Sunday, January 11, 2015

A Christmas Story

(I actually wrote this post a couple weeks ago but didn't finish it until tonight.  It's just not the same now that I'm posting it this much after the fact, but oh well.  At least it will now be included in my history.  :) )

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 begun 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 innocent guilty) gradually became more and more enraged and a battle soon erupted.  I'll spare you the (very) ugly details, and suffice it to say that it culminated in that child (only partially dressed, even) being literally shoved out onto our front lawn in the cold rain, screaming at full volume, and then being chased into the forest (is that what you'd call it) beyond our back yard.  It was horrible.    I remember standing there in the kitchen, thinking, "What is wrong with our family?"


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 Christian 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 we I needed to slow down and feel the magic of the season.  We then slinked out the side door and headed back home to welcome our guests to dinner.  They did have to help me set up tables and chairs and put rolls out and fill glasses, etc., but they were happy to help and I was happy to have it.  Dinner was wonderful.

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.

Christmas Letter 2014

(A copy of the Christmas Letter I sent out this year--because it's tradition to keep a copy of it on the blog.)

December 12, 2014

Dear Family and Friends,

So guess what. You may not be as surprised as I was to find out that stores are no longer carrying Christmas stationary. You know--like the kind you print Christmas letters on. Correction: the kind used to print Christmas letters on. It seems that Christmas letters have gone out of style. I know, I know. They went out of style a long time ago. But you know what? I still like them. I look forward to writing to you every year because it makes me feel close to you. Because words are my thing. Remember? Anyway....
A few hours ago, I sat down at my computer and read the Christmas letters I sent out over the last few years in hopes of getting my Christmas-letter juices flowing. So here’s an update: Brian has once again loaded up his green back pack with socks and weird energy chewy things in preparation for another chilly half-marathon (plus a couple miles). True to my word in last year’s letter (and for the first time ever), I put my Christmas trees up before Thanksgiving (and I’m so glad I did). Yesterday, I had a huge blow-up with a couple of the kids, during which I told them it was an ever growing possibility that they would be getting nothing for Christmas. Aaaannnddd my eyelashes are actually making an appearance on the big screen face. Have you ever heard of that RapidLash stuff? Good news, people. It works.
And this Christmas season has already brought a number of sweet experiences that have warmed my heart and soothed my soul. After a super sleep-deprived first week of December working my fanny off with Becky to get my house spruced up for the season (cause that’s important, right?), we went over to the church for the Nativity Festival. Becky and I sat in the second pew from the back and listened to the Presbyterian Choir from Reedsport perform a medley of Christmas songs. As the buzzing of my frazzled nerves slowed, I glanced behind me periodically to check on the kids. And you know what they were doing? They were being angels. They were coloring, and enjoying cookies, and admiring nativities and dressing up in nativity costumes--as angels. The music was beautiful, and the whole thing was just such a gift to me.
The next day, Brian invited us all to join him in putting up the Christmas lights of our favorite neighbors who were out of town. We gathered in their yard as the sun went down and all busied ourselves with a different section of lights. Camp was Brian’s wing man up on the roof, Becky and I were replacing bulbs and lighting bushes, Jane and Danin took control of the snowman lights, and Skip pedaled around the street on his Radio Flyer tricycle in a short sleeve shirt and elf hat yelling, “Merry Christmas!”
Tomorrow, Brian will run his race and the kids and I will attend the library’s annual family Christmas party; and then later we will all hike to The Lighthouse with friends and enjoy a campfire with hot chocolate....

Life is good, and I am sooooo grateful for mine. I love you all so much. Seriously. If you are getting this letter, you have contributed significantly to the happiness of my life and I owe you....a Christmas letter. :)
Merry, merry Christmas. Love,