As we exit another Christmas season, I want to take time to note down, quickly, and for future reference, what worked for me this year: the rituals that held meaning, and why, and the little things that drew me into the magic of the holiday.
1. Cooking and baking. Yes, it’s a lot of work to make sticky buns fresh-baked for Christmas morning. And turkey dinner, and cookies, and treats, and all the rest of it. And I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing as my offering for the holiday.
2. Christmas eve service. This year, we attended an informal children’s service on Christmas eve. I’d been so busy all day with last-minute preparations that it was tempting to drop one thing off the list–and the service jumped to mind right away. No, I thought one beat later. And we went. And it was so lovely, and such a reminder of what Christmas celebrates, for many of us.
3. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I read this to the kids all in one gulp one evening leading up to Christmas. Everyone loved it. Of course, I cried at the end, and Fooey, perturbed, comforted me. This could be the beginning of an annual ritual.
4. The Christmas Story. Could it be Christmas without a viewing of that classic movie?
5. Songs. Getting to sing while my sister played piano, and one of my brothers played bass … for hours. Couldn’t be better. Even though it was nearly midnight, I wished we weren’t at the end of the songbook.
6. Music. The CBC played wonderful Christmas music all of Christmas day. I ate my first sticky bun to the Messiah. And I was peeling potatoes during the reading of the birth story, and found myself filling up with mystery and joy at the words of Luke 2:19: “And Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”
7. Ebb and flow. The best family events have a slowness to them, time to come together and drift and come back together again.
8. Gifts. I don’t know. It’s so much work. But I do love choosing gifts for family, and giving them. I prefer that the gifts aren’t the main focus of the event, but I do appreciate giving and receiving. I like making gifts, too. (And since my speciality is page design, photography, and writing, my children gave homemade gifts in that vein this year too: Albus made everyone a poster with a photo of one of his Star Wars Lego ships on it; and AppleApple wrote and touch-typed a new version of Noah’s Ark, and took photos to illustrate it using Playmobil figures; and then I laid them out, and my brother printed them at his press).
9. Not drinking too much. I didn’t. And I felt better for it.
10. Exercise. I managed to squeeze in the occasional run or yoga class, and always felt better for it.
11. Decorating the tree early! A month of Christmas.
12. Baking and delivering treats for neighbourhood friends.
Things we didn’t do, that I would like to do next year: daily advent calendar activities; a night lantern walk on solstice; decorating a tree outside for the birds; Christmas cards for family and friends (sorry, family and friends, it somehow did not happen this year!).
I also have a list of things that didn’t work … but that sounds like grousing. Now, today is my birthday, and I am celebrating by heading out for a few hours on my own. I look forward to a little time of uninterrupted reflection (she says, as her youngest climbs the stairs yelling, “Mommy where are you?”).
I’ve been thinking about how to move between the variety of activities that I do every day: some of them on my own, some with individual offspring, some as a family, some with friends, some with people I don’t know, who I may be meeting for the first time of many, or the first and last time. What seems to work best is when I can apply that cliche of “living in the moment.” How to live in the moment? It’s not a superficial pursuit, in my mind. It’s a way of being present and committed to whatever I’m doing at any given time. Actually, it makes life way more fun. Throw myself in: that’s how it feels. Just plunge in.
Going to church has been a helpful reminder of how to live in the moment. Going to church is not always an activity which I feel like prioritizing; but if I do it without thinking of all the things I might otherwise be doing, or all the things I have yet to do, if I simply go and be, it’s a very lovely experience. I talk to people I wouldn’t otherwise; I hear and sing music; sometimes I listen to messages that are interesting or valuable; I am with family. I realize it’s not for everyone, and I realize also that there are times in a life when it is next to impossible to commit energy to anything but sheer survival, but when the luxury of time and energy exists, a great deal of pleasure comes from entering fully into a moment.
I’m not against multi-tasking; sometimes multi-tasking is what saves a really dreary day from mind-numbing boredom … but it’s really freeing to do just the thing that one is doing, and nothing else. That sense of impatience, of wishing one were elsewhere, disappears.
I got to go and dance for a few hours last night. My youngest three siblings have a band called Kidstreet, and they were opening for another Canadian band called Shout Out Out Out Out at a local club. We got us some babysitting, and I put on dancing shoes and sparkly eye shadow (couldn’t waste the stuff I bought for Halloween), and off we went, ready for a good time. It was so fun. Dancing itself was wonderful. Seeing my brothers and sister get the crowd happy and excited was wonderful. Being out without children was wonderful. I would love to take my kids to see their uncles and aunt play sometime, too (well, the older ones, anyway). My brother Karl is teaching AppleApple drums and Albus guitar, and he’s also doing a lot of musical education: giving them ear training so that they can pick out the different instruments and parts of a song, and also having them listen to some real cool music. I would love for my kids to come to experience music as something they love and have opinions about, but also as something that they can play and make themselves. Music is so easily shared. And music can make those “living in the moment” moments absolutely effortless.
It’s a blessing, not a burden, to be this busy.
Yes, I sometimes feel overwhelmed. Yes, my life is written out in point form in advance. No, I don’t always feel like doing what I’ve planned for myself. But it’s amazing what can be squeezed into one day, what can fit.
Today, for example: breakfast, big kids out the door, swim lessons with little kids, home to start laundry, walk to a friend’s house, play, home for lunch, prepare supper, listen to podcast on CBC radio on beauty (“beauty will save the world“), plan via email a talk I’m preparing to give on Sunday about being a “Mennonite” writer (quotation marks necessary?), walk to school to get kids, bring friends home, trade off parenting duties with Kev, walk briskly to yoga, 90-minute yoga class, walk briskly home, blissed out and thinking semi-deep thoughts, eat leftovers, listen to kids play drums and guitar, tag-team the dishes with Kev, head out with sibs for a drink, walk briskly home, chat with Kev before trading off as on-call parent, watch video of beautiful youngest singing along to the Cranberries, plan tomorrow’s crock-pot supper, write blog. There’s still time for a small snack before bed.
Taken from the radio program (Tapestry): when you embrace beauty–the beautiful, the moment of grace–you accept that it will pass, that you can’t keep it. What is beauty? Goodness, kindness, compassion, acts of selfless impulsive grace.
Yesterday, I did not go to my planned yoga class. Instead, I cooked a risotto that reminded me of an evening out last month, rich with reduced wine, garlic, butter, parmesan, and I stayed home over the supper hour and savoured the food with my family. In order to exercise more, I have to skip something: which ends up being supper, most often. And I miss supper with my family. When I’m home, more things happen. Good food is prepared. Homework gets completed. Musical instruments get practiced. Real talk is exchanged.
What is the mysterious balance? Everything I choose to do weighs against everything that therefore will not happen.
Yesterday afternoon, on the most beautiful fall day imaginable, I took the little ones to the little park and we played. I must have pushed them on the platter swing for half an hour, singing songs, and reminiscing: in the blink of an eye, my babies have grown. Only a minute ago, I was pushing the older two in the same swing, singing the same songs. It was so peaceful, I did not want to rush home and make supper so that I could rush out the door to do something by myself. I wanted to let them lie on their backs and look at the rare cloud passing by, and be soothed. I wanted to sing. Impossible, when in a rush. Impossible, when hewing to a pre-arranged schedule.
Still, I love my schedule. I love to get out by myself.
But here’s a toast to being flexible. To breaking plans. To changing my mind.
We need some photos up here, a snapshot of our past week, a sampling of all the family activities we’re burning through on a regular basis. Above, what remained after the neighbourhood street party last weekend: face painting and tattoos.
This year, Albus and AppleApple are both continuing with conventional piano lessons (ie. reading music, music theory); but both are also being taught by my brother Karl, who is a professional musician (sample my siblings’ band’s music; they’re called Kidstreet)–Albus is learning guitar, and AppleApple is learning the drums. Karl is teaching them by ear rather than by sight, and Albus has started learning “power chords,” and is playing along with songs, while AppleApple is learning the basic drum riffs (the child is a drum machine; her foot on the bass sounds a thump that would reverberate in a dance club). CJ really really really wanted to play both drums and guitar; above, his big bro is letting him practice strumming.
Oh, and we had friends over for supper the other night, and it ended in a mud bath in the backyard (sorry, parents of friends). Of course, the kids were having the most fun ever, going primal and painting themselves and throwing mud balls. It all ended in the bath, but there were no tears.
I got tired yesterday. Or, woke tired. Saturday was productive: I made yogurt (4 litres of yogurt!), and baked a batch of bread. I also made almond milk from scratch. But yesterday I felt weary of kitchen work. So I baked a rhubarb crisp for supper (dessert) and left it at that. Our fridge is full of homemade. Our house is in disarray, and thank heavens for my crocs (which I wear as slippers) because the floor is crumb central. (“You don’t have to work all the time, you know,” Kevin told me yesterday, as I was confessing an overwhelming desire to do NOTHING AT ALL.) Yesterday evening, the whole family went into a fugue state: Fooey went off to sleep, CJ puttered with Little People, Albus played piano in order to figure out a song on the guitar with Kevin (and Kevin was amazed by everything Albus knew about music–his ear, his rhythm, his understanding of musical theory; I just knew putting in all those years of early childhood music, and this past year of piano lessons, would be worth it! yay! I truly believe in giving kids the rudiments, so they can take them and develop on them; I’m so excited by Albus’s new enthusiasm); and AppleApple and I worked on her school project (that child has an extremely organized mind!). Time passed. Soon, it was 9:30 and we were like … um, responsible parents, bedtime, sheesh. So, children all put to bed, Kevin and I collapsed in the living-room with a beer, and I said, you won’t believe this, but I swear I spent a lot of time tidying this room today. He said, you won’t believe this, but so did I. It was a puzzle/games disaster, and mixed-up puzzle/game pieces are just endlessly frustrating to sort. The things I found under the couch. But the kids had a fun morning playing restaurant (at least, it was fun till they called me to be their customer, and I showed up and went, AAAAAGHGHG! Mommy has to leave the restaurant right now or she will make you start cleaning all this up!). Anyway, by the time Kevin and I wandered to the kitchen, post-beer, it was past 11. I did not try very hard to set my internal alarm for early morning yoga. And my internal alarm did not go off. Here’s the thing about the early mornings: I love them. But I have to go to bed early. There is no compromising on this. My body makes darn sure of it. So, if I have to choose between quiet early morning and hanging out with my husband, I generally choose the latter. I’ll get a wee bit of exercise right about now (though hardly a zen moment) as I walk to school to pick up the kids.
PS That photo above is my boys this morning: my biggest and my littlest. One off to work, the other off to nursery school … leaving me alone in a quiet house for a couple of blissful hours.
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