I spent almost three minutes sitting in front of a blank screen just now, trying to figure out what to write this morning. I’ve been tired and anxious this week, focused on all the wrong things. Life is really pretty good, but when there’s uncertainty about something you’ve poured yourself into it’s easy for your whole emotional state to revolve around that to the exclusion of all other things.
All other things, such as: We’ve had a very good first half of Advent. (If you’re a regular reader, that was probably already clear.) This week was probably the peak of the excitement, what with Trans Siberian Orchestra and Christmas tree and Santa visit and ringing the Salvation Army bell. It was also the peak of the fatigue for all of us…at least I hope! The kids were up late three school nights in a row this week.
Nicholas in particular had been reacting very well to Advent. Quite suddenly one day late last week, the head-butting between the two of us eased. I knew we’d had one amazingly good day, in which he was delightful and cooperative, but it didn’t totally process until the next morning while he was helping me make eggs. Michael did something that earned a parental snap, and when I turned around Nicholas had done something with the breakfast that needed redirection–I don’t remember now what it was. There was an edge to my voice as I did so, and I had a pang of conscience, because I knew he hadn’t done anything wrong. So I took a deep breath and put my arm around him and said, “I’m sorry. I’m not mad at you. I was just frustrated with Michael. You didn’t do anything wrong.”
His face broke into a radiant smile and he laughed giddily. “I thought I was in trouble,” he said, leaning into my hug. It was a very enlightening moment, to say the least.
Nicholas’ angelic behavior continued for three or four days. I was beginning to hold my breath that we might have crossed out of that preschool testing stage and into full upper-childhood. But we had a bad regression yesterday evening. It involved me telling him no, you may not have a THIRD snack between lunch and dinner, and him hitting me on the head. Yes, I did say hitting me on the head. I’m going to hope and pray that was an aberration based on not enough sleep this week. Last night we had our normal routine. We should be past the late nights now.
I’m trying very hard not to write about writing, but it is weighing heavily on my mind. I have sent three queries on my novel to test the waters, and the first two came back unsuccessful. It’s not enough to know that something is wrong with the submission package, but the mind goes there anyway. I’ve spent a lot of emotional energy the last two weeks fretting about whether I need more feedback, more input, more opinions, so I don’t burn through agents.
I set a goal this year not to have any deadlines during Advent. This is our sixth year doing Advent calendar activities, and I’ve learned that it’s better not to have extra “must do”‘s. The season has enough of those already; organizing them was the point of the calendar in the first place. But factors outside my control intervened. I have two projects due around the holidays: Liguori asked me to write an examination of conscience booklet for children, which I just sent off yesterday. The other project is still underway. I hope to finish before the kids get out of school next week.
I am tremendously grateful to my aunt, who asked me if she could keep Michael with her a couple mornings a week while everyone else is at school. That unexpected help has allowed me to have a few really focused mornings of work. It’s made a huge difference! That examination of conscience wouldn’t be finished without her. I will say it is really weird to have no one in the house at all. Might have to explore that topic at a later date.
Happy Third Advent!
The last few days of Advent have been big activities, beginning with getting the tree on Saturday and progressing through a choir party, a tribute concert to the Trans Siberian Orchestra (think head banging with laser show…the kids were mesmerized) and, on Monday of this week, ringing the Salvation Army bell.
Ringing the bell has been on my list of service activities for a long time, but this is the first year I thought we were ready to do it. As I scheduled it I crossed my fingers for good weather. I didn’t win that one. It was below 20 degrees outside that night. But we put the kids in their snow pants, and I had invested in forty-five dollars’ worth of hats and gloves the week before in preparation for the cold snap. And we sang Christmas carols while we rang.
Plus, we were at Bass Pro, and Santa has a workshop there, so we took turns outside and the kids spent some time enjoying the freebies inside.
I’m proud of my kids this year. Nicholas needs a post of his own, but for now I’ll just share this: Monday night during his turn outside, Christian said Nicholas sang carols any time someone was walking up or leaving. “As long as he was singing people were putting money in the pot,” Christian said. “When it was just me by myself, they walked on by, but when he was there, they gave. That kid’s a born salesman.”
He’s not the only one to make me proud. On Sunday, Christian came up short of cash while trying to pay someone back for popcorn. Why? Because the day before, Alex made him give money to a homeless man standing at the highway intersection.
It makes me feel like we’re doing something right.
Still, in the first nine days of Advent it’s been fun to watch Michael really connect with this season for the first time. I realized that the concentration of spring birthdays in our household means my other children have been pushing three before they had their first real Advent experience. So with Michael I’m seeing Advent in a whole new way.
First, a portrait of Michael. He wants to do everything, and he gets very bent out of shape if he’s passed over. He’s beginning, finally, to attempt to talk a little bit. Not spontaneous words, but increasing willingness to repeat (or attempt to repeat) words. Some spontaneous signing. He’s also toilet trained, as long as you don’t put any clothes on his lower half–even to the point where he’ll tell me he needs to go. I’ve never toilet trained in the dead of winter and it makes me wince, but it doesn’t seem to faze him. I’ve targeted the week after Christmas for knuckling down and making the transition to toilet-trained-while-clothed. And he’s singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” sans words, with enough pitch/rhythm accuracy that we can identify it. (“Is that normal for a two year old?” Christian asked. “I don’t know,” I said. “That’s not one of those skills they put on developmental charts.”)
Lately people who know Michael’s propensity for destruction through exploration have been pointing me to that U. of Iowa study about messy kids being smarter. It was really about babies smashing food, but it sounds good, and I made the leap as quickly as everyone else. The kid is impossible to keep out of anything: the iPad, the Advent calendar, the refrigerator, the pantry where the graham crackers are kept (on the up side, since he can get into anything now, maybe I can move them back to their old location on the lazy susan and free up that pantry space at last). You can see the intelligence in his eyes, just before he pounces. He’s a whirlwind, into everything. He knows how to turn on the computer speaking voice from the “unlock” screen,” and twice we’ve caught him almost purchasing something from iTunes via the iPad. The difference between him and Julianna, who has always, from age two to age almost-seven, been content to sit quietly and rifle through books and cards, is quite profound. She just never did get into things the way he does.
So it’s been really, really fun to watch him make Advent connections. I kept him (and Julianna) home while Christian took the big boys to get the Christmas tree on Saturday, because it was just so brutally cold. But when it was finally time to put ornaments on, he was so excited. He had to do it himself, and he had to point every one of them out to me afterward. Making cookies was Heaven. I get to measure spices, snitch batter, AND spread icing and sprinkles? And last night, when we bundled up and rang the Salvation Army Bell at Bass Pro, he was the cutest thing, walking up to people and ringing the bell at them, grunting for attention.
I’ve enjoyed every Advent since we started using Advent calendar activities to keep us organized and able to make time for service in December, but it’s different this year. I thought it was because I’d finally mastered the appropriate balance of activities, and I’m sure that’s part of it, but I think it has at least as much to do with watching Michael process it all for the first time.
“Mommy, get me some dessert!”
Nicholas stood at my right elbow. I looked pointedly at the pizza in my hand and back at him, but my coming-up-on-five-year-old is blissfully (or perhaps willfully) immune to messages sent via body language. Time for plan B.
“First of all,” I said, “that’s not how you ask. Second, am I still eating my dinner?”
“Is Daddy still eating his dinner?”
“Then you have to wait until we’re done. Sometimes you just have to wait for good things. Now sit down and be patient.”
He sat down, but patience was beyond him. As I returned to my pizza, he wiggled in place and then asked again.
In one way, I can sympathize. Waiting for good things is hard for anyone, and even more so for kids, who don’t have much practice at it. And yet at the same time, it’s a bit exasperating. It’s not as if there’s any question of him getting what he wants, after all. He knows very well that dessert is going to be served after dinner. It’s not like, for instance, the novel query process, where the outcome is far from certain.
Then again, waiting is hard for everyone who anticipates something good. The proof of that just passed us, in the form of Black Friday. I mean, Black Thanksgiving Thursday. All Black Friday’s Eve. Or something.
I have somewhat mixed feelings about this annual ritual. Actually, scratch that. My feelings about the nonsense that is Black Friday/Black Friday’s Eve are pretty unequivocal. And yet, for the last couple of years, Christian has actually gone out as early as the stores offer their blockbuster sales, because the system forces the issue:
1. Sales start at a given time and there are limited quantities.
2. If you don’t get there early, i.e. during the Thanksgiving evening hours, the sale price may be valid, but there won’t be any stock to buy.
The choices are, then: go shopping with the madhouse despite the gnashing of teeth caused by your conscience telling you this encroachment on holiday is just wrong; or stick to your conscience and accept that you will pay a lot more for the item you were going to buy anyway, if you can find it at all.
We should wait. But we don’t.
These are good avenues of thought to pursue on the second day of Advent. This is a season given to us to pause and take stock of the state of our lives. Where are we out of balance? What opportunities for rest and quiet are we barreling past with the radio at full volume? And what things desperately needed for our mental and emotional well-being are we losing as a result?
Some thoughts from liturgical composer Rory Cooney for the first Sunday of Advent:
Today I want to point you to a post by another blogger: Advent: On Seeing Light And Poverty. It’s been nearly two weeks, and I’m still turning this post over in my mind. Light is a central theme of Christianity: light of the world, Christ our light, light to the nations. When we pray for light, it’s because light symbolizes hope. Security. Warmth. Homeyness. All that is true, but until I read Rae’s post, the obvious never occurred to me: when the light is turned on we see everything more clearly, the bad as well as the good, the difficult and uncomfortable realities as well as that which uplifts us.
During Advent, light is used symbolically every night, in a progressively more expansive way each week. This year, I realize that if Jesus associated himself with the poor among us (as often as you did it for the least of these, you did it for me), then this season requires us to face the unpleasant realities, both in the world around us, as I wrote about on Monday, and in ourselves, as I wrote about yesterday.
What I love about the blogosphere is the way we can touch and be touched by people we’ve never met and may never meet face to face–yet we can all help each other along our spiritual journeys. (I started to say “life journey,” because it’s not only religious blogs that challenge and shape my thinking, but everything I encounter online. But the simple fact is that for me, all journeying is spiritual journeying.) Last week in the course of visiting other people’s blogs for 7QTs, I came across a reflection on Advent that brought my full-speed-ahead to a dead halt. I asked Jason, of Pannoneappetit, if he would allow me to share it here:
Of all the figures in the Infancy Narratives, the one who resonates most with me is Simeon. Waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting… for years… for the promised Child Whom the Lord revealed that he (Simeon) would see. And then one day — Emmanuel appeared, and he held Him, blessed Him, and pronounced his terrible prophecy to our Lady (cf. Luke 2:22-38).
Waiting — in the digital age, what can be harder? Could I be like Simeon, waiting for seemingly endless years to see the Messiah, with death drawing ever closer? Today, we expect to click a button online, and voila! Something happens or appears instantaneously. “Yes, God, I’ll choose the ‘See the Messiah’ option; charge it to my credit card and make it snappy, since I’ve got a holiday party to attend this evening.”
But we forget that history stretches farther back than five minutes ago. Salvation history unfolds slowly over centuries, until, in the fullness of time, when God entered human history directly in the Second Person of the Trinity, in the truly new and radical event of the Incarnation. There are periods of preparation, sometimes centuries-long, before we are ready to behold the Messiah.
And Advent waiting is not passive. It is a time of waiting, yes, but also of preparation for the Lord’s Incarnation. It is a time of cleaning house, setting things in order, making the stable of the heart ready for the Lord to take His place therein.
To wait expectantly — not passively; to wait in humility — not trying to force my timetables or plans on God (as if I could)… to be more like Simeon this Advent, and beyond. May it be so for me.
(Jason’s original post may be found here. You should visit him. He shares recipes.)
(Notice the pulled-up shirt. Naked doll mandatory.)
Things to warm a Catholic mama’s heart: the boys dressing up in Indian clothes, going on a hunt-and-fish expedition, and setting an imaginary Thanksgiving feast in front of the couch, which they preface with the sign of the cross and “Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts…”
Nicholas came wailing down stairs one morning while Julianna was playing with SonoFlex (a communication app). “I can’t find any long pants!” he said. (End of the world, you know.) Julianna, at this precise moment, hit a button on the iPad and the electronic voice said dryly, “Are you kidding?”
Sunday night, we made Christmas cookies. We finished dipping peanut butter balls in chocolate, and I told the boys they could use spoons to clean out the bowl of paraffin and chocolate. Ten minutes later they came into the living room, where I was rocking Michael, with very red mouths lined with very black chocolate. Nicholas had chocolate all over him. “Nicholas, you have chocolate on your arm,” I said.
Alex piped up, “Yeah, he fell.”
“He fell in the chocolate?”
Nicholas has not learned the fine art of secret keeping. I should have known this, but I thought I started including Alex about this age. We went shopping and had a pointed conversation about keeping it secret so it would be a surprise for Daddy. He came home and helped me wrap the present and put it under the tree.
And when Christian came home? “Daddy we got you TIES!”
When we all stopped laughing, I said, “That’s it, Nicholas, you’re fired from Christmas shopping!” Good thing that’s not his only gift.
I wrote a post for Catholic Mothers Online about celebrating saints’ days in Advent–the easy way. Here’s what we did as an Advent Calendar activity for St. Nicholas’ feast day yesterday:
And I have a fiction piece up today, in which Dystopia might not be all bad. I’m happy with this one; I think it has potential.
Oh yes–bonus if you read the whole post: what my boys do while Christmas tree shopping: