Friday, December 30, 2016

Chilling Out for a Better Christmas

Did you celebrate Christmas with small children? If so, you probably saw a lot of faces like this. I know we did! 

This was our fourth Christmas as parents, and I think I am finally starting to understand how to do Christmas with small Children. It was a hard adjustment at first. especially for my type-A, plan-ahead, perfectionist personality. I had to learn how to be ok with my plans being interrupted, or changed all together. I had to learn to be ok with not doing every single family gathering. I had to learn to be ok with a little chaos. Naps get missed, bedtimes get thrown out the window, pandemonium ensues, but you know what? Everyone survives. 

I am slowly but surely learning how to chill out a little bit, and it's making the Christmas craziness a lot more enjoyable. Here are the things that help me the most. 

Lower expectations. We didn't get a family photo Christmas Eve, and that's ok. Johnny got his Christmas pajama bottoms dirty and the kids didn't match on Christmas morning, and that's ok. We were late to all our family gatherings, and that's ok. Trixie was a hot mess during Christmas Eve Mass, and that's ok. Johnny got the stomach flu two days before Christmas. Yes, I was a little terrified of him throwing up during Mass. And yes, I carried a barf bag in my purse all weekend. But everything ended up being ok. I was not expecting things to go perfectly, and so when they didn't, everything was ok!  

Let go of the schedule. Our kids nap at 1:00, and they go to bed at 8:30. Not during Christmas. Naps were squeezed in here and there, bedtime was anywhere from one to four hours later than usual. The kids were a little crabby. Johnny wanted to be held a lot, and Trixie wanted to nurse non-stop, but they did ok! Getting some extra family time in a couple times a year is worth abandoning the schedule for. And our Christmas bonus this year was the kids ended up sleeping in until 9:00 a couple of mornings, which never happens, and which was greatly appreciated. 

Don't try to do all the things. A few years ago I made a homemade gift for everyone in my family. I loved doing it, it was one of the best parts of my Advent and Christmas season. I really wanted to do it again this year.  I started planning on September. I got supplies. I made a secret Pinterest board to plan out my projects. By the time Thanksgiving rolled around I could tell I wasn't going to get all my homemade gifts made. I sulked a little bit, then I prayed for the ability to let it go. And I ended up being a lot happier by not worrying about it. Being present for my family is more important than making presents for them. 

I did get some stockings made for my sister and her husband. And I did get Johnny's train quilt finished in time. And that was enough. 

It's ok to say no. This year we skipped Christmas Eve dinner with my family, and the annual Science Museum trip with Alex's family. We skipped two things, that's it, and it made such a difference. We had just enough time get a little rest, and get a little organized, and enjoy the rest of our gatherings all the more. 

Remember what's important.  It sounds like a no-brainer. But I do have to remind myself why we are even doing any of this. "And the word became flesh and made his dwelling among us."  We made it to Mass. We celebrate the Word Incarnate. We know that God is with us, and that He comes to save us. When I keep this in mind everything becomes more meaningful, and it's a lot harder to get annoyed when parenting conditions are sub-par. 

It is now the fifth day of Christmas and we are slowly getting new toys put away and boxes broken down. Laundry is being caught up on and I finally did some meal planning and grocery shopping again. The kids are returning to their normal sleep schedules and normal chores are being resumed. But the tree is still up, we're still celebrating, and I'm still trying to chill out and enjoy it all. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

God With Us: a Christmas letter

The other day as Johnny and I were making Christmas cookies together, I was thinking about and how engrained with family traditions this time of year is. I was showing him how to place the cookie cutter shapes neatly and closely together, while Johnny would let his cookie cutter fall at random across the circle of dough. I remember doing the very same thing with my mother when I was little. It made me smile to see how I was now the mother, teaching the next generation to make Christmas cookies.

The family traditions extend to all the corners of our house in December. We have homemade stockings hanging up. Our tree is decked with the dozens of ornaments that Alex and I have received from our mothers over the years. There are also a few that I have gotten for our children. We put on the Christmas music that we grew up listening to. Harry Connick Jr. from my family, and John Denver and the Muppets from Alex’s. One of my very favorite, and wonderfully simple traditions is taking off my glasses and gazing at the beautiful blur of the Christmas tree; something my parents and I always did, and still do, together.

While all of these little traditions make us feel warm and nostalgic inside, it’s the way they buoy up the Main Event of the season that make them truly special. Advent, where we take a timeout from the noise of the world and the noise inside our own heads to prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus. And Christmas, when we rejoice with all the angels that He is here.

"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14)

Emmanuel. God with us.

Do we realize that God is with us? It doesn’t always feel like it. Life tends to move at a dizzying pace and I sometimes forget to be aware of God’s presence in my life.

Alex is in his final year of PA school. He’s in the middle of his second clinical rotation, where he has been doing lots of well child visits and diagnosing lots of pink eye and bronchitis. Most days he says he feels like he doesn’t know anything, but I can tell he’s growing in knowledge. I’m so proud of all the hard he has been putting in the past three years. Twelve months from now he will be graduating, and I am counting the days. We’re both excited to see where he ends up as a PA.

The biggest change this year has been Johnny starting at his amazing school for deaf and hard of hearing children. He attends four full days a week and with the great speech therapy he’s receiving we are seeing his language skills expanding every day. I am well aware of the providence of God in that this school, with only 8 others like in the nation, is just a ten-minute drive from our house. Outside of school Johnny is very passionate about trains, specifically Thomas the Train. He has a Thomas t-shirt that he would wear 7 days a week if we let him. He loves counting things, and his favorite foods include Pop-tarts, ketchup, and chocolate.

Trixie has usurped Johnny’s spot as the difficult child. She is noisy in church and throws tantrums when she doesn’t get her way. She has both parents up multiple times during the night while she gets ALL her teeth at once. But she is also snuggly and affectionate, and loves to spend time with her family. She also loves to play with toys, mostly her big brothers toys, jump on the bed, and put on and take off socks.

I am teaching 20 piano students this year, in addition to keeping everyone fed and in clean clothes. School drop-off and pick-up adds to the business. And I try to make time for my favorite hobbies of knitting and blogging. Most days my head is spinning from trying to keep up with everything. And so I pose the question again, do we realize that God is with us?

If I’m being completely honest the answer is most days, I forget to even think about it. I have to make myself stop and be quiet before I realize, He is here.

He is here, in the miracle of life that is our two children. He is here, in the fellowship we share with our family and friends. He is here, in the way He provides for our daily needs. And He is here, in the comfort He offers throughout life’s sorrows and sufferings.

He came as a baby into the mess and muck of a stable, and He comes to us now, every day, in the real mess of our own lives. It may not always feel like He is here, with the way the world rages, and with our own personal burdens and anxieties. But Jesus is no stranger to suffering and He is not deterred by yours.

He is Emmanuel, God with you.

So, do you see Him?

My prayer for you this Christmas is that you will find the peace and quiet that you need to see the presence of Jesus in your life, and that your New Year will be filled with joy.

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