“So are you doing the E-L-F on the S-H-E-L-F?” a fellow mom whispered to me, one morning in early December. I had just discovered the (awesome) story time at our local library, and our kids were playing happily together- though clearly within enough earshot. Clueless, I replied, “Isn’t that a book?”
“Oh no,” she reverently explained. It turns out that for the low, low price of $29.95, He Who Must Not Be Named would show up on your doorstep complete with a list of ways to create mischief and keep parents up till the wee small hours nightly, creating such a frenzy of pre-Christmas excitement that the mere mention of our little friend could send children sky high. “It’s just a fun way to make the holiday a little more special,” she beamed sleepily.
I smiled back and, I hope, said something polite. But inwardly I was thinking, “Are you CRAZY?! Not a chance!” We were already behind on all three of our family advent calendars. It sounded like a fun idea and my mind had begun reeling with the possibilities- but I knew we’d never be able to keep up. And what’s more, I didn’t want to.
The following Sunday one of our pastors spoke about an encounter she’d had at a local charity which the church was supporting. They were preparing holiday baskets for families in need, and she’d been given the daunting task of meeting with the families to assess whether or not they would qualify for one. One of the interviews, our pastor recalled, was particularly uncomfortable. The mother she met with was terse, silent, and not willing to meet her eye. When they got to the question of what her children would like for Christmas, mom finally looked up. “I don’t know what my kids like,” she said sadly. “I work two jobs, and I only get to see them for 20 minutes a day.” That story still haunts me. We may have had some setbacks this year, but I’m pretty sure I have no idea what hard really is.
This year we had no photos with Santa, there was no elf wreaking havoc on our shelves, and Christmas came in January. Thanks to the unusually early snow fall (and my three-week initiation to being a stay-at-home mom) we missed ALL of the holiday events and happenings in our new town. But it didn’t take me long to figure out that, once again, by creating space in our lives God was giving us a gift. We spent more time together than we possibly ever have. We built snowmen and played with snow- indoors and out. We made gingerbread men, gingerbread houses, gingerbread pudding, and gingerbread-scented play dough. We discovered just how many hours a box of recycling, glitter glue, and a bit of imagination can keep you entertained. We sang and danced and laughed. Hands down, best holiday ever.
If there’s anything the past year has taught me, it’s to embrace the important things- to celebrate and savor traditions that give meaning to our life- and let go of those that don’t. Being in a new place, being apart at times, constantly adjusting and re-adjusting our plans and goals- I could have let all these things get me down. But a year of setting free both objects and expectations has ended up lifting an emotional weight in our lives. Things will come, and things will go. Sometimes relationships will too. Holding on to frustration when things don’t turn out exactly the way we pictured them will just distract us from experiencing the unexpected blessings around us. I’ve discovered that as people we are happiest when we simply focus on doing what we can, and celebrating what we’ve got.
Last week a lady stopped me and my daughter in the restroom at Target. She had heard my ongoing monologue in the stall: “Do-you-need-a-wee-wee-are-you-sure-you-don’t-please-get-off-the-floor-no-don’t-touch-the-toilet-it’s-yucky-ok-all-finished-oh-NOW-you-need-a-wee-wee?!” In a moment of peace as we were washing our hands, she smiled knowingly at us and said, “Enjoy every minute of it, because it doesn’t last long.”
This year I hope we remember the lessons that 2013 taught us. And to all of you who are reading (and, I hope, laughing) about our adventures- I wish you a do-able new year.