Thoughts on Joy
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Thoughts on Christmas: How I Did (and Didn't) Fulfill my December Goals

Last winter was one of my life’s hardest seasons. One of my kids was struggling with some big issues, and the fact that he was hurting so much and yet wouldn’t let me help him was the straw that crumpled this camel’s back. There has been a lot of drama and difficulty over the past two years or so, and it finally all caught up with me. I slid right into a fairly deep stretch of depression.

I think of it now as my Narnia Winter: always cold, dark, and colorless winter without Christmas.

I mean, we celebrated Christmas last year. But my heart was not in it. I didn’t light candles and I didn’t listen to a single Christmas song. I just went through the motions and put together a Christmas because I knew how to do it, but the joy was gone. I’m not sure my kids noticed or knew any of this—I actually really hope they didn’t—but for me it was a Christmas without light.

So when December started approaching again (even though I really, really didn’t want it to) I knew I would have to work on my mood so that didn’t happen again. I needed to light candles and listen to Christmas music, to sit in front of the tree and just look at it, to thumb through memories of past Christmases. To seek out the spirit of Christmas.

Two things happened that helped me do this. The first was my epiphany at the mall, which I wrote about yesterday. The second was finding, one day at my mom’s house, the Christmas stocking I used when I was a kid. When Kendell and I got married, his mom gave us his childhood stocking, and I’ve always hung it up somewhere as a decoration. But I thought mine was long gone. So when I found it in my mom’s basement, it felt like a gift from Father Christmas himself. A little piece from my past, a little bit of the child I used to be to tie to the person I am now.

My attempts at fashioning a new kind of Christmas weren’t perfect. But I think it was a good start. Whenever someone asked me what I wanted for Christmas, my response was this: to not have a BUA (big ugly argument) with anyone and for no one to need stitches, catch the stomach flu, or have a fever. I wanted there to be no floods and no incidents of me almost setting my house on fire. I wanted it to snow. And I wanted no one to be in the hospital or recuperating from a major surgery.

I got most of those things. December was BUA free, there were no fevers and none of us threw up once, and while Nathan did sprain his ankle at the beginning of the month, he was off of his crutches before Christmas. We preemptively avoided a kitchen flood by replacing our ailing dishwasher (although: who wants to pay for a new dishwasher in the middle of paying for all the Christmas gifts?) and I might’ve grown just a little bit obsessive about checking that the stove really is turned off.

On Christmas Eve, it snowed. This felt like a Christmas miracle, as it has been so dry here in Utah. I literally laughed out loud when I walked out in the evening and saw it was snowing.

So I almost got everything I wanted for Christmas. Except for that last bit. My mom went in to the hospital on December 9 with pain from diverticulitis, and she is still there. I’m lucky in that she’s at a hospital that is less than a mile from my house, so I’ve been able to spend time with her there. But her illness did make it harder for me to achieve the goals I set for myself that afternoon at the mall (but…only in ways that likely don’t matter much).

But I am also happy that I can say this wasn’t a Narnian Winter. Here is what I did to find the joy and magic this December:

  • Made things. I actually started this project during the week after Thanksgiving, thinking it would only take me a few days to finish. And maybe it would have, but as many of my sewing adventures do, the project spun out of control. More details later, because it deserves its own post. But I will say that my ten days (or so) of working with Christmas fabrics, hearing the thrum of my machine, watching my overly-ambitious imagined projects turn into a reality…it really was a lifesaver. The sewing gave me a sense of peace that I carried with me during the scary days of my mom’s hospitalization.
  • Watched for the good moments. Like the night Nathan got home from work late and he stayed up even later, helping me frost sugar cookies and talking to me. The morning I had a very grown up discussion with Kaleb and he responded better than I could imagine. An afternoon spent wrapping gifts in my bedroom while I watched five episodes of Call the Midwife and Kendell worked on his laptop and we were able to be together in a peaceful space. Even in the hospital: laughing with one of Mom’s surgeons, talking with one of the ER nurses late into the night (one of the nurses who helped when Kendell was also in the ICU), holding my mother’s hand. Actually, the fact that I could help her felt like goodness, even though of course I wish she wasn’t there.
  • Spent time with old friends. In fact, I had a lunch wherein one old friend was reunited with another old friend and it was magical and sweet and full of laughter and does, in fact, also demand its own blog post.
  • Changed some traditions. Specifically: I only bought new Christmas books for myself and Haley, as I’m tired of hoping that a book at Christmas will turn Jake, Nathan, and Kaleb into readers again. Maybe one day my boys will remember that they used to love reading, maybe they won’t, but buying them books they only shake their heads at is pointless. I usually put underwear in the stockings but this year I just never got around to buying any, and, when I realized I hadn’t, I decided that rather than stressing about it I just wouldn’t buy underwear. Lastly, I ended the tradition of Christmas-eve PJs. I know: that’s almost sacrilegious! But no one was very excited about them last year, and sometimes the buying of pajamas has actually sparked a BUA with Kendell (who doesn’t really believe in pajamas). So, instead, I had my friend Chris’s husband, who owns a printing shop, print us some Christmas t-shirts. All six of us! I loved this new take on an old tradition and am already planning how next year’s t-shirt will look. And, I confess: imagining 20 years into the future, when we have two decades’ worth of Christmas t-shirts and I can make a Christmas-t-shirt quilt!
  • Made all the kids and Kendell a new calendar. I did this one year for Kendell, and Haley loved it so much that the next year I made one for her too. Then last year the place where I have them printed made a mistake and printed two extra, so I gave one to Nathan and Jake. And then Kaleb was sad he didn’t get one! So this year, calendars for everyone. I was able to find twelve awesome pics for the kids’ calendars—I just try to have a variety of different family members and have them sort-of relate to each month if they can, my only self-imposed rule being that the pics have to come from the previous year. For Kendell’s calendar, I used photos from the three vacations we took together this year (Hawaii, our little get-away in southern California this summer, and our autumn trip to New York City). The opening of the calendars was my favorite moment on Christmas morning, as everyone looked through the photos and laughed, commented, pointed out something they’d forgotten, or noted how much they’d changed.
  • Pulled off some surprises. The things I was most excited for my family to open: Kendell’s new pillows, Haley’s Dr. Martens, Jake’s beard trimmer thing, Nathan’s jacket (the one from the Gap!), and almost all of Kaleb’s gifts (but specifically, the white Hydroflask water bottle, “just like Aunt Cindy’s,” which he’s been wanting since the fall, and the spike ball set, and his own grown-up knife…he might not believe in Santa anymore, but he still is easy to surprise). After we’d opened all of the gifts on Christmas morning, Jake said “Mom, now that everyone knows about Santa, you probably feel happier on Christmas because you get the credit for getting the awesome gifts, instead of Santa Claus” and while I’m really not in it for the credit, there really is something so good about seeing them be surprised.

What I didn’t manage this year: an outdoor adventure (I want to steal one of my running friends’ idea and go running in the dark next December, along a route that has a lot of houses with lights) and an experience just for me (but the Nutcracker will be there next year). And, you know. My mom’s illness might’ve made these things harder to accomplish. But I had a moment with her, a few days after Christmas, that was so powerfully spiritual and such a strong reminder to me of Christ’s love that I don’t even care. I will have plenty more Christmases to get all of the details right, and I found that with purpose and a plan, I could avoid Jadis the White Witch altogether.


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