Mary is missing. We hide the Mary and Joseph figurines from the nativity set each day for the kids to find, as the Holy Family "traverses" ever closer to the stable, where they'll finally reside on Christmas Eve. The whole experience culminates in a raucous rendition of "Happy Birthday, Jesus" when we get home from Christmas Mass and place Jesus in the stable, while at least one child tells us that actually Jesus was probably born in a cave. But Mary is gone. I have looked everywhere. The four of the five kids who are old enough to understand, in theory, directions have scoured the house for her. I think she saw our Christmas preparations and headed for the hills. My guess is that after being in toddler mouths and sticky hands an untold number of times, carried around in the bottom of bags full of pre-schooler "treasure" for hours at a go,and shoved in the microwave more often than a frozen burrito (no, not her donkey-though he ends up there with some regularity, too) , Mary thought to herself, "These people are nuts. There's no way I'm going to stick around there! I'm outta here."
The blogosphere is ripe with idyllic, peace-filled Christmas preparations. Wives, mothers, and homemakers baking and crafting and immersing themselves in nurturing activities with their children in pristine houses. Checkout Charming the Birds From the Trees, Like Merchant Ships, There's No Place Like Home for fine examples. And reading in open-mouthed awe I can only come to one conclusion: I must be doing it wrong.
I think the first place things go awry is the organisation-through-absolute-randomness approach we have in storage. All of the Advent and Christmas stuff is packed in the Scary Place I Don't Go, otherwise known as the attic. Year to year it's never packed away the same, and the labels on the outside of the boxes and totes have years of conflicting information. So just getting down the things to begin preparing is at least a day long event filled with all of the dramatic tension (but none of the promise of cold hard cash) of Deal or No Deal. Even now, after many trips up the Exorcist steps we still are missing things. Things I know we have. It eats at me. It wakes me nights after dreaming about frantically tearing open box after box after box. It's like a chase-dream, but it's the December 24th deadline which looms in pursuit.
Don't get me wrong. I like peace. I like joy. I like little Christmas knickknacks placed artistically around the home. I like the idea of little crafts and quiet prayers of preparation with my children. But the knickknacks in our home become projectiles, the crafts end with glue in someone's hair and someone writing on the walls, the prayers end up with threats from mommy to send everyone to bed forever.
Our Christmas decorating looks far more like those boxes and totes came down those rickety stairs turned their heads around while spouting obscenities and spewed out their contents around our house. Putting them up involved dehooking an ornament hanger from someone's finger, a snowball-esque ornament fight over the kitchen table, a duct tape incident about which we shall just not speak. There are death matches over which Christmas movie to watch next, which Christmas book we'll read tonight, over who gets to to put which ornament on the tree where. Christmas is historically a disaster prone time for us, trees toppling over and pies dropping and dripping all over in, out and around the oven.
And yet somehow, year after year, we keep at it. We keep attempting to find our miraculous Christmas peace and good-will inside our holiday mosh pit. We keep trying to make little crafts, and whisper little prayers. I wonder if someday it will be different. I wonder , as all those people assure me against my steadfast refusal to believe it, if I will miss these days once they are gone. For now I will just live one day at a time, each day striving for hope and waiting expectantly...waiting for evening when the children are in bed and hoping they won't get up , so I can crack open the next selection in the Winter Brew beer collection in peace and silence . And if you see Mary, can you let me know? I think I want to hole up with her until after Christmas.