Tag Archives: Christmas

Next Time

19 Dec

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One of the most adorable qualities of the human spirit, is our persistently hopeful notion of next time.

“Next time, I’m not messing around. I’m getting my act together, and I’m going to be amazing. All of these years, and the dozens of times I’ve fallen short, are surely just practice for next time.”

Well, here we are, smack in the middle of last December’s next time.

Some optimistic/delusional part of me, and maybe some equally delusional part of you, likes to think that it is entirely possible for Christmastime to be magazine/Pinterest/Food Network-worthy — polished and delicious and perfect. The other smarter, more reasonable parts of us know it probably won’t be, and the very best parts accept that this is totally ok.

Whether it’s you or me, doesn’t really matter. Let’s pretend it’s you. You won’t do every Christmasy thing you wanted to do – cut down your own tree, drive around to look at the lights, volunteer at a soup kitchen, take your nieces to “The Nutcracker,” or finally use that Advent calendar you bought six years ago.

The Elf on the Shelf will forget to move for a day or two, causing great consternation for the home’s human occupants.

You won’t be able to say yes to every party, but will consider canceling the ones you did say yes to because it’s been a long week, you are tired and cranky, and the rumor going around is there will be people at the party.

You’ll spend more time than you care to admit making that cheery and festive  Anthroplogie-style decorative paper chain, then realize there’s no good place to hang it.

The cat will climb the Christmas tree. An ornament will be broken. You’ll forget where you stashed the stocking hangers, so the limp stockings will wait in a sad pile with the paper chain.

No matter when you get there, the line for Santa will be long, bordering on too long. Or worse, the baby of the family will decide suddenly that they are done visiting Santa, and your heart will hurt a little.

The cards won’t go out on time, if they go out at all. And if they do go out, you will be exactly three stamps short, and you will wonder if those three people are worth a trip to the post office. You’ll say “of course they are,” and you will go to the post office, and once again question your feelings about the strength of those three friendships as you wait in line.

The kids will start to lose interest in making cookies the moment they have to wash their hands, and abandon you altogether when you start pouring ingredients into the mixing bowl; which is ok, because you’re out of eggs anyway.

You will lose patience for a minute, and yell at someone you love.

The big brother will grouse about owning yet another pair of festive pajamas that match the little brother’s, even though this is surely the last year there will be matching pajamas in both their sizes.

Weather will happen, flights will get cancelled.

You will get a paper cut while wrapping presents.

You will remember too late, again, that the idea of ice skating is much better than the reality of ice skating.

Your sweater will be scratchy.

It will seem that absolutely everybody you know is somehow doing Christmas better than you.

They’re not.

I would tell you to relax, but I feel weird telling you to do something I seem to be incapable of. Churchy types, like myself, are in the middle of Advent – which is the season of waiting, preparation, and anticipation. We strive with varying degrees of success, to eschew the commercial and focus on the reason behind it all. We fail at that as much as we succeed. But something special is coming, and it’s really, really hard to sit still.

What do you do while you wait? Whether it’s for your prom date,  party guests, or for something as holy and special as Christmas — how do you fill those final anticipatory hours? Do you meditate, or rearrange the throw pillows and hastily scoop the mail from the kitchen counter? Do you sit on the couch quietly so you don’t wrinkle your outfit or maybe squeeze in one more task and yell at whoever can hear you to get more ice? I rearrange, scoop, squeeze, and yell.

We fill the time, and do what we can, but maybe we can keep our cool a little bit, so we’re not sweating, and antsy and too burnt out to enjoy not only each other, but also the fruits of our laborious waiting period. You’ve worked so hard – you don’t want to miss the main event.

And so what if you didn’t get to everything this year? You’ll do it next time.

Wishing you a joyous, yet totally peaceful, Christmas and holiday season.

treasures

21 Dec

During a recent visit with my mom, she pulled out a book of “Treasures” that she and my uncle had unearthed. The album actually had “Treasures” emblazoned across the front in a font usually reserved for the words “Antique” or “Apothecary.” The album had not seen the light of day since before I was born. Inside were never-before-seen-by-me pictures of my grandparents as well as uncles, aunts, and cousins I had never met, though my mother refuses to believe it.

“That’s Dewey, Colleen, you know Uncle Dewey.”

“Not really.”

“Lucille?”

“Sorry.”

Everyone was dressed to the nines for each photo, even though they were usually standing in a dusty field. Our current photo albums are littered with our raggedy little group in pajamas, tearing into Christmas presents or doing dishes after Thanksgiving dinner, always with messy hair and half-closed eyes.

But there was my mother, with her perfectly round cherubic face and shiny ringlets, decked out in her Sunday best, walking around in that dusty field at nine months old. It was the Depression; kids didn’t enjoy the luxury of waiting until their first birthday to learn to walk.  Jacob was born during the technology boom. He rolled around, chubby and euphoric from the optimistic atmosphere of a modern day gold rush, lazily waiting until he was nearly 15 months before taking his first official step.

There were a few handwritten entries throughout the book, noteable things that had happened in the 1930’s and 40’s. “Your grandmother was very up-to-date on stars,” my dad said as I looked at him curiously, unaware of her interest in astronomy. He clarified, “she kept very close track of celebrity news.” Thank God, it’s hereditary. Who am I to fight my genetic predisposition to know exactly what Blake Lively’s or Ryan Goslings’s relationship status is at any given moment?

Toward the back of the book of Treasures, was a little newspaper clipping from Christmas, 1940, featuring unedited children’s notes to Santa.

My uncle’s note was first. He asked for candy and nuts, a big drum, slippers and a coloring book, and added a special request to Santa to please not forget their little brother. Then there was my mom, the big sister – a 5-year-old who asked for dishes, an ironing board, slippers, candy and nuts. I couldn’t believe it. This was very nearly the same list she’d rattled off my entire life, save for the new ironing board; that was just once a decade. She still loves ironing, and will proudly tell you how she was the victor of her high school’s home economics ironing contest. She eyes me suspiciously every time I tell her I don’t know where our iron is, or worse, if we even still own an iron.

“It’s the same list, mom, down to the candy and nuts,” I laughed, until I recalled my own trip to see Santa, nearly 30 years ago, that went something like this:

“And what would you like little girl?”

“A red purse.”

I had waited in line to meet Santa who was holding court in our town’s toy store. The purse I was referring to had a little buckle and a long strap that made it the perfect cross-body bag for the 7-year-old on the go.  It wasn’t bulky but had plenty of room for the necessities – Dr. Pepper flavored lip balm, gum, a hairbrush, three key chains with no keys, and no fewer than 11 pens.

A red purse has popped up on my list every few years since.

Meanwhile, two states away, my future husband Johnny and his little brother Mikey were propped up on the knee of their small-town Idaho Santa who greeted his guests at the auto parts store. That Santa may or may not have been failing Algebra while depending on the healing powers of Stridex to assist with his…youthful complexion. He also weighed about 120 pounds and hated his job.

John doesn’t remember what he asked for. He probably said “It’s ok, Santa. I really don’t want or need anything,” while wholeheartedly meaning it, frustrating the chestnuts out of Santa and solidifying his reputation as being nearly impossible to shop for. Not that I have any experience with, or am in any way also frustrated by that.

Our own boys have grown and changed over the past year. Zach’s desire to see Santa was not as urgent and his normally adorable wishlist of toys was replaced this year with a football video game. Jake has braces now and his feet are bigger than mine.  He surprised us all by putting some special, and crazy-hard-to-find basketball socks at the top of his list…SOCKS. (Nike Elites; heard of them? I hadn’t either. Some joker’s selling a $12 pair online for $52.) The rest of their lists don’t stray too far from there – if a Manning brother, a big league pitcher, or anyone on the Miami Heat endorses it, wears it, or plays with it, it’s likely on the list.

It’s not the stuff that overwhelms me; it’s what the stuff represents now. The boys are big, and they are getting bigger, just like I’m sure my Dad was less than thrilled that my one wish was a red purse so I could look like a Charlie’s Angel or Laura from “Remington Steele.” While we know the presents and the busyness aren’t the parts of Christmas that fortify us, they can perhaps stir up a memory or two, and cause us to pause and think and feel things – whether they are happy or sad or funny or wistful things.

But that’s not where we find our true joy, or peace, or promise of a new and brighter day. My prayer for you this Christmas is that in spite of all your stuff, your to-do lists, the baking you meant to do, and the half finished Christmas cards, that you find your Treasure, whatever that may be for you right now – peace, joy, or hope – and you pass it on. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Joyous 2012 to you and yours!

i’m taking that

5 Dec

It represented months of stern discussion, a few tears, plenty of exasperation, and a smattering of time-outs (some for me, some for the boys) – but what we had collected was quite the impressive arsenal of kid weaponry.  Colorful plastic, wood, fabric, and foam. Pointy things, blunt things, long things and short things. Things that shoot, things that poke; but mostly things that whack, hit and pummel.

The pile started innocently enough with a foam dart gun. I don’t recall the exact circumstances that resulted in its confiscation, but likely someone was shot in the eye, and did not like it. It was taken away, and hoisted atop my lovely bedroom armoire where neither boy could reach. Then we added the padded bat (I believe someone was walloped and did not like it), a light saber and an Indiana Jones whip, then the other two light sabers and the other three padded bats. A football jersey made it up there at some point, followed by the football, and one out of two of the hockey sticks. There was a potato gun, three foam golf clubs, and the foam dart rifle that went straight from the original package to the pile, with nary a stop in between. The old western six-shooter actually took longer to be put up there than I thought it would. Within one week, Zach lost both of his chef knives – one from his basic kitchen set, the other a wooden cleaver from the sushi set.

The pile teetered as the gun barrels hung precariously off the edges of the armoire. ”Confiscation Station” was bursting at the seams.

“Mom, can I have the potato gun please? I need it for what I am doing.”

“Fine.” His brother was not home. I retrieved it easily, and handed it to Zachary. I knew exactly where it was in the pile because it was the first thing I saw every morning when I woke up.

Zach returned the potato gun when his mysterious potato-gun-necessitating activity was complete, and I placed it back in its spot, no questions asked.

Confiscation Station had become storage…and could easily pass as the gun locker for a deranged but adorable teddy bear, with a penchant for golf and baseball.

The boys eventually forgot about the stuff up there and focused on LEGOs and some made-up game that involved diving onto the couch and yelling at each other.

Hoping we could sneak it all back into place without re-piquing their interest, John and I quietly cleared out Confiscation Station. I woke up and cheerily surveyed the newly cleaned off, cleared out grown-up space that could now be left to collect dust in peace.

The knives were first to return, followed by the light sabers and the bats, and then finally the dart guns. We acquired two Disney swords that fit nicely in the crevices created by the Storm Trooper gun and the six-shooter.

Then I needed to have a place to keep things from the cat. Up went two half deflated balloons and a spool of curly ribbon.

I drove up to the house the other night, and our bedroom curtain was open just enough for the pile to be revealed in all its glory, perfectly framed by our outdoor Christmas lights.  I had never seen the pile from that angle before. It was architecturally and structurally impressive, sure, but it also looked like the window of a person sorely in need of some kind of intervention.

You might say, “They are boys! Let boys be boys!” or “Why do you have so many weapons in the first place?”

“Good points!” I would say back to you. They are boys, but I don’t think boys should get poked in the eye either, and tomorrow, when their arms are longer than they are today, their reach will extend beyond the “thiiiis close” distance to the TV/Window/my face/the cat/other faces they have enjoyed thus far.

We did not intend to accumulate so many weapons, it just happened. We didn’t head out one day on a stockpiling mission with an arsenal shopping list. They have grandparents, uncles and birthday parties, and moments at Target where I am weak and they have a gift card, and they do not like my suggestion of drawing paper or a new knit cap.

I dismantled the pile again after spying it through the window, but the contents have not been put back into the boys’ rooms. Instead, they have found a new home in the bin recently vacated by the Power Rangers, who though adored by young Jacob, have been (mercifully) ignored by Zach.

The spot is clear once more, just in time for Christmas.

*A potato gun IS pretty cool. You stick the barrel into a potato, and it takes out a little potato plug/bullet, that you can then shoot. Searching for and collecting the spent potato bullets will make you feel like a farmer AND a CSI.

while we wait

8 Dec

This Christmas tree is so distracting. It’s getting in the way of my desire to do laundry and catch up on chores. I’m having a harder time enforcing bedtime, and snapping orders like “wash your hands!” to whichever grubby little dude is running by me that moment. It’s so festive, and it makes me want to drink hot chocolate and wear a sweater and hug everybody.

Even this week, when things were hectic at work and I STILL did not get a chance to buy stamps, there it was twinkling from the window, like it had been looking down the street waiting for me to come home…tall and sparkly, pretty and happy. It’s close enough to the computer that when I sit down to return emails, or figure out what I want to write about, I usually end up turned in my seat gazing into my fun house mirror reflection on one of the shiny red ornaments. And then of course, I wince when I realize Jacob does this, and I tell him to turn around and focus.

Sure, I appreciate it’s beauty and cheeriness, but right now I can also point at it, and say “Look at that! It’s done. I got something done!” A major accomplishment during a time where I feel like I’m spinning in circles at work and at home, all while fussing and fretting, and talking about how busy I am. Of course, I’m busy, who isn’t? It’s near impossible to find someone who’s not overcommitted or stressed out or even a little grumpy. I’m never grumpier though, than when I run across that person who’s been “done” for a month thanks to the wonders of forethought and online shopping. They’re the worst.

John pointed out that even when you’re a kid, you cannot fully relax until you’ve checked something off your list: face time with Santa. Because up until you talk to him directly, you’re really not too sure if your request has been noted or lost out there in the ether. So yesterday, we sucked it up and went to see Santa to help Zach with his to-do list.

Jake did not want to see Santa. He’s 10 now and has that shag haircut. He reminded me that I promised him last year he wouldn’t have to go again, even if it was just to support his little brother. But there he stood, relatively without complaint, the tallest kid in line and with only the promise of Mongolian BBQ at the end.

The “elf” in the apron who made us very well aware that she hated working evenings and that it was almost time for her break, looked at us like we were nuts for turning down a photo package. This isn’t my first time at the rodeo, you know, I wanted to tell her. We were there on a mission, get in, tell Santa about the “Star Wars book with Luke in it,” and get out – check it off the list. At our mall, right before you get to Santa, you enter a huge snowglobe that, yes, snows on you. The kids go bananas. Laying in it, running their fingers through it and rubbing as much as they can into their hair. One girl even stood under the blower with her mouth open. It took us a minute to remember that this is not in fact, snow. It’s billions of flakes of plastic, possibly asbestos, but certainly not snow. It does not adorably melt out of your hair. It does not taste like the purest glacier water on the planet.

I pull Zachary over to me, and we start working the flakes from his hair and his all-black outfit, including his favorite shirt of all time which is the reason we had to keep him calm – the official World Champion San Francisco Giants, Buster Posey, #28 shirt. Of course, now I see the that this stuff is falling on me too, and I try ducking my head out of the way like I’m being attacked by bees. It’s in all of our hair, but the kid in line behind us is still rolling around in it. I use myself as a human shield between him and Zach when the kid starts yelling “snowball fight snowball fight snowball fight snowball fight!” I dodge and block and duck and swipe, while John shakes his head at me…“You and nature,” he says with a sigh. Now I could have corrected him here, and reminded him that we were still at the mall and not on the frozen tundra, but that wouldn’t have done any good, because this is pretty much exactly what I am like in nature too.

We take our turn sitting on the royal snow palace throne, and when the family who is purchasing 3 separate photo packages is finally done, Santa calls us all over, much to Jake’s chagrin. He high-fives us and asks what we want. When it’s my turn, I lamely point at a sweater in Macy’s window across the way, and we say our goodbyes. Zach looks up at me panicked, and runs back to Santa. “Wait!!”

Santa peeks over the top of his spectacles, “Yeeeesss?”

“What my mom really wants is Twilight: Eclipse on blu-ray.”

“I heard it’s good,” Santa says looking at me, as I slink away, tugging Zach behind me.

Then I realize, as we often do and sometimes too late – this is it. Right here, right now. I will remember this hour of standing in line with the three boys, chatting and dodging that horrific flakey snow, and Zach advocating on my behalf to Santa, much longer than I will remember a fleeting moment of satisfaction from having accomplished something. Why on Earth, would I want this to be done?

We’re reminded from the pulpit on Sundays that Advent is a time of waiting, preparation, and anticipation. But I don’t think it’s the kind of preparation we’re used to – we share this space with other flustered people and their lists and stressers. What if we stopped focusing on the lists, and enjoyed the part where we’re sharing the space with people who love us, or people who need us. This is the part where we really get to help each other…during the waiting that can otherwise seem like such a chore. I don’t need another 17 days ‘til I can care about you, I’d like to enjoy you right now, while we wait.