It’s a wonderful life (and a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day)
The day started with a white shirt. The younger boys poured bowls of frozen blueberries after breakfast. It went downhill from there.
Some days I just feel fallible. The bags under my eyes are heavy with my own insufficiency. It’s true especially in December.
The Christmas season is in full swing. Lights, evergreens, cookies, gifts, peppermint, snow, parties, sleighs and tradition.
But traditionally, this season slays me. My husband disappears into the retail world from the first of November until late on December 24th. He’s busy running a store, helping people spend their money. Paradoxically, we tighten our belts and hunker down until the commercialism storm peters out. It will. I wish I could hibernate like a pregnant bear until then.
After blueberries, I headed out to the store, promising not to spend any money but also buy enough to feed my small army for a week. The car’s heater chose this morning to stop working. ( It wasn’t so bad when its air conditioner died this summer – the truly hot season only lasts a few weeks – but in New England, heat matters). We watched our breath freeze in clouds as we hurried there and back before my husband had to run out the door for a long day of work.
Still stained with the blueberries, the younger boys clambered down the basement stairs to ride tricycles. I turned my attention to fractions, suffixes and prefixes with the homeschooling crowd, paying little attention to the reassuring sounds of wheels spinning below us. About half an hour passed before the wheel spinners emerged gleefully at the top of the stairway. They were both covered, head to toe, ears, hair, and pockets, with little Styrofoam packing balls (smaller and far more diabolical than the classic peanut). A box containing the offensive static balls (ironically, from last Christmas) had been discovered and pried into.
It looked like a tornado had snowed in the basement. (I didn’t know that was possible till today). Grimly, I pulled out grandma’s trusty old Electrolux and started vacuuming. First I vacuumed the offenders, who squealed with the delight that wanton destruction can cause a young male. I scooted the machine across the immediate floor (I think vacuuming a bit of the pet lizard’s food, which happened to be a live cricket. Sorry not sorry). Then I headed down the stairs, muttering darkly about static cling. I spent an hour cleaning, until the trusty old vacuum finally died. Can I admit I cried over a machine? My life without a good vacuum will get ugly fast. “God, what are you doing?!?” I moaned.
As I finished sweeping what the vacuum had missed, my husband called. We discussed the bleak prospects of paying two mortgages before Christmas, as well as all the other bills. He mentioned increasing pains in part of his body. I hope it’s just stress. I didn’t mention the dead vacuum.
A mom posted a warning that some friends had discovered lice. Great. I panicked at the thought of what that would mean for laundry. And prayed for my washer as I went to check heads.
I emerged dusty from the basement and looked at the clock. It was half an hour later than I had thought, and supper wasn’t started. We were planning to watch some of the boys’ friends in a Christmas play in an hour. Breakfast dishes still filled the sink – under the lunch dishes. We’d have time for spaghetti if I was quick. I started filling a pot with water when there was a knock on the door. Four extra boys suddenly appeared. Oh. I added more water.
Nerf bullets whizzed past my head as I browned ground beef and dumped on pasta sauce. “Find socks!” I hollered. “Get deodorant!” The boys shoveled in noodles; I cleared the table. We’d have to track down all the smashed pasta under the chairs later. I did manage to change my shirt, pulling a fresh one over my expanding belly and hoping there weren’t any blueberry stains on my pants in places I couldn’t see below my stomach. My kids were in sweatpants and still bore traces of spaghetti sauce on their faces. I realized, with a wave of stark understanding, that I looked like “that mom” at whom I’d always tipped up my nose at Walmart. And I was taking us shamelessly out in public! We piled into the Yukon like the ragtag bunch we were; maybe I could pretend I didn’t know the 10 bedraggled boys trailing behind me.
We survived the play, though I spent most of it hissing “Stop climbing on the wheelchair! Turn off the flashlight! There are no cupcakes in my purse, stop looking for one. Put the pocketknife away. You just went to the bathroom! You can’t boo at the 6 year olds on stage!” I was glad to finally make it home.
The starving children rummaged for snacks as I collected pajamas. They made it to bed amidst threats they’d better stay there. I went downstairs and wiped applesauce off every. vertical. surface. in the kitchen. It was homemade applesauce, fresh from grandma’s kitchen to ours. Apparently for our kitchen rather than for our mouths. With some Styrofoam balls mixed in. I scrubbed halfheartedly. It was late when my husband stumbled in. We fell into bed exhausted and sore.
And so another wondrous day of Advent passed.
I commiserate with Mary. Did she feel similar that first Christmas? She didn’t decorate for the holidays; she had no time for craft fairs or parties. She inventoried their meager provisions and wondered how they’d manage. There’s no mention of a donkey in the Bible; did she have to waddle on swollen feet all the way to Bethlehem? Her heater and air conditioner weren’t working either. It was dirty in the stable; she had no vacuum, no way fight lice if she found them, no deodorant to mask the smell of stress and animal energy. No money for take out. Her husband stressed over lost work time and travel expenses; she saw the worry on his forehead and felt powerless to ease the burden. She was pregnant; a new baby added to the concern. It was a dark, lonely season.
I know I’m not the only one who has ever come into Christmas time with a sense of foreboding. I’m not alone trying to stretch the almighty dollar, or watching my husband’s shoulders bow under humbling burdens. But I know something else.
There’s a Baby coming.
I’m reminded by the kicks and hiccups in my own growing belly. There’s a little mewling infant. Insignificant, helpless, antithetical to the commercial world, the impending birth of a child means little to the rushing, shopping, card-perfect scenes of the season. A Child was born two thousand years ago was noticed by only a handful of shepherds, an old man and woman in the temple, and a few foreigners a thousand miles away.
But that little Baby changed everything.
Because He wasn’t just a new Baby. He was a new kind of God.
The world was used to fierce, proud, vindictive and condemning gods and kings. They only knew mythological, emotionally fickle Greek deities. They knew merciless Roman dictators. They knew conniving, immoral kings who demanded worship. They knew gods who demanded payment, who could be won over by good works and flattery and gold. He wasn’t a god like ours, like busyness, or Pinterest idealism, or even a consuming desire to make our families happy above all.
This Baby was no such god.
This Baby didn’t need lights and garlands to herald His birth. He didn’t need wreaths or gifts. He didn’t need a vacuumed house or gingerbread cookies. He didn’t need a “season”.
He just needed a mom.
My two year old, still with traces of spaghetti sauce on his round cheeks, clambered into my lap before bed. He looked though his luscious lashes (so not fair on a boy), gazing seriously at my face. A little grubby finger reached to push at the worry line that had grown between my eyebrows. Tears threatened me and I hugged him closer, flicking a Styrofoam ball that dared linger behind his ear. At least it wasn’t lice.
We didn’t have a tree or stockings. We didn’t have lights and garlands, promises of heaps of presents and lots of family get-togethers. Our house didn’t smell like cinnamon or look like a scene any family other than the Lampoons would dare plaster on a card. We didn’t have the spirit of the season. All we had was the promise of a baby.
“For unto us a Child was born…”
I realized that’s all that matters.
All the baby expected was for me to be mom. Be that mom.
That was enough.
That is enough.
I have a wonderful life.