I did something right this year, and I think we are getting this Christmas thing down! I sit here on Christmas Eve, as everyone is in bed, and I don't feel totally wiped out or stressed. We have worked hard to make Christmas more meaningful over the past few years. Kazakhstan two years ago taught me even more, when I saw that the simplest Christmas we ever had was also the best Christmas we ever had. We have pared it down, and I have worked hard to keep myself from feeling obligated to "do", "be", and "buy". As I write this tonight in my finally quiet house, I realized it actually worked. Year by year, Christmas is more about the things that matter, and less about the things that don't, and it is trickling down to the kids as well.
We've had a lovely couple of days leading up to the actual holiday tomorrow. We spent a lot of time in the company of friends, less time fussing over last minute details, and everyone is very, very happy. The kids are all such a big help these days, clean ups are a snap, and I am getting help in numerous ways which also serves to allow me to enjoy the holidays as well. Having friends over for dinner tonight, Kenny and Olesya set the table while Angela made enchiladas with only a tiny bit of assistance from me. There was some housecleaning going on while I was behind closed doors wrapping a few final gifts, and Matthew spent the day working with Dominick at the restaurant as it was wildly busy as people come in for ski vacations and to visit family. I know everyone probably thinks that having five kids in the house means more mess...and they would be correct...but it can also mean an incredible amount of help. The truth is, these days I actually prefer to have the kids come grocery shopping with me than leave them home. Crazy, you say? They haul it, bag it, carry it, and help put it all away without complaint. My trip is far shorter with them along. And today I realized I was going to Christmas Eve service feeling less scrambled than I ever have, and it is in large part due to the ways in which the kids contribute to making life easier around here.
Comments from the kids this evening included "I LOVED church tonight, it was exciting!", Angela saying "I really like the song Miss Janet played when church was over, the one that sounds like bells...it was beautiful and is my favorite." "Dinner with our friends was special", "Skiing with my best friend today, it's the best treat ever!", and from Matthew..."Saying Merry Christmas to everyone at the restaurant today, it was kinda cool."
Sledding with friends, visiting and being together, singing by candlelight, familiar ornaments staring back at us from the tree, a fire to enjoy, hard candy made to share, traditional enchiladas on Christmas Eve, Christmas lights, these are the things I want them to carry in their heart when one day they look back on their childhood Christmas'. They are growing up, the excitement of Santa is waning, and replacing that is the comfort of belonging, the joy of giving, the understanding of what it is all about.
As I await the sounds of gentle, steady breathing so that I may play Santa one last year and fill stockings, and deposit gifts under the tree, I know that their childhood is drawing to a close, and adolescence is upon us. Oh, how our children adopted at older ages want to cling to it!! Angela was absolutely intent on visiting Santa, telling me in the car how much she loves seeing him even if she doesn't want to ask for anything. Olesya and she both left notes for Santa along with snacks tonight, and I am deeply grateful that they have had the past two Christmas' to revisit the childhood that they were cheated out of. How I wish we could have given them back those years! But we have done our best to let them be exactly who they are, and let them guide us as they show us what they need. We are not rushing them to grow up, and one huge reason we are grateful to be homeschooling is that they can have this period of time to be the little children in teenaged bodies that they need to be. Kenny too, as we see him gradually maturing daily we are reminded that he is showing us over and over again exactly who he needs to be right now, and thankfully, God has given us the wisdom to listen. I think that our kids are in a better place emotionally for it, and we are so glad we are surrounded by supportive, nurturing friends who don't express doubt over our decisions and in fact seem to understand them. They were forced to grow up too fast, and missed too much. While they zip quickly through earlier stages, they still need to steep back and play with Barbies at 13, or play superheroes at 13.
For example, I think I shared about Olesya wanting a beautiful dress for the first time...one of her own. What did she want? Over and over she pointed out velvety red toddler dresses with white fur trim, fancy very little girl dresses that scream out "adorable" to all who would purchase them. I knew it would be a tough order to fill, as she and Angela are both in Junior sizes now, and most of today's Juniors would never wear anything that didn't make them look like they were in college, and pursuing boys. After scouring the malls in California when we were out there and finding not a single thing that was appropriate, I gave up. Luckily, our dear Miss Jill kept it in mind and found the perfect dress that Olesya was ecstatic over. While it wasn't red, and it wasn't velvet, it was beautiful, appropriate, and made her feel like a princess. Doesn't every girl need to feel that way once in awhile?
More importantly, no one would ever understand how symbolic this dress was for Olesya. For almost 2 years we have been trying to get her to stand out from under Angela's shadow, to express her opinion, to be who she truly is and not feel obligated to put her own feelings or likes aside. Wearing a dress is something Angela has no desire to do, although she has promised Dominick he will see her in one maybe for graduation from high school, or when she gets married :-) Olesya is far more "girlie", and has tended to downplay that part of herself because Angela is not like that. Seeing her in her dress tonight was a huge boost for all of us, as we see her slowly gaining confidence in herself, and with her siblings supporting that change she will eventually become "Olesya", not "Angela's sister". I want that for her so badly, and am heartened to see the baby steps she is beginning to take. I also loved that although Angela would rather die than wear a dress like this, she told Olesya that she looked very pretty and helped her do her hair. In the car on the way home tonight, I commented on how pretty she looked and Josh chimed in unprompted "Olesya looks beautiful tonight!!" We think so too, and one day she will recognize her own worth:
As you go about the rest of your holiday tomorrow, look around you and take a mental photograph. For those of you who may be waiting for children still trapped by a system that makes no sense, we continue to pray for you. For those of you who will share the day with friends and loved ones, recall those no longer with you, and take a moment to be thankful for their presence in your life. As the kids all talked about in the car this evening, "presence" is far more important than "Presents", and they all agreed as they had this conversation among themselves, that they'd rather have someone spend time with them and care about them than to have lots of gifts to unwrap. And I explained to Matthew as we talked about how Christmas felt different this year, how as you grow older "presence" takes on new meaning and becomes the real reason for the season. He quietly rested his head on my shoulder as we talked, and I knew he was beginning to understand that on an entirely new level this year.
Merry Christmas to you, my friends both known and unknown. We wish you a holiday filled with love, hugs and laughter...we wish you a holiday filled with "presence".
Happy Birthday, Jesus!
Happy Birthday, Joshua!