Christmas week is here! Everywhere I look I'm being taunted by the countdown to the big day, from the dollar store Santa countdown hanging on my cubicle wall, to the four (!) advent calendars at our house (my childhood family one, two that were mine when I was a kid, and one plastic canvas one my mom made for us a few years ago, which I absolutely love), to the neighbor around the corner who has a digital countdown decoration mounted on their house. Ironically, most years something goes wrong with the countdown a while before Christmas and it just says, "Ho Ho Ho" in the countdown space for days. But this year it's been hanging in there and I take a deep breath every time I drive by and see the seconds tick off.
Fortunately, this weekend was a very productive one in terms of getting through our shopping list. We still have a couple more decisions to make, and a couple more decided-upon gifts to buy, but the kids are pretty much done and I just have a ton of wrapping to do and a lot of details to work out this week. Every day is busy. Yesterday we had to be up and out first thing because Craig and I both had a health screening through my work. We get a monetary bonus for doing it and every plan for doing it prior to today just didn't work out. Today I dropped off breakfast at daycare for the teachers (instead of buying individual gifts), and this evening was Carter's daycare sing-along and visit from Santa. I also did some baking tonight, as Wednesday is my grazing day at work and I always make my semi-famous monkey bread the night before. Wednesday afternoon we have a therapist appointment with Jacob. Thursday I have my mom's group, which seems crazy since we're all so busy, but it was always meant to be a forced break from the Christmas craziness. Craig and the kids want to open presents Friday night and get on the road so we have all day on Christmas Eve in Buffalo, but I am less convinced. Personally, I would LOVE to go to our church's Christmas Eve Eve service (there are like, six or seven services over two days) as it's supposed to be a classic candlelit service and I feel like I could use one of those to center myself heading into everything. But I doubt that will fly as there will be presents to wrap and suitcases to pack and presents to open and dinner to eat, and a 6:30 service probably won't fit into that very well, no matter how well I plan.
Even though I feel completely unmotivated in the evenings, I've had to push myself to be productive. My time is so limited--I don't even know when we're going to get the last couple presents bought--and I have to bake cookies before Friday and wrap a ton of presents and start packing for the weekend. I was actually doing pretty well remembering a million details until yesterday morning when I forgot to bring Carter's bag of snow clothes and also his shoes for the day. And of course, since we had the screening appointment I couldn't go home right away to get them. So I drove all the way to near my work, then back home, to daycare and finally back to work. Thankfully the weather cooperated, as we've had a number of snowy morning and evening commutes lately. It's been a bit harrowing at times, but this week looks a lot clearer, which is helpful for all of the running around. At least we have a nice blanket of white leading up to Christmas, which hasn't been the case much in recent years.
Thank goodness for the snow, as I definitely did not need any other challenges to getting in the Christmas spirit. Between Jacob's issues, some additional behavior issues on Carter's end, a lack of gift ideas, and all the usual busyness that is only made worse by the demands of the holiday, it's been a tough one. Every December I find myself going to bed around midnight every single night, and that just doesn't help matters, as sleep-deprived me is not a very happy, patient, clear-thinking person. Add in a number of friends and family who are mourning this year--my extended family after three deaths, one friend who lost her child this year, two people who had to put down their beloved dogs in the past week--and it's hard to look at Christmas with the same wide-eyed joy of a child. Knowing so many other people are hurting and Christmas is only amplifying that hurt makes it hard to fully embrace the joy. On the other hand, I know I should try because aside from that empathy, I still have all of the tools to have a joyful Christmas. I don't know how many more truly, purely happy Christmases we have left, as our families are aging and health problems crop up more than we would like. The kids are growing up, so things are going to change faster than we would like, regardless. We can't predict the future (nor should we want to, I think, as worrying ahead probably steals what little joy we have left), so we really need to appreciate what we have while we still have it. It's not easy to look past the challenges, but we need to make an effort to try. I'm sure those who are hurting would certainly encourage us to embrace what we have, however flawed.
I guess part of me has gotten back on the Christmas bandwagon, as I'm back to crying in my car when certain songs come on. This year in particular, I've thought more deeply about the songs that look closer at the parental experience. One song in particular, Labor of Love, gets me pretty much every time. It ponders Mary's experience in labor, in a cold, dirty stable with only Joseph as her support. The thought of a young girl going through that is just too much for me, I guess, thinking of my own hard labor experiences and marveling at what she did so long ago. Clearly God had His hand on that whole situation, as the risk to her and to Jesus (complications, infection, the elements) were great. There are a few other songs, like Joseph's Lullaby or Mary, Did You Know? or This Baby that look at Jesus in a more human perspective, as a normal human baby, but ponder his future as the Savior of the world. When I think how emotional I felt when my kids were newborns, I can't even fathom what went through Mary and Joseph's minds as they had the task of caring for this baby, but also knowing that he had a very important future ahead of him. Even if they didn't know what that future held, they were aware he was special and I imagine their minds went between focusing on the normal stuff (messy diapers and breastfeeding, for example) to being completely freaked out with the task of parenting God's own son. And I think the older Jacob gets, the more I realize how life continues to move along even when we don't take the time to notice. It's easy to get caught up in one moment, to feel like each phase of babyhood lasts forever, but before we know it, time moves along and suddenly we have this big kid. In our case, life has taken some pretty sharp turns, too, so the journey is that much more pronounced. But it's so hard to fathom that journey when you're holding your newborn, and the realization of how things can change is pretty sobering. And in Jesus' case, it's certainly a sharp contrast between the newborn in a manger and the bloody man on the cross. All of these things go through my head when I hear these songs, and boom...the emotions come out. Anyway, I take it as a good sign that I haven't gone all Grinch when those songs still make me emotional. Or maybe it's just the utter exhaustion.
After a good shopping trip tonight to tie up some loose ends, I'm feeling a bit better about things, but there still aren't enough hours in the day. More baking tomorrow night, and still quite a bit of wrapping ahead. I haven't packed a single item of clothing, and I have no idea what foods I'm contributing to our various family gatherings. I don't even know when I'll have time to go back to Wegmans. But I forge ahead...just a few more days to go!