Sunday, December 14, 2008

Missing: Mary, Mother of God. Last Seen: Shoved Down In the Couch Covered In Popcorn Kernels

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.


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  2. (I accidentally left my message under India's google account, so I deleted and signed in to my own.)
    I want to remind you to please surrender, surrender, surrender... There don't have to be rules for what is right in your house according to some national standard of how we have to act at Christmas. You don't have to live up to the expectations of anyone but yourself. You don't have to craft things because other people who don't have 5 homeschooled children are. You just do what you can and try to enjoy it or you just don't do it and let them and open that can of beer while the kids are up and set the stuff out and make the suggestion they do it in shifts with the oldest going first, that way the mess doesn't get out of hand until you have had time to just enjoy what the oldest are creating WITHOUT you and while you are tasting your yummy beer. You have to make it your own or you will never appreciate the magic. This is a lesson I have learned this year in a different way. I am making it my own no matter what anyone else thinks. We are making our own wrapping paper, which no one but the 4 of us will appreciate, but we are doing it anyways rather than buying more wrapping paper when we have perfectly good newsprint just awaiting some stamps, glitter, and paint made by the sweet hands of our two children. Rather than purchasing name tags to get yanked off with the paper, we are making our own name tags hand written by us that only the person passing out the gifts will see, but it brings me joy knowing I have this abundance I want to share with others and though they probably won't appreciate it like I would like them to, I've at least shared what I have to give, right? I can choose to be bitter about it or I can embrace the time I shared in doing it. Your solution is to find more time for yourself and let your children learn to do it without you and to keep the glue and markers on the tablecloth which can easily be washed so that you can ENJOY doing it with them and finding a way to place precious boundaries for yourself in there. Boundaries are not bad things when they can help everyone better appreciate their lives and time together. I know it can happen for you and when you surrender and truly believe you can do what you want and be a mother at the same time, not only will you feel better your kids will appreciate you that much more and best of all Mary will come back...

  3. This post brought me so much joy. And, I sure your children will remember this time with great joy as well. I always think kid friendly preparations are the best for families. They may not create flawless pictures, but they make for perfect memories.

  4. I love this post!!!

    You keep doing it, just the way I keep doing it even when the kitchen floor is coated with flour and colored sugar so thick I can't mop it off.

    It's a hard job making memories, isn't it?

  5. Oh ((((Meredith))) I hope you know that I love reading your blog. Like Sarah's blog it gives me inspiration and hope for a time when the youngest in our family isn't in my belly,in my arms, or into everything.

    Sarah- your response was very challenging to me. Boundaries is an area where we defintiely struggle- but at this point I think one of the hardest parts of the struggle is just the number and ages of children. It's hard to empower a nearly 4 year old to draw where she's supposed to when I am plucking the toddler off the top bookshelf where he's climbed while I was trying to give directions and offer help with our project. And I know that my kiddos all need more one on one fulfilling attention and time, but I find that so very, very hard toa.) coordinate and b.) find the will and enrgy to do.

    Colleen- I hope you are feeling alright today, and hope that 2nd trimester is less ickified. Have you checked out Gentle Christain Mothers?? You might really like their forums:

  6. Hi Shannon, I loved this post, it captured the realities of family life which tend to be missing from the more serene versions we read on the blogosphere.

  7. I'm visiting from the Simply the Best Group Writing Project at Confident Writing. This is great! :-) Your descriptions of Christmas at your home are so vivid. I can hear the kids screaming! Love it!