My daughters are dressed in their Holiday finery, and we are about to leave for the annual St. Jerome Christmas Concert.
This has been a strange Advent. More than ever before, it has snuck up on us, and we are unprepared in this season of preparing. We don't even have our Christmas tree yet.
As the days whiz by, and I wake up each day farther behind than the day before, and I try like hell to hold on to the things that matter and let go of the things that don't, I find myself literally catching my breath. I find myself confused by how fast time goes by.
For example, four years doesn't seem like a lifetime ago, but four years go, I wrote a reflection upon coming home from the 2009 Christmas Concert. Reading it now, I almost feel like I'm reading about some other family instead of mine. So much has happened since then.
One thing remains the same though: I am still finding, daily and in the midst of chaos and confusion, the things that make me call this a happy family. To remind me of this important fact, and to indulge in a little nostalgia, here is that reflection once more:
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Is my kid the only kindergartner with a big smudge of green ink on her face?
Is my 2nd grader the only one with a huge clump of hair hanging down in her face? It appears that all those other girls are perfectly coiffed.
Why does my 4th grader look like he is being choked by his tie, which is pulling strangely up and to the left?
Is my 5th grader really that bored by the proceedings, or is his arm injured in a such a way that he physically cannot hold his sparkly star any higher than his elbow, rendering it at least 6 inches lower than the stars of all of his classmates?
Are we the only parents who yelled at their kids in the 15 minutes prior to the festivities?
Are we the only family to arrive at this Celebration of the Season with more than 50% of us grumpy?
Is my three-year old really going to throw herself around like a rag doll and shriek like the monkey she wishes she were for the entire program, causing lots of people to toss sympathetic smiles and delighted giggles my way, people who don't have to attempt to keep her from launching off one of the pews, falling off of a kneeler, or crashing into the banister, and can therefore think she is just adorable? Am I the only one who thinks she is a pain in the ass?
You call this a happy family? Why do we have to have all these kids?*
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Am I really that neurotic of a mother to notice all of these imperfections? Don't answer that one.
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Can there be anything more touching than seeing an emerging young man in his Christmas finery, walking with dignity down the street, hands in pocket, keeping distance from the younger ones, establishing his fledgling maturity?
Can anything be cuter than a cadre of kindergartners singing and signing "Mary had a baby, oh Lord; Mary had a baby, oh my Lord; Mary had a baby, oh Lord; the people keep a-comin' and the train done gone!"
Can she look any more heartbreakingly lovely in her brand new glasses, my little Miss 20-20?
Is anything more important than trying, however imperfectly, to show up for your kids, and battle the stress, and rage against the commercial machine, and offer them the gift of Christmas, the gift of Christ, the gift of loving each other, however imperfectly, so that at the end of the evening, when one of them comes downstairs in tears, unable to describe the sadness, just overwhelmed and confused by the intensity of emotion he is feeling, you can set aside your own exhaustion and your own irritation at the stresses and curveballs that came your way today, and you can hold him and tell him that you know how he feels and that you've felt that way too, and it's because he has such a big, good heart that he feels that way and because the excitement of the holiday season can be just plain overwhelming? Because if you can do that, and then offer him his first taste of egg nog, you'll be able to send him to bed peacefully, and he will thank you and tell you he loves you, and in an instant, you will call this a happy family.
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*with gratitude to George Bailey of Bedford Falls, NY