How My Children Taught Me What Christmas Is All About (2014)

Last Christmas we were broke. Really broke. I was home all day with two toddlers, mourning a baby who would have been due at Christmas, and pregnant with another due in the spring. Christmas was not fun. It wasn’t even sweetly sentimental like when the Ingalls family got excited over tin cups and sweet potatoes. It was a difficult, stressful month, and I was relieved when it was over. But in the midst of the really, really hard-and-not-fun, there was, indeed, joy. And my kids were the ones who showed it to me.

My kids thought last Christmas was fabulous. The neighbors had lights on their houses and big obnoxious blow up singing snowmen and bears. We got to take a walk every evening and visit them. We bought a little tree—I’m quite sure I could have taken it in a wrestling match—and we hung ornaments on it, and the 2 1/2 year old declared daily, “Look at our big, beautiful tree!” We did some simple crafts and read lots of library books about Christmas and danced to holiday music, and it was all the best thing we had ever done and we were happy. 

I saw their contentment, and how so much of what I wanted to do and buy was to to fulfill MY expectations, not theirs. But I didn’t give up on making it special, either. I wanted an “Advent Angel” to hide and have them find each morning with the next part of the Christmas story. So I found a Pinterest pattern and made one out of material I already had. We sold most of hubby’s pre-marriage DVD collection—and quite a few other things—and used the money to buy gifts for our extended family. And for my daughter, hubby made a doll bed and I made tiny pillows and a quilt, and I dressed a $3 Goodwill rescue doll in a silk ballgown made from an old bridesmaid’s dress and a velvet cape and muff made from another dress I no longer wore. 

Learning to be content and learning to be creative were important, but even more, my children helped make the holiday more truly Christ-centered to me than it had been in years. Because it was so clear to them that was why we were celebrating. It was Jesus’ birthday. And that was enough. Totally unprompted, I watched my 2 1/2 year old pull her rocking horse from door to door in our house, knocking and looking for a room for Baby Jesus. She wrapped up her beloved stuffed “Duckie” in blankets and put him in the “sweet warm hay.” She learned the angel’s song and invited us to come see the baby in the manger. 

In my children’s innocent, perfect worship, Christmas became real to me, too. It occurred to me the depth of desperate longing Mary must have felt to make her Son’s birth better. Talk about the birth plan not working out! This was God’s Son and all his earthly parents could muster was a dim stable and a used manger. What must it have felt like to wrap up Divinity in some used rags and put him in a barn? There must have been some disappointment, some sadness that they couldn’t give him more and better. Yet Baby Jesus slept contentedly—and if any child in the world ever did have the ability to know that it could have been grander, it was Him! The Heavenly Father sent out a celestial birth announcement. Mary and Joseph’s pitiful “best” was enough for Him, and He is enough for us. Even when we can’t give our children the grand experiences and great presents that we wish, we can tell them about a Child who left all of that behind to come and be Immanuel—God with us–in our poverty, our difficulty, our desperation, our disappointment, and also our joy.

Thoughts on My Baby Turning One (2015)

When you are sound asleep in the dark, dead weight in my arms, I can still see the shadows of the womb in your face, still make out the newborn stranger they wrapped in a hospital blanket and placed in my arms just one year ago. But looking at a true newborn yesterday, I realize how big you are now. No more little grunts and mewing cries. No more voracious nursing all day and all night. No more lying still wherever I set you down. Now you know me and your smile and open-mouthed slobbery kisses are the overflow of your own affection. You sit and take in all that your brother and sister are doing, anxious to join them, while I would keep you little a little longer.

I have been a mother only four years, and you are my third baby to turn one. Every time, it’s so bittersweet. And this is what I have learned of motherhood–it is an unending cycle of grieving and receiving. I grieve for the tiny baby who is no more, but I receive you as you are now, at this new stage. I fold tiny clothes you will never wear again and grieve. I watch you attempt a first step and I receive. Breastfeeding ends. I grieve that we will no longer have that precious bond. But I receive (hopefully more sleep) and the joy of sharing with my little boy new foods that he will enjoy. I grieve the missed naps on my chest when you could shut out all the world and just snuggle into me. I receive this you who can listen to a book or giggle at a song.

I watch your brother and sister grow. The special toy that they forget, I stop to mourn, for that little part of them has passed on, replaced by this new and different child who doesn’t have to hold Duckie to go to sleep or doesn’t need to be rocked for one more song. But I receive a four-year-old’s deep questions and a two-year-old’s budding conversational skills. Now there are things that I can teach you, books that I can read to you, activities I can do with you, that before we could not yet do.

I grieve, too, the time lost because I was distracted, or selfish, or tired–definitely tired. I grieve the ways I fail daily as a mother. Yet I can’t stay there, because each day I am still receiving a new day, a new opportunity. I receive this you and all that God would teach me of Himself through this season.

Someday the dolls will be packed away. Someday there won’t be any more toy trains or Curious George books or holding-onto-the-stroller for a walk. Just as infancy passes away, I know that someday your childhood will, too. but you will always be my child; so as much as I will grieve for the child you were, I will receive the adult you have become.

I wonder if parenting changes the parents even more than the child. Of course, you are growing, learning, changing so constantly and yet imperceptibly every day. But I am growing, learning, and changing, too, constantly stretching to be the mother you need now. Forever cherishing the person you were, and yet embracing the person you are. Others will know and love you at one stage or another, but I will know and love you every day of your life, at every stage, receiving each day who you are now.