‘Twas the night before yesterday, and I happened to be scrolling through Facebook. Nestled between warm photos of my friends’ brightly-lit new Christmas trees, I saw the candle ad, “How to make your house smell like Christmas.” I scrolled down, past the six people who had shared a new rendition of a favorite carol, and blinked briefly at the twinkly-perfect blog titled something like, “Simple Ways to get the Look of Christmas.” After a a few more smiling-through-snowflake-family pictures slid by, a pretty meme sign popped up with a bunch of happy faces, proclaiming “It’s starting to feel like Christmas.”
I turned off the monitor and wrinkled my nose.
My house smelled like diapers and boiled over dinner. My living room looked like a tornado had done the decorating. My emotions felt a lot like they had in November, and October, and last year. I wasn’t full of cheer as I crunched a Cheerio under my bare foot. I was (you might want to sit down) grumpy about Christmas.
It’s true. It’s not just that I won’t win any Pinterest awards for great fake snow and shimmery lights and cinnamon pinecones arranged around a rough hewn hand painted pallet sign proclaiming the real reason for the season. Haha. No. There is a stuffed snowman peeking out half-guiltily from the mantle, and a stack of junk mail telling me all the great seasonal deals I’m missing at all the stores. But otherwise there isn’t much in the house to belie the tinselly-mood we’re supposed to be reveling in.
I lay on the kitchen floor on Saturday. The toddler used my hips for climbing practice, but I hardly noticed. The fog of exhaustion was too thick. I really should have bundled all the kids up and out of the house to buy diapers at a big box store – but it was the day after Black Friday. That’s an adventure on a “normal” day! Or I could have taken them to cut a Christmas tree – eight months pregnant, with a toddler and a kid in a wheelchair and three more offering to handle the saw. I could have simply cleared the table and offered to make everyone cocoa and stick in a Christmas CD while they made red and green paper chains. But I didn’t. I just didn’t have it in me.
I’d caught a cold the week before, and hadn’t managed to shake it before Thanksgiving. It’s not like moms get sick days. My husband, who works in retail, had already been putting in long days and weeks leading up to the holiday season, even though the Advent countdown had yet to begin. I missed marriage. I wished I’d socked away more savings so I could have Christmas shopping done already, but with car repairs and things breaking, money -and time – had been tight. The boys, sensing my own impatience and discontent, seemed intent on clashing over every little thing. The house felt small; I couldn’t even imagine fitting a tree into our overflowing house, let alone the new baby due early in the next year. So I just lay there, tired, overwhelmed, and not the least bit full of wonder in the magic of the season. I simply wondered how it would all happen.
But still… I wished I could feel some of that wonder, see some anticipation in my kids’ eyes as we prepare for a grand holiday, and maybe smell something more engaging than the morning’s eggs in the kitchen.
So I prayed that prayer again, the one I need to. “Lord, let me see with Your eyes, touch with Your hands, feel with Your heart.”
And I realized, it really would be dumb to throw a pity party for someone who has everything they need but not everything they want. Just because my Christmas won’t be as American-perfect as everybody (on Twitter) says it should.
I bet Mary didn’t get to go to every holiday brunch and cookie-swap to get all enveloped in the wonder of the season. She was too busy being snubbed by her family and friends for claiming to be a nine-month-pregnant-virgin. She was too busy bringing forth a baby in a pig sty to worry about bringing anyone cheer. Her arms were so full of the Promise of Life; they had no room for spruce boughs or tangled strings of lights or sale flyers or plates of gingerbread men or party clothes or cards with smiling family pictures. The only entertaining she did was of uninvited smelly raucous shepherds, surrounded by the literal blood, sweat and tears of childbirth in a dirty stable. No one even hung a string of lights around the stable door. It was cold. Dark. Dirty. Embarrassing. How very un-Christmassy.
For us, a tree will find a place (where, hopefully, the toddler won’t be able to climb it). Presents will appear. Decorations (after a fashion, don’t judge) will distract from some of the clutter and chaos. The kids will have cocoa mustaches and chant familiar carols and help decorate gingerbread. We will survive the busy season, and, darn it all, we will enjoy some of it. It is one of the tougher seasons of motherhood, requiring ever so much more than the just the impossibility of normal. But even though Mary didn’t have a smartphone to document every dramatic moment, she did have the memories. She didn’t make them. They just happened.
The pressure started to slide off my shoulders. Maybe it wasn’t all on me to force my family into the perfect Christmas season. Yes, there is a lot to do. But if I don’t throw the Christmas party-event-of-the-season this year, chances are good my kids will still be socially accepted. If they get underwear and new pajamas rather than jet-powered boots that can blast them into space (that was on one of their wish lists), I’ll just have to hope they won’t need therapy to recover. If we make and eat a dozen fewer kinds of cookies, I doubt I can call that a bad thing.
And if they really feel the need to experience the perfect Christmas environment, I bet some of our friends’ houses will uplift their spirits with peppermint and cinnamon. I know you’re out there. I’ve seen your social media accomplishments. But don’t worry, I won’t be competing.