I’m a busy mom. Which is kind of a conundrum because the word mom equals busy. But I’m busier than some in that I’ve got three girls, a home business and a non-profit organization. In addition to being the drape lady I’m also the cleaning lady, lunch lady, and laundry lady. I’m less busy than others in that I can go to work in my pajamas and toil away while the rest of the world sleeps. I don’t have to fit in errands and appointments on my lunch hour. But when it comes to Christmastime, a mom is a mom is a mom. And none of us are busy. We are manic.
With all of the shopping–both retail and online, the decorating–both inside and out, the outfit coordinating, picture taking, card ordering, menu planning, gift wrapping, class party organizing, light viewing, wish list writing, Santa visiting, t-shirt appliqueing, matching pajama finding, ultimate holiday experience searching, charitable giving, and extra church going..…we are manic.
I know that I fail at a lot. My kids will no doubt be in therapy long after I’m gone. I’ve forgotten 2 year olds at school. I’ve lost Bunny Bears in Disney World. I’ve served Oreos for breakfast and Cheetos for supper more times than I can count. I yell a lot. And I nag even more. But I rock Christmas. I’ve always been able to deliver that wish list like a boss. We don’t just make cookies, we host a cookie party and every year Mrs. Claus miraculously shows up. We get a real tree–no pre-lit with sturdy branches that never needs water tree for MY family. We don’t just have one elf on the shelf–we have three. You’d be hard pressed to find a corner in this house (and out of it) that’s not decorated. I rock Christmas. And end up manic in the process. But in my mind, it makes up for the other 11 months of the year that I do not rock.
I love a to do list. Like, I really love a to do list. I don’t love doing the stuff on the to do list, but I love, love, love scratching stuff off of my to do list. I love scratching stuff off of my to do list so much that sometimes I write stuff I’ve already done just so I can scratch it off. And when it comes to December, the list is long. Patio tree. Check. Porches. Check. Girls tree, Advent wreath, table, mantle. Check check check check.
So why do we do it? Whatever processes and events and activities a mom adds to her plate for the month of December…Why do we do it? One word. I-don’t-freaking-know. Blame the kids. Kids change everything. They change our dress sizes, our budgets, our marriages, our schedules. The size of our houses, our savings accounts, our cars and our favorite restaurants all change once we have kids. They change where we vacation (beach or Disney World), where we have phone conversations (in the corner of our closet) and where we fight with our spouses (in the driveway….we’d never let our kids hear us argue, just the neighbors). Once the stick turns blue and there’s a baby brewing, everything changes. A baby changes everything. Oh the things we could afford if we didn’t have tuition and a teenage driver and a dancing bill. Oh the places we could go travel to if they knew how to act right and appreciate more than just swimming and “The” Princesses. Oh we’d be so skinny if they didn’t drive us to hide behind our jeans with a bag of mint Kit Kats while we call them names on the phone with our soul sista. We probably wouldn’t even fight with our spouse. Kids change everything.
And boy do they change Christmas. Couples have trees that stand straight all the time with the nice breakable ornaments evenly spaced throughout the tree instead of only at the top and out of reach. They light fires and sip wine while watching the Hallmark channel. They leisurely shop together on a Saturday after brunch. They go to fancy Christmas parties and even a New Year’s Eve bash that doesn’t include lighting their own fireworks. (Or at least in my mind that’s what they do.) But when the kids come, the tree will fall over at least once, 2/3 of the ornaments are super glued back together, the fire is too much of a hazard, Hallmark changes to Disney Channel with Olaf’s Frozen Adventure on repeat, mom does all of the shopping (including her own) and there is NOTHING leisurely about it, brunch is replaced by waffle fries and lattes and the parties are at school. The only constant is the wine. Just more of it.
There is just so much to do. And I thought with Thanksgiving a little earlier this year that there would be more time. Wrong. It just meant more time for more stuff. The Season of Peace is anything but peaceful. Jesus may be the reason for the season but insane is the name of the game. So why do we do it? I-don’t-freaking-know.
In the middle of the chaos we preach and we preach to our kids that it’s better to give than to receive, and that it’s not about the presents but about Jesus’ birthday and then there’s the annual gratitude lecture. But do we practice what we preach? Are we a bit hypocritical if we don’t get it ourselves? Advent is a time of preparation. But when so much of our time is wrapped up in shopping, lists, check marks and exhaustion, what are we preparing for?
I sat alone in mass several Sundays ago. The first reading was from Proverbs 31, the chapter many of us Christian mothers cling to daily. Being alone, I could hear every word read and every syllable preached that day. And the communion hymn sung that day included the words “Mothers lead their children just as the Lord lights the way.” I don’t remember what the battle of the day was causing all of that to reach me so deeply in my core–could have been the sassy, ever exasperated teenager, the anxiety ridden 7 year old or the constantly itching and scratching 4 year old–but it was a good mass. So good that I typed notes into my phone when I got in the car. But the thing that stopped me in my tracks was the Nicene Creed. As Catholics we recite a creed in every mass and it states what we believe. I’ve said that creed a million times if I’ve said it once. And around the middle we nod our heads in reverence as we recite 22 words. Something that is second nature to me. I do it on autopilot. All of us “good Catholics” do. But for some reason that day it was like I was doing it for the first time. And I watched a church full of people bow their heads and recite the 22 words. And all of the sudden I was in awe of something that seemed so ordinary to me for so long. We bow our heads at that part because it is the most crucial, most important, most awe invoking part of the prayer. “…he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit, he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and became man.” And it is the most crucial, most important, most awe invoking part of the prayer because it is the most crucial, most important, most awe invoking part of the history of all of humanity.
God came down from heaven and became one of us. Christmas. Maybe it didn’t happen exactly on December 25 two thousand and seventeen years ago, but it happened. Christmas happened.
So it makes sense that the day that we celebrate the most crucial, most important, most awe invoking part in all of history requires a little fanfare. And while the layers and layers that we have added to the season of peace might not necessarily be biblical, it doesn’t mean that they’re unbiblical.
It might take a week to decorate but in those seven days little ones ask us to tell the story of each ornament as we put it on the tree and they ask us why we must hang the angel upside down on the crèche. The ornaments are from our trips (mostly to the beach and Disney) or they were made from popsicle sticks by little hands or they signify a moment in time we shared. And the angel must be hung upside because it’s what your daddy used to do when he was your age at his Granny’s house and before she died she gave it to us and asked us to always hang the angel upside down. It’s the only possession she gifted to anyone before she died and it sits on our foyer table every December. Jesus is in the room when we decorate.
We are so over the line for the mall Santa so this year we found one at the Mexican restaurant. No fancy backdrop but lots of quality of time with the man himself. And when you watch your children star struck, wondering how he knew their name (it was monogrammed on their shirt) you start counting in your head how many years your families have visited Santa together. You’ve added two more littles to the mix since you started. The original littles are now the bigs. But not too big to sit on Santa’s lap (which you made them do). How many Santa pics do you have together? And when two 40 something year old mommas sit there and contemplate, Could he be the “real” Santa? I mean, look at his hair and his beard. Look at how kind and patient he is. I think he’s real. When you see your teens, tweens and tots all at the same table coloring and giggling on a Tuesday night, you whisper a silent thank you. And Jesus is at the table across from the chips and salsa.
You don’t have time to host a cookie party days before Christmas and they don’t have time to attend a cookie party. But when Mrs. Claus shows up, unbeknownst to any of the guests and she oddly resembles a mom in your group whose kids are grown, everyone realizes there’s always time for that. The kids are mumbling to each other Is that really Mrs. Claus? She looks a little like Miss Shannon. But they are too scared to doubt because if she is real, then she’s got Santa’s ear. There’s sprinkles and burnt edges and dried icing from the ceiling to the barstool but a hundred memories made. And Jesus’ footprints are in the flour all over the floor.
Our to do lists are long, our shopping lists are longer and our calendars are full. We overextend and overspend. It wasn’t like this before kids. They changed everything. Maybe before kids our trees used to look like a magazine ad. But now they tell a story. Before kids we didn’t know the Santa picture schedule and package price, or even where to find him. But now we have a decade of pictures that would never exist otherwise. Before kids, bakeries baked the most tasty, most beautiful treats. But now we know that sugar and butter shaped by dirty hands and tiny hearts are the real treat. We have three elves because we have three kids. And one day each of those elves will make their new home in each of their homes.
It’s Christmas. It’s when God became one of us. It’s the event that changed everything. The baby that changed everything. And while our lists and our check marks may seem a far cry from Bethlehem, the fruits of our labor are not. Whatever it is that puts us in the same room, the same train car, the same shopping mall or the same restaurant….whatever it is that makes us laugh, makes us cry, makes us remember, makes us tell the story yet again….whatever it is that makes us pray together, eat together, cook together or two-step on a cornmeal covered linoleum floor a million years ago….is worth it.
In the middle of your chaos, in the homestretch of the season, may you look around and see Jesus at your table, on your porch, in the pew on the side of you, or in line at Target for the 8th time this week. May you falala, and may you actually like it.