Saturday, December 24, 2011

It was the worst of times,...NO, it was the best of times...

I'm taking a break from the rush and rumble of getting ready to pack up and leave with a family of the size of ours.  There are ten of us leaving tomorrow, allegedly right after church.  Our actual departure time remains to be seen.

At times like this, I'm not usually very pleasant to be around.  Generally, in the days preceding the RUSH, I get kind of overwhelmed feeling and start to fizzle out.  I do next to nothing, because it's all a little bit too much for me; my brain freezes up.

Then at the last minute, I start to rush around, frantically throwing things together and hollering and screaming at my kids.  Not a pretty sight.  Then my husband gets frustrated, thinking the kids are deserving of the verbal abuse they are enduring, and he gets into the action.  Ooh, not a good scene.

Then I, who know deep down that the emotional mess is of my own creation, try to sooth things over and get us on the road.

And we always eventually get going somehow.

But really, truly, getting ready for a trip is for me one of the worst of times.

And why, I ask, when I can predict so precisely how things are going to play out, can I not do something to change this sorry state of affairs?  My prayer this time is that even when things get frantic, I refrain from the yelling and screaming.  I want to have a happy Christmas.

So far, so good.

Today, I got up and got moving in a timely fashion.  I made a chore list for the kids to tackle during the day, so that when we do eventually leave, the house is in a not-quite-so-messy state.  My main job for today was to tackle the infamous Mt. Washmore.  Da-da-da-daaaa.  (That was scary, evil organ music, that notorious phrase from Beethoven's Fifth, in case you can't tell.)

I also had several odds and ends to take care of, PLUS, sort out and wrap all the Christmas gifts, AND (since I have five girls with winter birthdays, two of whom are on Dec 27th), I generally buy for birthdays and Christmas all at once for those girls, and end up sorting and wrapping for those occasions, too.

So, I was a little bit busy today, but in keeping with my goal (no maternal ugliness) I tried to stay upbeat and happy all day, and gave myself little minutes to rest my brain in between things.  Like the minutes it's taking me to write this, for example.

Jeremy called me this morning when he got home from work; that was a treat.  We exchanged our Christmas greetings and miscellaneous pleasantries; and I arranged for us to drop off his gifts on our way out tomorrow.

I even took time to do my pilates.

I listened to 80s music on my MP3 player while I washed and folded laundry.

And yet, the clock marched on.  My goal was to have our family Christmas doings at 3:00 or 4:00 pm, but I was still folding clothes at 6:00.  Sigh.  But no ugliness.  I decided I'd have to leave a small portion of Mr. Washmore standing.

I forged ahead and decided on the minimalist approach to wrapping gifts. I gathered all the assorted bags and packages of clearance and second hand purchases I've accumulated throughout the year.  I summoned my husband to "join me in my chambers."  (That may sound a bit risqué to the uninitiated, but the phrase is used by Mrs. Moody in the Little Britches books by Ralph Moody.  Read them if you haven't.  They are wonderful books for all ages.)

Where was I?  Oh, yes, in my chambers.  Joe had just joined me. As I pulled each item out of the packages, his assigned task was to add it to the appropriate pile, youngest to oldest, lined up along the floor of our room.  Generally, we've tried to limit ourselves to one modest new or special gift per child, and we fill in with fun things that I pick up here and there.  So when it's time to finally wrap the Christmas gifts, there is a bit of play, moving some things from one pile to another, until I am satisfied the arrangement will be appreciated by all.  After Joe and I did the first tentative arrangement, I excused him from the process and finished manipulating the bounty by myself.  It's kind of a one person job. 

When I had all the piles arranged to my liking, I put into motion my emergency minimalist gift wrapping procedure.  A plastic bag for each child...tied shut at the top...labeled with permanent marker.  I loaded all the bags into a big box, and then threw a blanket over it all.   This sleigh of sorts, Joe and I then pulled and carried into the living room, and set next to the tree.  It wasn't fancy, but I reminded myself that all the trappings of the season, including pretty papers and trims, is not what really matters.

By the time we had everything ready, it was nearing 7:00pm.  The kids still needed bathed; we had not eaten supper; and the packing for tomorrow was not yet started.  But... NO MATERNAL UGLINESS... right?  Take a deep breath, Mary, and just enjoy the moment.

We gathered everyone in the living room.  I had Matt light the candles on the Advent wreath, and all the others around the living room.  We turned off all the lights in the house except a table lamp near Joe.  He read to us the Christmas story from both Matthew and Luke.  Then we turned off the lamp, and each of us got to choose a Christmas hymn to sing. 

It was the best of times.

When we were done with our Christmas worship, we started the part the kids were all waiting for.  We opened our oh-so-lovely presents.  I sat down by the erstwhile sleigh and, starting with the oldest working to the youngest, one at a time, I gave each person their plastic shopping bag. Each got to open his or her own, before we moved onto the next.  Anticipation built as we worked our way down to the youngest ones.

After the gifts from Joe and I were opened, the kids handed out all the treasures they had prepared for each other these last few weeks.  Colored pictures, puzzle pages ripped from a favorite activity book, candies saved from their treat bags at church, lip balm, lotion, a favorite book, a hand-me-down clothing item...I love to see how creative the kids get in giving to each other with our limited resources.  Probably one of our favorites was one Stella gave to Sophie.  She had used the pretty unused gift tag from one of her gifts.  She filled in her and Sophie's names in the to and from spots, and because it had such a pretty ribbon on it, she gave it as a Christmas tree ornament for Sophie.  Priceless!

It was the very BEST of times.

My Sophie gave me a singing card and a windowed locket containing within it a different colored gem symbolizing each of the fruits of the Spirit.  Clara gave me the painted turtle sculpture that she made in art class last year.  Joe plans to get me the 2012 Writer's Market guide.  And my friend, Christine, who makes beautiful jewelry, and from whom I got some pretty things for my oldest girls, sent along a little treasure for me also: a beautiful, sparkly bracelet that I am wearing as I write this.  It is winking provocatively at me.  I keep wondering what it is up to, with such a merry glimmer in its eye.

Jesus' birth, our heavenly Father's gift of His only Son, is the greatest gift of all.  But my mother's heart joyfully drank in my family's Christmas celebration.  Now I am refreshed to tackle the rest of the things on my list.

Well, I wish I was anyway.  I am filled with a warm glow of the love of God and my family.  But truth be told, I'm really pretty tired and kind of ready for bed already.

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