I've decided that the difference between an amazing story and an ordinary one lies just in the telling of it----that, or the music playing in the background. Unfortunately for me, I am not an amazing story teller, nor do I have any impactful, touching music to accompany this post. But this story is wonderful--or it certainly could be with the right telling or the right music.
My kids have been awful this year. They've grown progressively worse. I take that back. They are amazing and wonderful kids and my love for them only continues to grow. But this year, their behavior has grown progressively worse than it has ever been (for the most part). They talk back and say horrible things to me and to each other, and they fight. like. crazy. As has happened for the last couple years, I spent a considerable part of December marveling about the irony that our little elf, Peppy, who watches us all month in order to report back to Santa--is the best evidence that there is definitely no Santa. Because if there were a Santa, and Peppy were really reporting our behavior to him, there would absolutely be no presents or stockings on Christmas morning.
So over the week before Christmas, I had actually began feeling guilty about the prospect of delivering gifts and goodies on Christmas morning when our kids had been so, so undeserving. What would I be teaching them by doing so? So I had started mulling over the idea of postponing Christmas. Could I do it? I knew there was no way I would ever be hard-core enough to withhold the gifts and stuff all-together---after all, I get as excited as the kids do about it--but maybe I could postpone the whole thing until the kids' behavior improved. I really felt like we had to do something.
I approached Brian about it. He obvioulsy doesn't witness as much of what goes on around here as I do, and if he hadn't seen enough to completely understand the weight of the matter, he would experience a representative snapshot in full high-definition soon enough.
A couple days later, on the Sunday before Christmas, a small squabble between two of our angels--ahem--developed at the end of church. Brian took immediate (and possibly excessive) action to put out the fire by ordering each kid to remain silent on the car ride home and then go directly to his/her room upon arriving there. Like I said--retrospectively, he may have been overreacting--but the fact is, when you have seen many a smoldering little ember quickly grow into a blazing fire, you begin to grab the firehouse upon noticing the spark. Much to the detriment of our kids, we have become somewhat conditioned in this way. But anyway... one of the kids was so frustrated at having been overly reprimanded that he/she (I'm trying to respect and protect the
An hour or so later, I walked into our bedroom to grab some scissors and saw Brian kneeling in prayer at our bedside. He had spent a considerable amount of time pondering the state of our family and was drafting an interview, of sorts, for each of the kids. Later he would call each of them into our room, one by one, to ask them the following questions:
What do you think the 'Spirit of Christmas' is?
Do you think that Spirit has been in our home?
What can I (Dad) do to help? Mom? You?
Should Christmas (i.e. presents) come if the Spirit isn't here?
That evening, we participated in our own intervention. Brian talked at length about our situation and about what had (has) obviously gone wrong. (In case you're interested, my opinion is that I have allowed the kids to get away with too much for too long--to the point where bad behavior ( i.e. name calling, criticizing, back-talking, hitting, disrespect, intolerance, rudeness, etc.) had just become the norm. Oh, and I may have set a bad example.) He talked about the Spirit of Christmas being the Spirit of Christ--about unselfishness and thinking of others. Then he reviewed the kids' answers to the questions he had asked them earlier. I chimed in to ask them, "If Peppy were real, what would he report to Santa?" Janey was honest: We'd been horrible.
Brian told the kids I had suggested to him that we postpone Christmas until the Spirit of Christmas had returned. The kids froze with concern. Could we be serious? Oh, yes. Dead serious. Brian proposed that we be on trial, of sorts, over the next several days to see if we could make a complete 180 in time to have Christmas still come. He suggested that on Christmas morning, instead of unloading stockings and tearing through gifts, we would have breakfast and then head out for a service project. Gulp. This even made me a little panicky. It's one thing to postpone Christmas until we have earned it, but it's entirely another to start messing with tradition. At this point, the kids were far too afraid to breathe a word of complaint. Brian looked at me and asked me what I thought. I calmly responded that I had a few concerns that I would like to talk to him about later in private. Brian talked for a long time, and when we had said all there was to say (and there was a lot to say) we said prayers and started getting ready for bed, the kids having one thought in their heads--We had better be good.
Janey pulled me to the side a few minutes later with trembling in her voice to say,
"Mom, we always get up early and open stockings and presents before breakfast. How are we gonna eat breakfast when we can see everything? How are we gonna keep Skip away from everything?"
I told her I would talk to Dad. Later, I approached Brian and asked him if there was a specific purpose in doing everything differently on Christmas morning, assuming we were successful in doing a 180 and earning back the privilege to have it come at all. He said he just thought it might be nice to do things a little differently. I told him me and the kids really enjoy our current traditions and that if we were going to need to postpone Christmas, fine--but if not, maybe we could just keep things the way they've been. He agreed to that and we also agreed on another thing: we would do service on Christmas--this year and every year hereafter. Perfect.
So guess what? The next several days were incredible. Incredible. I cannot remember the last time there was so much tolerance and self-control demonstrated in our home (probably because there wasn't a last time). Oh, man. Those few days were so wonderful. We had earned Christmas back!
On Christmas Eve, I sped around the house getting ready for our Christmas dinner to which we had invited a hundred (like 20) other people. I was getting stressed. Brian reminded me to keep things in perspective and reassured me that it wouldn't kill anyone if things weren't totally ready when our guests arrived and they had to help with setting up chairs and putting rolls on the tables, etc. True. I would live. Deep breath. We left the ham and potatoes in the oven and drove over to the Florence Christmas Church to join them in their Christmas Eve service. We went last year and decided then to make it part of our own tradition. We sang carols and lit candles and were given a Christmas message--just what
The next morning, Christmas did come, and we enjoyed it in peace. Late in the afternoon, we put on our shoes, loaded up our tools and headed out around the circle to clean up our neighbors' driveways. It was a wonderful day. It is a wonderful life.