I am an early bird. Have been since I was a kid. So this morning, when awoken by Estella at 3:45 to take her to the bathroom (which is closer to her room than mine), I definitely contemplated staying up, building a fire, and getting a few things accomplished. If you have kids, I need not explain just how golden those moments are — whether you savor them before dawn or after dusk — when the house is still, your thoughts uninterrupted and the needs of others slightly less immediate. Golden, I tell you.
This morning though, Christmas impending or not, I chose to sleep. I needed to sleep. Those precious and interrupted six to eight hours a night are the greatest determining factor in whether my days are insane or inspired, graceful or grueling. They’re the difference between me keeping my cool and rolling with the punches or coming completely unglued when my kid finally breaks the refrigerator shelf by standing on it to reach the milk (projecting glass, liquid and leftovers all over the kitchen), or another reminds me to “embrace my circumstances” after horsing around and dumping her drink on my laptop (where does she hear such things?)
My sleep is especially essential this week. Why? Because I’m gearing up for nearly three weeks with all the kids home from school. Cocoa and sleigh bells and mistletoe, right? The hap-happiest season of all? I’m working on it. How much more time do I have?
I’m not sure about your house, but around these parts it takes a whole lot of effort, a good deal of compromise an occasional bottle of wine to keep the home infused with holiday cheer. Actually, looking around me, my house looks kind of like the common room of an insane asylum, decorated for the holidays by its occupants. This is not how I remember Christmas from my childhood. What is going on here?
My mom has a way with Christmas. As a kid, the tree was always carefully chosen, properly placed and amply adorned with handmade memories. The kitchen stayed dusted with flour, crowded with cookies and warmed by busy bodies as much as the oven. The air was infused with nutmeg and orange peel, pine sap and roasting meats for days upon snowy days. It was simple, it was sweet and I have not one memory of her stressing to pull it off.
But really, she must have stressed. I was kind of a terror and one of my sisters never quit talking. My other sister battled daily epileptic seizures and needed constant attention. I wonder how my mom remembers Christmas? I guess she probably struggled just as I do. To keep us from gouging each others eyes out with the cookie cutters. To balance our desire to “help” in the kitchen with her preference to bake in peace while enjoying her Christmas music. To adjust her expectations, maintain a sense of humor and enjoy us despite our insanity.
Here’s where I struggle…As much as I like the idea of making gingerbread houses with my kids, it just isn’t fun. They fight over the candy, make fun of each others creations, and lose interest in less time than it takes me to make the three-ingredient royal icing. I want to teach them to bake pies and wrap presents, but if I’m honest, including them means twice the work, fights over sharp objects, butter smeared in hair and time outs all around.
So I’ve been doing some thinking and have decided that once again, the problem is in my head. I don’t have to include my kids in all the baking. Where did that idea come from, anyway? A little here and there, one-on-one is just as well. And you know what? Maybe gingerbread house making is something I’ll do with my grand kids. When my grown daughters need a break from their own holiday hustle to reflect on what they are doing wrong (this thought makes me smile).
When I quit telling myself stories about how life is supposed to be and just live it, all of a sudden my disheveled house, my barren Christmas tree and my hyperactive kids look pretty wonderful. We’re in Mexico — of course we have no ornaments. We’re in Mexico — I couldn’t find molasses for gingerbread if I tried. My kids will remember their own family way. The way we shoved our Christmas tree in the trunk of a cab that Estella hailed. The way we searched the Mayan markets for a strange white tuber that supposedly tastes like a sweet potato. The way their school threw a big ol’ Christmas potluck that went on well into the night with a bonfire and hot atole and fresh tortillas. The way their mama made pretty pies while they slept.
In this light, our family way is not only different, our family way is amazing. And so it seems, they may even grow up thinking their mama never stressed and had a way with Christmas.