Wednesday, December 20, 2006

madness which will not be repeated

This is only a partial reporting of last year's holiday madness, which Will Not Be Repeated for Christmas 2006. Kids seem to be in a remarkably good and settled place, thanks be to God and special thanks to me, their supervisor orchestrating calming activities like eating and sleeping. Not that the mood cannot change, of course, but right now, all is good.

I just peeked in on Madeleine, Brendan and Scott hibernating in a big snoring pile where they settled two hours ago, after I put a halt to the “celebration” of Christmas, hauled away the remaining wrapped presents, and declared Quiet Hour.

I need to admit here a truth that is hard to speak: every single Christmas celebration up to this 2005 one has been so breath-takingly sweet. Ours has been the house you’d hate to phone, our children entertaining themselves for hours with the new marble tower or the new art project. There’s never been a cranky moment, except the Christmas evening we attempted to build a gingerbread house, starting far too late and underestimating the time required. But we’ve never seen anything but sheer joy the morning and lunch of Christmas. My husband and I have, up to now, spent hours grinning quietly at each other over our cups of coffee, agreeing that it is a good idea to give children piles of presents in order for them to entertain themselves quietly across the room.

But this Christmas wasn’t like that.

Scott and I finished our elf-work by midnight last night, and I had waffle dough rising and kitchen clean by one a.m., probably a world’s record Christmas prep for our house. Kids woke at three-thirty to crowd into our bed, and Scott returned them shortly after. They returned at seven, a merciful hour, to wish us Merry Christmas and snuggle for ten wiggly minutes before running for the stockings.

Sounds sane enough, so far, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, we have been consistently underslept and battling colds for two weeks, with children in that regression/tantrum zone one minute and drawing elaborate renditions of Gabriel’s Annunciation to Mary the next minute— I need to check to see whether we are dealing a child in the midst of thoughtful creativity or The Other Mood. (I found a paper nativity scene in colored pencil under my pillow, maybe two inches square, offered by my six-year-old son and just breath-taking.)

Yesterday was just the kind of happy-edgy madness we live in: we put off buying a Christmas tree until the tree lots were nearly closed on Christmas eve. Kids and Scott rushed out when we realized everything would be closed by the time the church Christmas pageant was over. They came dragging it home at three p.m. as I finished preparing the extremely late lunch, leaving just barely time enough to dress children for the four p.m Christmas service at our church.

The service reflected none of our madness. Simple and ethereal, readings and music to break the heart, while elders smile at the din of babies and toddlers by the dozen. Three boys, ages seven and eight, read the gospel with the slightest of lisps and the greatest of enthusiasm. A choir of six each holds a single handbell with gloves twice the necessary size, and their faces glow with gusto as they sing. Madeleine and her friend Helen take the offering, holding hands against the fear of such an adult activity. Brendan processes with three other young children, carrying porcelain figures for the crèche near the altar, and like the others he is serious and intent, not performing so much as fully present.

We leave church with tins of goodies, gifts in shiny bags. We arrive home to that tree needing placement, propping and trimming, all of us hungry and cranky and everything is running late, interrupted by children behaving like fraternity brothers at a tailgate party. We force them to eat food with protein and vegetables, cajole them into a bathtub, dress them in the traditional new Christmas Eve pajamas, bribe them with hot cocoa and whipped cream, beg them to stop whining and shoving. They obsess over ornaments for an hour and a half past their bedtime, which would be fine except for the previous night’s pajama party, the sniffles. And the elves still needing time to work and sleep.

I am just now reckoning with a job outside of the academic schedule, a job without “Christmas break.” There are benefits—Scott picked up nearly all of the wrapping duties after I burned my hand cooking, cooking tired after a full work-day on Thursday, after a late faculty party for his school the previous night. And the burn, as well as my limited schedule, brought my expectations of myself to a new “minimum,” comfortably enough. My job, itself, has been buzzing with activity and energy, and it’s easy to love, despite the schedule—we sell beautiful things, lovely scents, delicious foods, and shoppers have been very merry. But my children are long on excitement and short on my time and flexibility, short on the healthy food in comparison to the quantities of sugar consumed, and we are fraying around the edges.

This Christmas involved “time outs” and hauling several wrapped gifts from the room to let them rest in a closet until tempers cooled down. This Christmas was an educational reminder to us, the parents, of what ought not to happen. It was Not Ethereal. It was nearly mean. I will write more about it another time, but just know that we will learn, we will learn.

Note: in this Advent, the tree was already hauled up the street by two slight-but-enthusiastic elves singing "Oh Tannenbaum" at the top of their lungs. They decorated Mr. Tannenbaum with great love and only a touch of chaos. The five advent calendars and one spinning advent lantern are getting their daily dose of use. I'll find my other notes on How Not To Celebrate the birth of Jesus, sometime. However we celebrate, I am hoping for calmness and wonder, like the other Christmases we usually have.

Wishing you Ethereal, as much as can fit.

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