Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Meeting in the Middle

We took a trip to the McDonalds play area during Christmas break. This was a kind of a "rite of passage" when I was a kid. Anyone else remember? Sometime during the week we always made a stop at McDonalds for lunch. Of course, most moms these days won't feed their kids that junk, but since I'm old-school (read: old), there we were.

We probably hadn't gone into this McDonalds for a couple of years; definitely not since Chloe had been born. I was eager to see if she was old enough to play around in the tunnels (the answer: barely, and she did a little, somewhat pensively). But once we walked into the back towards the play area I remembered our history with this place.

Back when Ethan was maybe 2 1/2, I hated going there. I was frustrated when a group of friends wanted to get together and bring their kids to play because I knew what my child would be doing: obsessing over the automatic doors that lead in and out of that section. While the other kids were screeching, climbing and playing, there was Ethan: standing, staring, stepping in and out, fascinated with making the doors open and close.

As often happens, in retrospect his behavior wasn't that bad. It's not as if he was trying to run throughout the entire restaurant.

He was just acting different. And he had no interest in making friends or interacting. This bugged me.

A few years later Ethan had lost his focus on the doors but had a new obsession: worrying about getting shocked by the slide. He hated the feeling. And so he spent a lot of time asking, fretting, wondering, testing. I felt bad for the stress a simple plastic slide was causing.

And again, I felt frustrated. Why couldn't the kid just play? I wondered. Why'd things have to be so hard for him?

Then there was the day around that time when some big oaf of a kid at the top of the slide kept telling Ethan to move and he wouldn't. To this day I'm not sure if Ethan didn't understand him or didn't want to, but I remember Anna tell me that he snarled, "What are you, DUMB?!" And Anna grew indignant and snapped, "He's not dumb, he's my brother!" Man, I was so darned proud of her.

I'd forgotten all of this, until we stepped through those automatic doors and into the hyper world of kids bouncing around relatively unsupervised and full of grease.

"Chloe, come play with me!" Ethan called over and over and over. He zipped down the slide, noting briefly that he'd gotten a shocked before going back again for another trip. He cajoled Chloe to climb down to a secret spot and hang out on the mat. He boosted his little sis up and did his best to encourage her to slide down the slide (she would only go with Anna, though).

"Mamma, come in and play!" he kept yelling. That and calling to Chloe, again and again.

At one point I asked him: "Do you remember when you loved those doors so much?"

"I still do, mamma," he said, as he rushed back to the tunnels.

He has not changed who he is. He still has his fears; his quirks; his unique brand of interests. But he has also opened his world to include other people, too.

I was reminded that in the special needs world, there is no such thing as a small milestone. Something like learning to climb in and play on the slide, to be able to shut out unsettling distractions? Longing and asking for other kids play with him? This is big, very big.

I also was reminded that somewhere along the way we began to learn to meet Ethan in the middle. Our job isn't to make him typical but to help bring him to a place where he can get along better, and maybe see that some of the things we encourage him to do aren't so bad after all. And on the flip side, we need to understand that those doors were really, really cool. And that slide shocking him was really, really scary. Maybe not to other kids. But to him. We needed to value that.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas Gets Real

"Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope." - 1 Thessalonians 4:13

The Christmas trees were on the stage, the drapes covering the sky high windows to block out the distracting sun; the poinsettias dotted across the bottom of the stage. The kids were decked in their Sunday best, ready to earnestly belt out songs slightly out of key. And this year, the choir was back for the first time in a while. We all had our festive red shirts and black pants and, two services into the three, were into this thing, having fun singing traditional favorites and timeless hymns and songs about joy.

Yes, Beethoven would have loved this...our rockin' rendition of Ode to Joy, that had the congregation standing and bopping. I nearly wanted to laugh while singing. Everything felt so alive. Praise to the Lord the Almighty? Only my favorite hymn ever (our pastor's too), and we got to sing it with gusto.

After the second service everywhere there were old friends greeting and hugs and laughter. Dan told me stories about dressing Chloe up at home only to have her get into the flour on the counter and dust herself and the kitchen.

They said their goodbyes and someone said the pastor wanted to speak with us all downstairs. I thought maybe we were going to get some gentle advice on a lyric we'd been singing not quite right or a time we walked on or off the stage at slightly the wrong time. Only, no. He had called us down to tell us we had lost one of our own.

We've attended our current church for about 12 years. Eight years ago, a dear couple, Tyren and Tiffany, and their children began serving as missionaries in Mozambique, with the church's support. Over the years they had returned at various times to rest and recharge. I tried to always catch up with them. Tiffany and I had done Bible studies together and served in the nursery. I loved to chat with her, because her faith was so strong. Everything about her was authentic. She lived what she believed. She wasn't one to just talk.

On that day, as we celebrated Christmas at church thousands of miles of away, she had helped rush her husband to the hospital. He had become deathly ill -- they didn't have real answers as to why. And, our pastor shared, he had just learned Tyren had passed away.

The air got sucked out of the room.


"And now," he continued, "You have the monumental task of going back up there and singing about joy after I share this news with the congregation."

For a moment I felt as if a boulder had been dropped on my shoulders.

There was no time. We had to go back upstairs and line up in the back of the church to be ready to walk in, joyfully singing.

All I could see in my head was Tyren holding one of his littler children, standing in the back of the church near where we usually sit.

More tears. Someone came and handed various members of the choir Kleenex.

"Why are you crying?" this dear girl with special needs kept asking, watching us all. The others didn't notice -- the families pouring through the doors, ready to celebrate, ready to worship. People were hugging; laughing; exchanging gifts.

I was reminded that grief doesn't stop this time of year. That there are many, many people watching others celebrate and feeling nothing but hollow inside. I was reminded how quickly everything can change.

How do we do this? I knew the pastor was about to get up and share. All I could do was pray...and pray...and pray, standing there and waiting.

It was time for us to go in. The music was starting. We all know the song:

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant
O come ye, o come ye to Bethlehem

As we began to walk out, peace descended. We could do this. Just not in our strength. We could sing and rejoice even while we mourned.

Peace, hope and joy to the world
Our God has come
Heaven and nature sing
A child is born
To save us, to show us redeeming love

We weren't just there to sing songs. We weren't just there to put on a performance. We weren't even there to "move" people. We were there to sing Truth. This was no longer a Christmas service, this was a question: Do we believe it?

A thrill of hope
The weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees
O hear the angel voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born

I thought Elisabeth Elliot, the missionary who lived for years among the tribe in Equador who had killed her husband. I thought of Tyren and Tiffany, who were living their faith, who were touching lives and reaching the poor and the lost rather than just talking, complaining, looking inward. Faith expressing itself in love. What kind of love is this? What kind of story that broke into history, turned the world upside down? We sang a hymn and as always when we sing hymns I thought of the voices over hundreds of years that have echoed the same words, fellow believers who also had trials but looked upward.

Praise to the Lord, who over all things so wondrously reigneth,
Shelters thee under His wings, yea, so gently sustaineth!
Hast thou not seen how thy desires have been
Granted in what He ordaineth?

As we reached that last song, our joyful, exuberant conclusion, I realized that if we held these truths in our hearts then we could indeed explode with joy...but not a feeling, not goosebumps and shivers and an overflow of happiness that all was right in the world. No. Something more solemn and steadfast. A thrill. A promise. A deep well from which to draw. Gladness. Peace. Assurance. Hope in something far greater than this world. Emmanuel. God with us. Always.

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee
God of glory, Lord of love
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee
Opening to the sun above
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness
Drive the dark of doubt away

Giver of immortal gladness
Fill us with the light of day!

I knew then, as we sang, that Tyren, that mighty man of God full of faith and love, would want nothing better for us than to, even as we mourn his loss, give God the glory. That was all he lived for.

What are we living for?

To help the Haynes family:
Church of the Living God
199 Deming Street
Manchester CT 06042

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Confessions of an Imperfect Christmas Celebrator

So every year our pastor makes a point to share a little about some of the holiday traditions his family partakes in every year. He mentions getting the tree the day after Christmas; about the way his kids used to rush downstairs on Christmas morning to make sure baby Jesus had arrived in the manger; sitting and reading the Christmas story from the Bible; eating cheesecake every Christmas Eve.

I tried the baby Jesus thing a few years ago. This seemed like an easy enough tradition to implement. I got out the nativity set that goes up on our fireplace mantle and carefully set up all of the pieces, except baby Jesus, who, in preparation for Christmas morning, I carefully hid...somewhere.

I woke up before everyone else that day and realized I couldn't find him. Darn, where we was he? I thought, rifling through drawers, on top of shelves, and in other secret places. At the last minute, I found the baby tucked away behind something and put him in his rightful place.

"Look, kids!" I announced when they came down the stairs. "Baby Jesus is in the manager!"

"Huh? Oh." One or both of them said. Jesus got a perfunctory glance. "PRESENTS!" Ethan yelled.

You see, I want to be THAT family. I want to be the one gathered around the fireplace while someone reads from the Bible; the one tackling a family giving project and working together patiently on Christmas crafts.

We are not that family, though.

I desperately want my kids to start looking outside themselves and to think of giving to others. Never mind that, I long to live in a less selfish mindset. I know there are all sorts of ways we could translate that into our everyday activities. But getting everyone to participate is like pulling teeth.

We received one of those catalogs in the mail: you know, where you can donate a goat or a cow or a well for clean water and really help people far away who are in desperate need? I wanted to sit down and carefully flip through the pages and think about how we could help people, maybe talk about what it's like to live in other places and without basic necessities. Anna was halfway on board, after she stopped texting her friends. From Ethan? "Why do we have to do this? I want to play Wii!" He listened for about 10 seconds and then asked if we were done.

When you have to beg your kids to care about others, it's just not the same. And it's hard not to wonder what you've done wrong.

Then there's the Christmas card debacle. I love Christmas cards. I love getting mail and seeing pictures of my friends' kids and hearing what family members are up to. I even like semi-annoying holiday "brag" letters. This year I thought I had the Christmas card thing down. I had a picture I hadn't even had to really try hard to take of the three kids, was online clicking away, and had my cards in hand three weeks before Christmas. Only: I had gotten distracted by the kids at the end of designing my card, and in retrospect realized the text with our names was completely illegible.

Feeling stubborn and weirdly giddy that day, I decided we should send them out anyway. What did I have to prove? Our friends and family knew us. Who cared if the card wasn't perfect. First world problem!

That was all well and good...until Christmas cards from other people started arriving in the mail. Apparently, everyone had fantastic luck in the photo studios with their kids this year. I opened card after card of cute smiling kids, formal photos, dressy photos, lots of smiles, and, of course, text that was completely readable.

I began to waver. Could I really send out my crappy Wal-Mart slapped together Christmas greeting with the glaring mistake that a freelance writer and editor really had no business making?

I realized that I had to send out my cards. Because what's worse than making a dumb mistake? Acting like you're so casual and relaxed about your dumb mistake so you come off as one of those "chill" people, when really you care just as much as anyone about what everyone thinks.

As I filled out my cards, I thought of the families I was sending them to. I wished that they knew I was truly thinking of them and smiling, remembering times we'd chatted or spent together, and that I wished I could write more to each and every one.

I thought about how our family Christmas traditions often seem very much like Charlie Brown's sorry little Christmas tree...full of good intention, but sadly lacking.

Then I remembered that I like Charlie Brown's Christmas tree. (I mean, that's kind of the point of the whole story.) It's earnest; it's true; it's real.

And that I can smile through the frustrated the ones that almost came because today my older two were acting like spoiled brats and my little one kept trying to pull petals off the poinsettias at church and climb up on the stage while the big kids were practicing their Christmas music.

We are, indeed, all imperfect Christmas celebrators. Not placed here to impress anyone...but to love and be loved. Even on those days when it feels like we don't do Christmas, or anything, right.

Merry Christmas, my friends.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

These Light and Momentary Troubles

This past weekend we celebrated the marriage of two wonderful members of our extended family in Maine. There was a sweet, funny ceremony in a church decked in twinkling lights, and a festive gathering at an old stately mansion beautifully decorated for the holidays. Love was in the air. Family was all around. The day was beautiful.

Oh. Did I mention we had a toddler with us?

Writing about our experiences with Chloe at said wedding would be cliché. First, most of the people who read this blog were there, so this would be old news. And also, it's kind of obvious: this was a wedding. My child is almost two and enjoys wiggling her way out of high chairs in restaurants and swiping things off shelves in every store we visit. At church we've perhaps made the mistake of letting her stand in the back during the music and quickly bringing her downstairs to the nursery, not teaching her to sit and listen. So you can imagine how things went.

There was much chasing that day, and holding, and gently shushing. On the plus side, I think I got enough exercise to burn off dinner and the cake.

So, yeah, I don't need to drag you through the whole thing. And I'm not going to lie and say I stayed calm and serene and keeping my perspective and didn't sweat the small stuff, because I'm human. I wanted to have adult conversation. I wanted to visit with people I rarely see and spend more time celebrating the happy couple. I was grouchy.


I remember happening to be in just the right spot to glance out the window, while everyone else was unaware, and see the groomsmen, huddled in the December darkness, laughing and "trashing" the groom's car.

And while chasing Chloe we discovered a long hallway that lead into a different part of the "house," where there were huge, elaborate rooms, a grand staircase, and a large, formal parlor with a beautifully decorated Christmas tree.

And later in that room with the staircase we gathered for a picture and for a brief moment the entire family was together in that one spot, smiling and fidgeting and attempting to look good for the photographer, and Chloe was still and there was time to stop and remember that these times do not happen often, and there are few things better than gathering with the people you love.

And from that part of the house you could look to the mansion next door that was brilliantly decorated with lights that made the cousins oooh and aaah when they looked out the windows.

And there were the words from the groom's dad (Dan's uncle) before the prayer and dinner began that were so precious and full of love for his grown son that there had to be more than a few eyes welling up in that room (mine did).

And the moment when Dan and I had a few seconds to talk when we were realizing both how happy we were for the new couple but very glad that we were not starting all over again. There is something very freeing about being content where you are right now, about not pining for the past because it's never coming back, about being grateful for what experience and children and challenges have taught you.

There was, a little later, the second when we got out of the car at the grandparents' house and told the kids to stop and look up at all of the stars. Every time, especially because we see so few of them where we live near the city, every time they take my breath away. Sometimes I wonder how much more peaceful, grateful, and insignificant in a very good way we would feel if we could go outside each night and look up at thousands upon thousands of stars.

And then there was time spent with Dan's grandparents, family I now consider my own and who graciously welcome our little zoo to come and stay; grandparents I have "adopted" as my own, as I have no living grandparents now. And they've adopted me, from the beginning.

And the moments Chloe spent reading Chicka Chicka Boom Boom with her great-grandfather.

And the drive home with all of the family together, something that hasn't happened often in recent years due to Dan's work schedule, and the way that December can be beautiful even without snow, and the drive over the green bridge and river in Portsmouth, Maine and Portsmouth, New Hampshire that is always beautiful, despite the smokestacks.

I am more convinced than ever that we can never be truly happy or content if we are not able to find joy in small moments that may be hiding right in the middle of the more trying ones.

This is often more easily said than done, and this is not something I always do well. As I write right now two kids just came down the stairs way too early, and I'm annoyed.

But filled with love, too. And praying always for eyes that see differently, see beyond these "light and momentary troubles."

Friday, December 11, 2015

Believe in Them

Ethan came home with a paper in his backpack the other day. They've been talking about fairy tales and folk tales lately in second grade and this paper appeared to involve Little Red Riding Hood. I began to read Ethan's (somewhat messy) scrawl that filled two pages. Was this a story, as in, an Ethan original?

Long ago, there was a little girl name Red Riding Hood and everyone loved her. One day, Red Riding Hood's mother asked Red Riding Hood to bring muffins to her sick grandmother...

Nah, couldn't be. The teacher was probably having him practice his penmanship, I figured, or to write down the story from memory.

I kept meaning to ask him about it, but every time I'd get interrupted and forget until he was asleep or at school. I read through it several times, and after a few days, finally tossed the papers in the trash.

But a few minutes later something compelled me to ask him.

"Ethe, that store about Little Red Riding Hood -- did you write it?"


"Without copying from anywhere?"

"No, I made it up."

I went back to the trash and un-crumpled the paper.

...Red Riding Hood went through the woods and got to her grandmother's house, but she saw a wolf in the distance. Just when her grandmother's house came into sight she saw the wolf race into her grandmother's house. When Red Riding Hood went in, she was gone. The wolf ate Little Red.  

One day, the wolf was sick. He threw up. Out popped Red and her grandmother. Apparently Red always carried a jackhammer with her. Wack! Twing! Kapput! The wolf was dead. They lived happily ever after.

This, from the boy who talks about the evils of "writer's workshop" every time he gets. Was it a masterpiece? Of course not. But between the lines I could see the glimpses of so many things...a good grasp of vocabulary; creativity; humor.

I thought back to when he was little. "He's so smart!" the therapists who came to our home used to say.

I couldn't see it.

In school we'd have meetings and I always wanted to talk about what might happen, what could go wrong, which pitfalls he might plunge into (I still do that. Just less often.).

"Don't assume. He's going to surprise you," his teachers and therapists kept saying. "Look at how he's already surprised you."

But I'm not here today to write about how Ethan has surpassed expectations and blown us all away.

I'm thinking about how I need to believe in him. In my kids. In my husband, too.

I don't mean this in a sappy, "everyone wins a trophy," "you're so wonderful at everything" kind of way.

I mean I need to believe the best. I need to set expectations high but never weightier than the unconditional love they feel. I need to not confine them to a box.

I've joked with Anna about how she struggles in math and spelling. Now I've realized in the process we've kind of resigned her to just not being good at math and spelling. What if we started telling her "You can do this?"

That's different than telling her she can be a math genius. Maybe she can't (then again, maybe we need to keep our lips tighter on what our kids can't do and let them find that out on their own). But she can get better. She can work hard. She can gain more understanding.

I'll never forget what someone said to me during a marketing and public relations internship my last semester of college. "You are one of the best writers we've ever had," she remarked, "but you're also the least confident." It's something I still struggle with to this day.

There is a fine line between confidence and pride, between feeling assured of who you are verses having an overinflated picture of who you are.

But Little Red Riding Hood reminded me that believing in the people close to you is a way that you love them. That doesn't just mean believing in them to succeed and use their talents well...but maybe believing in them to make the hard choice, or to do the right thing, or to turn back when they've gone down the wrong path.

And if they let us down?

Just keep loving.

"Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends." - 1 Corinthians 13:7-8

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Traveling Zoo

I'm sure I'm not the only parent who feels this way, but sometimes, whenever our family treks around, doing the things we have to do or want to do, I feel like we're the circus coming to town. Or a traveling zoo. It's like I can hear zany trumpets playing and a voice heralding, "Look out! They're here! You've gotta see what happens next!" Most likely it's going to be loud, and most likely it's going to be messy.

Exhibit A: Our Friday night and my early birthday dinner at On The Border. Yeah, I know. It's a chain restaurant. It's not "authentic" enough. But if sodium and fat content were of no concern, I'd eat On the Border chips and salsa for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Of course, so would my kids...which is why once we got seated at a too-small table everyone started devouring chips like a pack full of hungry wolves. Including Chloe. Not only that, but she was double-dipping in the salsa. We got her her own little bowl so she could double-dip away. Ethan got up twice to use the bathroom and kept watching the TVs to comment on the football scores. Anna kept screeching every time we teased her about her "boyfriend" from art class. We all had to eat quickly because we had to get gas afterwards and drive back through highway traffic and make sure Anna wasn't late for her "middle school extravaganza" at the local community center at 7 p.m.

Every time we leave a restaurant these days, I end up pausing to clear the worst of the mess from under the table. Then I slink out of there quickly, my tail between my legs, silently apologizing to the waitress. This time thanks to Ethan's spilled salad dressing we had a sheen of oil spilled all over the table. God bless that woman, who is probably still marveling at how we all consumed THAT many chips.

Saturday turned out to be the only day in the next two weeks when we could get our Christmas tree. So at 9 a.m. we ended up at this tree farm on a back road where there was no one except a farmer sitting in a run-down barn, looking surprised to see anyone.

We have a knack for finding these out of the way, small (read: lame) tree farms in which there seem to be more dying trees than healthy ones and we walk around for waaaay too long trying to find something, anything that's passable. The owner is usually right there next to us, so eager to make a sale that we don't dare turn around to leave and find a better option, and so we kind of grin and bear it and mutter under our breath and cut down something that usually starts shedding needles about the time we bring it through the door. I should be completely honest here and say that Dan LIKED this year's tree farm and thought it was just fine, thank you, and that Anna and I are being "tree snobs."

So we had our tree, and the only tantrum was when Chloe learned she had to go back into the car instead of exploring and trying to play with the hand saws.

Dan had to attend to some work things, and next on my list was Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart, on a Saturday, before Christmas. Not only that, but we had to go to the Vision Center, because someone had stepped on Anna's glasses and broken them at the "middle school extravaganza" the night before when she took them off to go into a bounce house. Why she decided to leave her glasses on the FLOOR was a discussion that we indeed had, heatedly.

I told the kids, and I was in no way being facetious, that we needed to say a prayer before we went to Wal-Mart. Every time we go to Wal-Mart, I end up angry with the world. And so I asked for grace, patience, and self-control. I think we all need to say the Wal-Mart prayer before we go.

At the Vision Center, a guy cut me in line and I bit my lip, scoping out the situation. Somehow I had forgotten Chloe's snack. An old Dixie cup in my purse meant I could send Ethan for trips to get her water from the water fountain. I spotted a candy jar on the counter and decided that would be our last resort. Anna looked at lenses. Chloe kept drinking water and spilling. Ethan kept trying on glasses (another one of those things where, if I only had one kid with me, I would say hands off, but was trying to buy my sanity). We waited and waited. I plied Ethan with coins to feed into the Children's Hospital coin gadget. Chloe's sleeves were soaked. The fussiness began. "Anna, go get those Hershey kisses," I hissed. One kiss for each kid. Again, never would I have plied my older two with chocolate at Chloe's age. Soon chocolate was all over her face. Lovely.

We managed only about a half-hour wait at the Vision Center, then we dashed about Wal-Mart grabbing tree decorating items. Score! We made it!

Then came Chloe's nap and tree decorating, done quickly so we could get to the living nativity we wanted to attend followed by dropping Anna off to sleepover with a friend. "Do you see now why we HAD to get the tree when we did?" I asked Dan, looking for praise. Sometimes parenting seems to mean planning with military precision. We'd even managed to have some homemade hot apple cider while we decked the halls.

Ahhh, the nativity. Easily my favorite family tradition of the Christmas season. It's set in a park, just after dark. There are hundreds of luminaries leading up a hill to where you visit Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, and all in a "stable" complete with wise men and animals. There are also shepherds in the fields who tell the Christmas story, Christmas carolers, a bonfire, and a warm indoor spot to get warm drinks and sweet treats.

When everything falls just into place, visiting the living nativity can feel like a sacred moment. The sky is awash with stars, the sound of carols rings out over the night, and there's nothing more beautiful than hearing little voices say, "There's baby Jesus!"

Our visit this year did not feel very sacred. For whatever reason, this year Ethan was more into jumping over the luminaries in their white folder paper bags as if he were clearing hurdles. As we passed the nativity he loudly announced, "The best part of this is the hot chocolate!" and another time just as the carolers had finished whined, "Can we GO now?"

Chloe, on the other hand, was TOO into things (yeah, we foolishly left her stroller in the car). She started yelling "Jesus! Jesus!" from the moment we got there, although I'm not sure she even knew exactly what was going on. At the manger she wanted to crawl over the fence and into the stall with the sheep and wasn't happy when we told her no. She ran away from us in the cookie room, and then we reached the carolers.

My littlest one loves to sing more than almost anything. Not only that, but the group was singing some of the same carols I'd been practicing at home for our church Christmas show. She recognized them. Slowly, she inched closer and closer to the area where they stood. Then she weaseled her way among them. "FAAALLL ON YOUR KNEES, and HEAR, THE ANGEL VOICES!" they were bellowing, and she was attempting to as well. At first, this was very cute in a "let the little ones come to me" kind of spiritual moment. Childlike innocence and all that. I let her go. Only -- she didn't want to leave. And she kept darting about around people's legs. One woman had a cane and I was afraid she was going to knock it over. I wondered if people were going to stop participating in this "holy moment" and focus only on the little one who was overstaying her welcome.

Meanwhile, Ethan was twirling around in circles, dancing and mock singing, almost running into other families. "Stop that!" I hissed. He wouldn't stop. Dan grabbed him by the hand and yanked him away, as he yelled "Nooooo!" I waited for yet another song to end and whisked in to get Chloe. "Noooo!" she also yelled, thrashing about and spilling the hot chocolate that was in my hand.

We headed away from the blessed event, the silent night that was not so silent, as Anna slinked behind us, embarrassed. Yup, here goes the zoo, I felt like saying as we walked by the crowds. Entertainment's over for now, folks. Go back to focusing on the true meaning of Christmas. 

As we drove to get Anna to her friend so they could eat pizza and talk boys and Minecraft, I felt sheepish but not mortified. I figured that was an improvement. This parenting thing is not for the faint of heart, and the more I share stories and the more I listen to others', I know that we are SO not alone. So maybe we are loud and messy. So is life. So someone judged me and I didn't make all the right parenting choices? There will be tomorrow.

And like that Christmas story that we were trying to convey for the kids, God is here for the messy and stinky and hapless, the obnoxious and distracted and selfish. Me included. Thankfully.