This was supposed to be my Advent...
(P.S. I totally painted this picture at one of those "paint while you drink wine" nights.
Super fun! Still in shock that the instructor can make me appear to be an artist.)
My heart and mind completely focused on the birth of Jesus, which meant that I was calm and collected through the entire month of December and not a psycho "Martha" who was overly concerned with her "To-Do List" or with buying gifts. Each night we would gather in front of the Christmas tree to read Advent books and have a peaceful family prayer time. And when the children were all tucked in their beds and sound asleep, the Mister and I would relax on the couch while gazing into each other's eyes as we sipped our hot buttered rum without the constant interruption of a child sneaking out of bed for one last sip of water. Sounds so dreamy, and right out of a Pottery Barn magazine, right?
Well let me tell you about the Advent that my family actually got...
Psycho Martha. No, psycho, FORGETFUL Martha who couldn't keep a day or activity straight to save her life. Do you know why I wasn't overly obsessed with buying Christmas presents this year? Because I was so busy and scatterbrained that I could barely remember to buy groceries. Mama didn't have time to go present shopping! In order to preserve my pride, I am going to count that as a parenting "win" in the "don't be too materialistic" category. But trust me, I don't have room to be cocky. I won the "Worst Parent of The Year" Award... I forgot to show up to our child's class Christmas party! And to make matters worse, I missed it because I was attending a parish Christmas cookie decorating activity with our mom's group and their children. Did you catch that? I missed my kid's Christmas party because I was at a different Christmas party with other people's children. Oye! There I was sipping hot chocolate thinking I had all the time in the world. Only to find out that my child's party was almost over AND my other son's party was later that afternoon! Wait, what?! How the heck did I mess two kids' parties? I felt like such a failure as a mom. Thankfully, our boys were quick to forgive me (probably because they're used to their mama not being "with it").
The month of December ended up being a blur of multiple illnesses. In between Christmas functions, school functions, homework, etc. Don't get me wrong, we had a great month full of fun activities. However, I really struggled to get done all that I need to in between all the fun. Looking back, I can see that everything felt way worse than it was simply because none of us felt well. At the time I couldn't see past feeling overwhelmed and the guilt I felt for being a grouchy wife, mom, daughter, friend, etc. Then of course the guilt doubled as I thought of all of the awful things going on in the world, all those I know who are enduring major hardships and here I am complaining about first world problems.
The closer we got to the Holidays and talk the "New Year" approached, I started to feel more burdened by all that I did not accomplish this past year. By the time I reached Christmas Day, I found myself sitting at Christmas Mass feeling a little depressed.
I listened to my husband lector as I did my best to wrangle four misbehaving children, who were acting like having to sit up against the wall was more difficult than Mary and Joseph's 80 mile walk to Bethlehem right before Jesus was born. Seriously... soooo much whining AND dying of hunger when they had eaten RIGHT before walking into church.
Just when I was about to lose my mind, the Mister was done lectoring and joined us at the back of the church in the standing room only area. But it was was too late. Anger over the way the kids were behaving, anger over me feeling angry and overwhelmed, guilt and the worry that I had ruined Advent (and now Christmas) took me over. Despair flooded my heart, tears ran down my cheeks and I silently asked God, "Why is this so hard? Is it supposed to be this hard? What am I doing wrong?"
The choir began to sing Away In a Manger... a favorite song of our children. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. Instead of recounting all of my perceived failures of the past month (and year), I began recalling my blessings: all the times when I heard the kids upstairs sweetly singing this song and acting out The Nativity (in full costume). Or the time when our rambunctious, independent 2 year old (who's been in a total daddy phase) let me rock him to sleep and didn't want me to let him go. Or the time when our kids asked to visit the rehabilitation center that my grandma stayed before she passed away- just because they wanted to say hello to her friends who are still there. They asked to do that all on their own. I was so proud. I didn't read a single Advent book. Not. one. But when I couldn't read to them, the big kids took time cuddle up together and read to the little kids. They played with their saint dolls and prayed the prayers on the back.
(These adorable felt saint dolls are from the Saintly Silver Etsy Shop)
Our oldest two continually acted out The Nativity (in full costume, with props).
They wanted to draw pictures of Christ's birth and share them with everyone they know. Those sweet souls were sharing God's love with others, even though I felt like I was failing to be an example of Christ's love to them. Clearly He was at work in the hearts of our family even if I was too blind to see it. More tears fell.
And then my children looked up at me in a panic, all at once, shout-whispering, "WHY ARE YOU CRYING?! Are you okay?! Are you hurt?! Are you sad?! Is this that thing you call 'crying tears of joy,' Mom?"
"SSSHHHHHH! Everybody please CALM. DOWN." (I was saying that to myself too). ;)
I hugged the kids and wiped my tears. I thanked God for reminding me of my many blessings and placed every feeling of inadequacy and guilt in the hands of Jesus. I didn't receive a profound answer to my question of "why is this so hard?" Nor did I expect one. I mean, I am assisting in raising human beings, not raising a gold fish. Of course parenthood is going to be difficult from time to time. I have been entrusted the job of nurturing the mind, bodies and souls of our children and making sure those souls return to the hands of their Creator someday. Ain't nobody got time for a pity party, amiright?! As my prayers concluded and communion ended, these words flooded my heart... "You always have a do over. It's never too late to choose better and do differently."
I have been pondering this in my heart since Christmas. With the New Year upon us- last year's broken resolutions and my disappointing Advent season are gone. I have another opportunity for a do over and I want this year to be different. I don't want a resolution list that feels like a one more to do list gnawing away at my sanity all year. I simply want to be more present to those I love most, by being more aware of Christ's presence throughout my day. And if I mess up and have a really hard day of parenting, or a personal goal still unmet or an item on my to-do list that's still unchecked, I want to remember that I always have a do over- there is always an opportunity to serve others more joyfully and love more patiently.