through the holiday decorations and get rid of anything you don’t love before you pack it away for next year. Organize the boxes better this year: Lights in one big box instead of crammed in with all the other stuff; a separate box for decorations you might put out earlier in December before you get your tree. Etc.
  • October/November: Update your Christmas card addresses and freshen up the group you send them to (so you’re not left with a box of unsent cards in January, like me).
  • November: Fill the pantry with fresh flour, sugar, vanilla extract, and whatever other staple baking supplies you use. That way you can whip up pretty much anything after some unexpected neighbors deliver bread, cookies and wine to you.
  • November: Buy/plan a couple of holiday outfits for you and your kids (and your spouse, too, if he’ll tolerate it). And holiday pajamas, if you do that sort of thing. That way you’ll be ready for any invitations that come your way, and you won’t be spending holiday-time evenings wandering around Kohl’s (because it’s the closest clothing store to your house), thinking “maybe this really isn’t that bad.” Plus, as I learned this year, apparently everyone else shops for their holiday outfits in October, which explains why I couldn’t find any Christmas sleeper pajamas in my kid’s sizes.

5. Not participating in any community holiday events

I’m going to give myself an out for this year. After all, I do have a 1-year-old and a 2-year-old. And a business to run. But next year, with all this stellarific planning of mine, I should have plenty of energy left to take my budding musicians to a holiday concert, or to see the lighting of our downtown Christmas tree, or to a church service. Or at least to their daycare’s Santa appearance, which, I confess, we missed this year.

  • Christmas 2011: Don’t be such a hermit.