I can feel the darkness approaching. Today may look like a bright and cheery day in Washington, but I can sense that Holiday Hell is just around the corner. Maybe it will strike this weekend. Maybe next. But I know it’s coming, and I am very, very afraid. So for just a moment please indulge my compulsion to vent—and by all means feel free to reciprocate with your own tales of woe.

Don’t misunderstand, I’m not a bah-humbug kind of girl. I throw myself into the cheesiness of the season with great abandon, filling my home with twinkly trees and encouraging my husband to indulge his exterior illumination urges. Just a couple of weeks ago, I bought myself a pair of knee high, shiny red Santa boots guaranteed to make any occasion more festive.

But in recent years—and most definitely with the onset of parenthood—I have apparently become the target of some evil elf intent upon turning my holiday into the stuff of which bad sit-coms are made. Prominently featured are lost and broken presents, exploding furnaces, aborted vacations, blood, head trauma, fevers, antibiotics, steroid treatments, vomit, vomit, vomit, and even, on occasion, the metropolitan police.

Last year was a particularly rich experience. My household was scheduled to move the week before Christmas, with all of the unspeakable horror that entails. So naturally, for the three weeks leading up to the holiday, my children took turns contracting every cough, rash, and sniffle known to man—topped off by a raging bout of the dreaded rotavirus that, for the second time in three Christmases, swept through the digestive tracks of the entire family, including out-of-town guests. (My father has vowed that, if we go three out of four and he winds up spending his Christmas Eve birthday yet again puking his guts out in our bathroom, he will never, ever spend another holiday season in Washington.)

But Santa waits for no vomit, and so on the night of December 24th, my husband and I settled in to put together a closetful of toys. Naturally, one pink-and-white tea-party table had been damaged in transit. Better still, the canvas covering for the new playhouse had failed to arrive altogether, challenging us to come up with a clever explanation for why Santa had delivered a bare wooden frame reminiscent of the Amish barn-raising scene in “Witness.” Constructing said frame, of course, required six hands, five screwdrivers, two power drills, and a blow torch, and as Chris was struggling to complete the project, he stood up too fast and nearly knock himself cold on a low-hanging light fixture. His eyes refocused before too long, but even then he seemed to have a little more trouble following the assembly directions.

Finally, there was The Great Battery Crisis. Yeah, yeah. Every good parent knows to stock up on batteries of all sizes in preparation for Christmas. What can I say? I’m not a good parent—and, besides, all that vomiting had me off my game. A housewide search was launched, but even after cannibalizing a variety of small appliances, we still didn’t have the 427 C, D, and AA batteries needed to make the new toys run. (Can someone please explain to me why batteries and bras are sized alike?) So out went Chris in search of a store that was open at close to midnight on Christmas Eve. Unfortunately, in the wake of his head trauma, my husband had chased his bottle of Advil with the better part of a bottle of Zinfandel. Now, Chris is a pretty big guy, and he had insisted that he felt fine to drive—a supreme confidence that lasted until the moment he strolled into an all-night gas station and found himself in the middle of a pack of verrrrry chatty DC police officers. Grabbing fistfuls of batteries from the shelves, Chris beat a quick but careful retreat to his car, quite rightly assuming that I our marriage might not survive a holiday trip to the drunk tank.

This year, I have vowed that—concussion or not--there will be no imbibing until every last present is constructed and every battery installed. But still the terror grows. My son woke up with a cough this morning. My daughter has been complaining of itchy skin. We only have eight dozen packs of D-batteries in the pantry. And Chris spent all of last night throwing up from what he insisted was food poisoning. It is beginning, and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.  I'm thinking I should just bash myself over the head and get arrested now for efficiency’s sake.

--Michelle Cottle