When I Grow Up, I Want to be Like my Kids

We’ve been on a hamster wheel of non-stop activity and change since spring. Every day I keep thinking that’s the day my real life will start. The day when I own my life again. The day when I feel comfortable and ready and the hours stretch ahead of me in an organized and productive way.

Instead, I wake up to boxes that still need unpacking, blank walls begging for pictures to be hung, a worn out GPS app from needing directions to everything, and an ever-growing list of errands. To top it off, our school registration plan backfired a bit and the boys started their new year-round school this week. Our school district offers a variety of traditional and year-round schools. Unfortunately, the traditional options were closed to us and although we had been hoping to keep them on a traditional calendar because, you know, creatures of habit, it wasn’t meant to be. So a week to the day of our furniture being delivered to the new house, the boys packed up their school supplies into their back packs and started a new school.

The boys? They’ve been fine. Excited even. They were unfazed about starting school several days into the new school year. They have rolled with the change to their summer schedule. My boys are happy, optimistic, content. They play between the boxes. They sleep in their make-shift beds. They explore the new spaces. They still hug us tight, maybe a little tighter. But they come home excited about things they did at school, people they’ve met, ways that the new school is different.

And I wish I could be more like them. Instead, I’m still hungering for a normal. The school routine starting earlier than I expected threw my non-routine into further non-ness. I’m wandering the house tackling projects that never seem to get finished and wondering when I will ever get back to writing.

But the boys? They’re good.

We might have been the ones to initiate this great and risky plan to move to a new state, start a new school, uproot our entire lives for something bigger in the grand scheme. But in the little ways, my kids are showing me daily how to actually do it by being brave and open and receptive to this new life.

So I will follow their example. I will do what I can when I can. I will start to learn what the quiet feels like in this new space without their feet on the stairs. I will take a deep breath and realize that the non-routine is where I am and where I am is still pretty damn good. Because every day is different. Every day is an adventure. Every day is an opportunity.

My boys taught me that.

 

 

Remembering and Sharing

As parents there are certain conversations we dread: explaining divorce. Explaining sex. Explaining death.

They strike fear in our hearts and send shivers up our spines. We avoid them until we can’t. We try to water down topics to age appropriate language and comparisons in order to tell just enough without guaranteeing our children are blaming us for their future adult therapy. Some go better than others and some are told out of necessity. We offer the comfort we can and we love our children through it all, hoping it will be enough.

I had one of these conversations this week.

My third grader came home with an “I Survived” book. These historical fiction vignettes take a moment in history and retells it through the eyes of a young boy survivor. T loves facts and adventure and escapes, so I wasn’t surprised to see the “I Survived the San Francisco Earthquake 1906” come home from the school’s media center. I was, however, surprised when “I Survived 9/11” appeared on my dining room table.

I read it while he was at school. It stuck to the facts. It focused on the firefighters and their bravery. And I died a little inside knowing that if he could read this book, I needed to talk to him about it. I needed him to know things. Understand. This wasn’t just another adventure some fictional boy survived. This one touched his family and this nation in unique and permanent ways.

And so while the little guy was at a play date, I sat my nine year old down and we talked. I let him ask me questions. I had to explain why the plane crashed in Pennsylvania. I had to confirm that no, it didn’t just land nicely when the good guys took over the plane. That they died. That they were heroes. That they saved so many more people.

I shared what it was like to leave DC. That people helped each other. That my friend took me home with her when I didn’t want to get on the train. That I saw the smoke from the Pentagon. That firefighters and police did their jobs in New York and went in when everyone was trying to get out. That people helped carry colleagues and strangers down numerous flights of stairs. That someone that went to my high school helped people. That he lived. That he helped other people live, too. That they have built a museum where the buildings once stood to honor the lives lost. That there is a new building there now that is taller and stronger and maybe one day we’ll go see it. That they fixed the Pentagon. That planes are safer now.

Then I showed him pictures of a trip I took on a high school band trip to New York City in 1992. We went to the top of the World Trade Center. It was a cloudy day. In the photos you can see the heavy mist hanging in the air between where I stood on the top of the world in that observation deck and the tops of tall buildings below.

We talked about doing something on 9/11 to honor the day. And so we are making brownies today that we will take to our local fire department this afternoon.

And then I cried. Alone. In the bathroom. The farther away it gets, the easier to distance myself from the visceral memories. But honestly, I don’t ever want to lose that pain, that grief. I can’t afford to. None of us can. We have to remember. We have to honor those we lost.

This year, in addition to remembering, I am sharing it with my child. Not sharing too much. He doesn’t need to see too much, understand too much. But now he knows. He knows that 9/11 was real. That 9/11 is still real. And as hard as that conversation was, I’m glad. How we teach our children what we learned that day will define how they handle their generation’s event in the future. Because it will come. Whatever it is. There is no stopping it. Something horrible will happen. And if my guy remembers the kindnesses, the comfort and the bravery that outweighed the fear and mitigated the tiniest speck of the grief in one of our nation’s worst moments, then he will be well prepared.

Remembering and sharing.

2:00 pm

2:00 pm.

One hour until the bus returns my tired, sweaty, fidgety, hungry children back to me. In the hours since they have left, I’ve made the bed, done the dishes, walked three miles, showered, eaten two meals and attempted some semblance of work.

With the one hour mark comes the pressure. Did I do enough? What else can I get done? Will a cup of coffee or a 15 minute power nap be more effective to get me through the afternoon? More often than not, however, the last hour is filled with the kind of pressure that nearly feels like regret. I think of everything I didn’t get done. I ponder was my day worth it? Did I do enough to justify this at home existence I have? Is the house clean enough (never)? Did I write enough? Did I move the arrow forward on anything? Did I cross off anything on the list? Could I have done more?

A lot of this pressure is born of the fact that I’m currently in a writer’s purgatory. The manuscript has been in the hands of beta readers for the last month. I’ve been purposefully avoiding the manuscript in the hopes of giving it fresh eyes with the fresh perspectives and comments of these readers. Instead, I’ve focused my efforts and time on the busy work of writing – query letters, synopsis writing, agent research, comp research, endless time reading forums and articles and Q&As to help assuage some amount of the anxiety building up as I near a time when I will eventually have to let this baby go out into the world for judgement.

Unfortunately, that leads me to many two o’clocks filled with am I doing enough? angst. I know in my heart what I’ve been doing is not lost work. It’s not pointless. It’s an investment. It’s necessary, mandatory, even. But it’s not writing. And I miss it. The writing. I have a plan that I need to trust. A plan for editing, for querying, for closing the door on this manuscript in order to move into the research for the next. I need to have faith in the process. Faith in myself for creating it. Faith it’s not all for naught.

But the clock ticks. Another minute gone. Another possibility of productivity drifting into the past. I realize I am not a patient person.

And that today, I’ll go with the cup of coffee.

Faces of a Child

When the first born, T, was an infant, I stared at his little mug for hours. Nursing. Napping. Strolling. Playing. Really. Whatever he was doing, I was watching. That smile? Total gas. That perplexed look? Definitely spit up coming. That adorable pensive face? Oh, well, that’s his little boy face.

Every so often, T would give us this look that I would gasp at and clutch my metaphorical pearls. I just knew that was what my baby, my darling, chunky-cheeked, goofy-smiled baby would look like as a little boy when he’d shucked the chubby skin of infancy and toddlerhood. I would point at pictures and label them to the hubby: “There. Little boy face.”

And damn if I wasn’t right. Because here he is. In front of me now. All boy. All that look.

Part of me was pleased as punch to be right about something. To have that motherly instinct so early prove correct. And not about the bad feeling in the pit of my stomach as they cruised along the coffee table only to bash their face into the corner of the sofa and bawl for the next 15 minutes. But about something good. Something sweet. Something I just felt in my bones was right.

Then today. Oh, today. Today, I took my 8 year old big boy shopping for a suit for his upcoming First Communion. Buttering him up with frozen yogurt, off we went to take advantage of the season’s Easter dress-up sales. And he was surprisingly helpful at picking out what he wanted and then I forced him into the fitting room to ensure a good fit on my skinny minny little man. And there it was. In a tie and glasses and the pull of a cuff as he shrugged on that jacket. A face. Not the little boy face anymore, but the grown-up man face. In the mirror of a department store, in pants that need a belt to stay on his nonexistent hips, in a tie he picked by himself, I saw a new future.

I wasn’t ready. I’m still not ready as I type this, acknowledging the momentousness that occurred in between scuffed walls, on well worn brown carpet strewn with the detritus of dress shirt packaging. I know it’s a long way off. I know I have no reason to worry and every fart joke to still look forward to. But glimpses of the future. This big, independent future where I am probably not solving problems with frozen yogurt or needed to help prepare for anything? Not ready for it.

And so I become the keeper of the faces. The serious baby face. The joy filled toddler face. The no teeth first grade face. The awkward big toothed second grader face. The sad faces. The excited faces. The relieved faces. The I’m-so-glad-you’re-here faces. And every face that is in between. Someday my son will gaze at his own little one’s face with wonder and name what he sees in this new little being. I will join him and smile, knowing that I, too, see faces. Faces of the past. Faces of babies and toddlers and little boys and men-to-be that have become.

Maybe then I will be ready to accept the future faces. But I doubt it.

At Peace with Priorities. This Week.

There hasn’t been any writing this week. There will probably not be any writing next week, either. Normally, I’d be twitchy. And part of me is. But part of me is okay with it. Because it’s spring. Or because there isn’t really an alternative. Or because I’m terrified of where I am in the work in progress and fear I’m working up to an “eh” moment in the manuscript. Or all of the above.

The fact is, this week has been filled with tasks. Teacher appreciation errands to run. Easter Egg baskets to fill. Baseball games. A field trip I swore I would not volunteer for but did anyway (really, Monica, the zoo? Pray for me, people. Pray hard.). Class Easter parties at preschool. An author lecture. A home renovation project we’re undertaking. The hubby’s car broke down. And it’s only Tuesday. Next week is spring break. Another week filled with two kids and endless time and boundless energy.

After a minor anxiety moment writing out my to do list yesterday morning, I’ve let it go. Maybe it was yoga. Or maybe it was planning a small family road trip to somewhere new for part of the break. Or, gasp, maybe I’m finally learning. I’m learning that my writing and my kids are not competing forces, although it feels that way on a daily basis. I’m learning that as much as I need to respect my writing time, I also need to respect my life. And my life is messy and full and sometimes lands decidedly heavy on the side of kid and school commitments. It doesn’t mean that my writing isn’t important, it just means that in that moment, it’s not the top priority. There will be more moments.

They will only be this age once. They will only have one more Easter Egg hunt at this preschool. I may not always have the opportunity to attend field trips. I won’t always be the room mom for this class. The weather won’t always be this beautiful. They might not always want to play catch with their mom.

Be where your feet are. Best piece of advice I ever got. Hardest to follow. But this week, I’m staying grounded.

“Let’s go for a run,” the five year old announced this afternoon out of the blue. He’s never made this request before. The hubby and I don’t “run.” Not that we can’t, it’s just not our thing.

“Okay.”

And so we did. We hit the street, running up one cul-de-sac and back down. It wasn’t terribly far. It didn’t take too long. It put a smile on both our faces.

“I want you to swing with me,” the five year old stated after our run.

“Okay.” Up and down we went, my stomach not handling the pendulum motion as well as it once did. And then I let go and sailed out of the swing, jumping from the moving swing, landing on the bark mulch several feet away. The 5 year old laughed and complimented my jump. Then we played tag and waited for the school bus to deliver his big brother home.

I wasn’t writing. And yet I was. Because here. Now. This moment. Because of that moment.

Letting go, I’m learning, might be the most effective way of holding tight. Holding tight to their childhoods by making memories with them during the in between. Holding tight to the work in progress by loosening my mind to find it. Holding tight to my marriage by trust falling into its safety when the going gets overbooked.

So I may not be writing in the work in progress as much as I’d like this week, but I’m writing in my book of life. And, probably more importantly, writing in my kids’ books. And those are the ultimate works in progress.

A Glimpse Into the Future

The five year old (B) had his best girl friend (K) over for a play date yesterday afternoon. They are both silly personalities and I was already giggling from their ongoing conversations and negotiations when during lunch I witnessed this conversation:

K: What’s your favorite, favorite, favorite thing in the world?

B: I don’t know.

(Thinking)

B: I know who my favorite, favorite, favorite person in the world is.

Me/K: Who?

B: (Points at K, giant smile).

And now I understand every mother-in-law who looks at their daughter-in-law sideways. I was the boys’ first love. Now they are making room for others. I have years before I’m reassigned in their hearts, but it was humbling to see a glimpse into my future when someone else takes priority in their hearts.

For now, I’ll take my snuggles and my kisses and know that when they get hurt, I’m still the first person they want. One day that will change. And I’ll do my best to let go. Until then, I’m hanging on tight.

Parenting in the Big Picture

I had a crisis of confidence last week. My already truncated available time for writing was being impinged by a dental appointment for one kid, a canceled after school activity for the other and some sort of malaise that had me off for about 24 hours. As I forced myself into the seat to try writing something, anything, I simply just didn’t feel good and I felt the panic start to rise. I called the hubby for a moment of venting, frustrated that this creative life I desperately want, I seemed to sabotage at every turn. It’s interrupted and pushed aside and then when I have a few hours or moments and don’t feel well and simply want to sit my butt on the couch to rest, I feel guilty. Like desperately, beat myself up mentally, ready to give up guilty because aren’t I just wasting everyone’s time and forcing us into this crazy budget tightening onto one salary for my own selfish desires?

Yeah. That.

Luckily, I’m married to a guy who is not only practical but insanely supportive of this journey I’m on and knows me better than I probably know myself. His response floored me. Not just ebbed the panic or stopped the gush of guilt or placated, but stopped me in my tracks. It was an epiphany moment that not only cleared my own vision about my specific writing challenge in that moment, but opened my eyes to a larger understanding.

What he told me was that writing was like investing in your 401(k). You invest your money, but you don’t check it every day. It’s built for the long term. You will have up days and down days, but overall, you want a pattern of growth over the long term so that when you’re ready to retire, it’s ready for you. That doesn’t mean ignore it, it doesn’t mean throw your hands up the moment it gets tough, it means that some days are good, some days are bad, but no one day defines the entirety.

Mind blowing, right? Maybe just for me.

Then, I realized, not only did this long term view apply to my writing, but it applies to my parenting as well. There are some days when I just don’t feel in it to win it. The kids are at each other’s throats. The questions are endless. The answers are ignored. The crankiness is turned up. The lack of sleep catches up. The toys aren’t right. The screen time is taken away. The patience is short. The time is fractured. The desires misaligned. The schedules busy. The fridge is empty. The weather is rainy.

Then there are days that are just magic. The complaining is limited. The helping is rampant. The hugs are everywhere. The reminding is brief. The giggles are silly. The laughter is ongoing. The playtime is peaceful. The patience is plentiful. The chatter is two-way. The games are all-inclusive.

Regardless of whether it’s a bad parenting day or a good one, it’s the long term strategy, right? The child you’re turning into an adult. The memories you’re building that have little to do with whatever homework you’re nagging about or if the dishes were piled in the sink on Tuesday. The love that you’re sharing. The stories you’re reading. The time you’re spending. Yes, there are days we just want to end, tasks we wish we didn’t have to complete, schedules we wish we could free, but our ultimate commitment, our children, is still the top priority. And so we keep trying. We put them to bed and we binge watch something on TV and shake our heads when our spouse asks if we want to talk about one of those days and we go to sleep that night and try again the next day. We pack the lunches, make the breakfasts, drive the carpools and take deep breaths. We keep trying. We learn from yesterday’s mistakes. We put away the bad day before, we work on the day we’re in and remember there are more days in front.

Then, hopefully one day we’ll look back over this long trajectory of parenthood and our kids will tell us we did a good job. Not a perfect job. But a good job. Maybe even a great job. You’ll sit around a wedding rehearsal dinner table or a hospital bed as you meet a new grandchild or a Christmas tree with paper strewn about and toys underfoot again and your grown children will reminisce and laugh and tell stories and they won’t be about the days you hurried through, the days you didn’t feel the magic. They will be about the love. The fun.

We watched our youngest in a preschool performance this morning. He’ll only do this performance once. He’ll only be five for 9 more months. He’ll only be at preschool until May. As stressful as it was to create a costume and arrange our schedules to be there on a day where I’m also scheduled to be at the older’s school later and plan and run an adult meeting tonight, it was the big picture that granted serenity — time is fleeting and I want this moment to appear in my mind’s eye when I look back, not the remainder of the day’s logistics.

So, if you’re struggling today with today, focus on the end goal. Today might be a wash. That’s okay. There’s always tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. Let’s give ourselves permission to let go of the minutia and instead live our lives focused on the bigger picture, the overall portfolio of their childhood that turns them into these strangely independent, individual adults that will jump onto their own roller coasters of life. That’s the end goal. Let’s make the long term investment.

Prince vs. Princess Culture

As the mom of boys, one of the benefits is that I can ignore pretty much all things princess. Instead, I know what differentiates an excavator from a bulldozer from a backhoe (lucky me). Even though I’m not exposed to the princess thing on a daily basis, it’s still everywhere. TV shows, dress up bins, Halloween costumes, movies, Disney vacation photos on my Facebook feed. It seems to dominate the current play culture for our young girls right now. And it’s never more apparent then when I need to buy a present for a girl – my nieces or a friend’s birthday party. The toy store. The book store. The card aisle. Princesses, princesses everywhere!

I was thinking about this princess phenomena as I read an article about this cartoon gone viral. The cartoon pokes fun at Lego creating Lego Friends specifically to market to girls. I too loved Legos growing up and never for one minute thought it was a “boy’s toy.” I played with the sets I enjoyed. I built skyscrapers and houses and whatever else my little heart desired. My particular favorite, however, was one of the castle sets. I was thrilled to receive it one Christmas and loved building it, rearranging it and using the pieces in a variety of ways. Never once did I think I needed a princess in the set to make it complete.

And yet, today? Apparently we can’t just market toys to kids we have to market them to boys versus girls. And we wonder why gender equality is still a problem in the workplace?

I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with princess play. It’s creative dress-up and narrative play, and I think those are both important. The Anna and Elsa model, although not perfect, is a step in the right direction for independent girls not needing a man to solve their problems (although that storyline was so unique because of what we expected – we expected the true love to be that of her prince or even of Kristoff. The true love between sisters was considered a “twist” ending because we never saw it coming. *sigh*). What I do find compelling is that there is not a comparable marketing effort for “prince” toys for boys. There aren’t any princely role models in the same vein as the Snow Whites, Cinderellas, Ariels, Elsas, Belles, Rapunzels of the world. I’m not sure I could even name one of the Disney princes. My boys pretend to be firefighters and astronauts and chefs and puppies and construction workers. They don’t play prince. Even when they play with their girl friends. The only prince they know is his purple majesty who is a regular in our dance party rotation (you haven’t lived until you’ve seen my five year old bust a move to “What’s My Name”).

So why aren’t princes an appropriate, equally engaging role model for boys? Is it because they are unobtainable? After all, you can’t “become” a prince, you are either born one or not. Sure, the same argument could be made for princesses, but Diana and Kate have managed to capture America’s attention and prove otherwise (although the odds aren’t exactly in the rest of our peasant favor). Is it because being a prince isn’t a “job?” What exactly does a prince do? Other than rescue damsels in distress that is? But by the same token, what exactly does a princess do? Other than wait around to be rescued, according to the fairy tale model? Perhaps it’s because a prince doesn’t have any cool equipment? Or he just hasn’t had the right story line? Or is it because we currently don’t define our boys based on their relationships, but we historically define girls that way?

My ultimate unanswerable question, I suppose, is why is it okay for us to foster a culture that not only accepts but seems to encourage and expect our girls to emulate women who they can only become by marrying a specific type of man – specific type of man, apparently, that boys aren’t aspiring to become? The princes of fairy tales aren’t all that interesting. Or all that kind. Or all that bright. Why should we encourage our girls to find their “princes” when they seem to be a bunch of bums?

Kids are going to be inherently drawn to toys they identify with, whether that’s by color, feel, shape or application. I played with my share of Barbie dolls. I coveted a Cabbage Patch doll the year they came out and parents were punching other parents in the aisles for them. I made my fair share of too skinny clothes with my fashion plates imagining all the fancy places I would go as a grown up in the types of dresses I created. I baked gooey, fairly disgusting creations by lightbulb in my Easy Bake Oven that I then forced my poor parents to eat. But I also had a microscope and rock collection and the aforementioned Legos. I played in a treehouse and climbed trees in the woods. I built forts and played army games with the boy across the street.

My point is that kids will play with the toys that engage them. That might be a girl who plays with lots of traditional “girly” things or a boy who plays with dolls or a girl who plays with dinosaurs or kids who play with a balance of both. Let’s help our kids find toys that speak to them and their dreams. But maybe, just maybe, we let the girls know that the real princes of the world aren’t the two dimensional ones of story books and animated films with generic Ken doll good looks and a sense of ownership post rescue, but instead are the boys who grow up to respect the women in their life. The real princes slay dragons side-by-side with the princesses and may even stay home to make sure a delicious Easy Bake Oven strawberry shortcake is waiting when she gets home from a long day of kingdom saving.

Happy New Year!

It’s the first day back to reality after a long holiday break, the chaos of Christmas, travel to visit family and a cold that knocked my socks off so badly I’m six days in and, although markedly improved over days 1 and 2, still in need of afternoon naps and my ever-present box of Kleenex. The boys were both surprisingly easy to wake and emerged bright eyed and focused this morning. This was partially due to my get them up early yesterday and systematically wear them out all day so they’d go to bed early plan, but I think they were just as eager to be rid of me as I was of them. I love my kids, but two-plus weeks of non-stop together time is a lot even with the cousin time, parties and play dates.

It was with great anticipation and eagerness that I, too, sat down at my computer a half hour ago. The last few nights, while drifting off to stuffy-nosed dream land, I’ve been hit with scene inspiration. Fully formed somethings that were too good not to sit back up, turn the light on and jot down as quickly as possible so I didn’t lose them overnight. I naively assumed that was an indicator of a prose back-up in my system that just needed fingertips to keyboard and an empty house to let loose. Until I sat down. And I realized how early 6:15 was this morning, how noisy the dishwasher seems today, how fascinating twitter is after a break, how long my to-do list is, how quiet it is (noisy dishwasher notwithstanding) without my boys here.

The boys are my constant companions. My entertainment. My annoying coworkers. They are the distractions and inspirations of my day-to-day life. The night before any holiday break finds me anxious and nervous about how I’ll make it through so many days that need to be filled with play time and movement and food and activity with nary a moment of quiet to myself. Strangely, the night before any break’s end finds me anxious and nervous about how I’ll make it through the day without them and their silly jokes, cacophony of laughter and disputes to be refereed.

Today, I’m easing back into my own independence. It’s short-lived as preschool pick-up looms at noon, but here it is. I’m hoping that my fingers have warmed back up and will soon provide me the words I need for the work-in-progress. I’m eager to jump into a New Year with some goals that are broken out into achievable tasks with realistic (I hope) deadlines that have excited me about what’s possible in 2015. I’m shored up by happy Christmas memories and appreciative of the alone time I haven’t seen outside a 10 minute shower in the last two weeks. I’m ignoring the mess, the dust on the desk from weeks of non-use and the lure of organization projects and trying to remind my mind that this time is mine, ours, the page’s.

Here’s to 2015! May the best be yet to come.

My Perfectly Imperfect Christmas

We live in Publix country and I disclose it is my grocery store of preference, partly because I can walk there (though I rarely do since I stop there on my way home from nearly every activity), partly because the store is always clean, the produce fresh, the prices reasonable and partly because most of the employees have been at the store since it opened in our neighborhood eight or nine years ago (there is a lot to be said for staff sticking with a retail employer that long) and they all know me and my kids by now.

I also confess to loving their ads. They truly hit a soft spot. There was the young doctor on call on Christmas ad, the pregnant mom Mother’s Day ad, the “real” Thanksgiving ad that so sums up the chaos and mishaps of preparing the “perfect” meal, and then there is this year’s Christmas ad:

Tissues needed for every. single. one. Each and every time I watch them.

So, yesterday morning, I had to laugh when I finally saw beyond the sweetness of the commercial and saw the ad a little differently. It’s set-up as a Christmas Eve afternoon, the couple are quietly finishing up some decorations, the daughter is helpful and engaged. She suggests making cookies “for him” at the last minute and mom’s a-okay with that. They meticulously cut-out and decorate cookies calmly as the windows darken into evening behind them when the doorbell rings and it’s not Santa, as we anticipated, but Grandpa. Cue the “awwwwwws!”

But wait?

Where was the last minute wrapping? The overexcited and oversugared children bouncing off the walls? The dinner preparation for guests? The realization they forgot something imperative (a gift, a dinner ingredient)? The frantic calls to your spouse who still had to work but was hoping to leave early? The search for shoes, snacks and coloring books in order to get to Christmas Eve services early enough to get a seat and armed with enough distraction for the wait until the service actually starts? The rush to get dinner on the table after services so you can maybe, just maybe get them in bed at a decent hour knowing that they’ll be out of their beds at least 17 times, too excited to sleep?

I do try to keep the reason for the season at the forefront of our Christmas preparations.  We try not to let the chaos take over and truly attempt to revel in the specialness this season provides. I try to keep the magic alive with meaningful family activities in our advent calendar – from ice skating to ornament making to Christmas movie watching to toy donating. But whether the boys want to do an activity on any given day is a toss up and my fridge is currently littered with the activities we have still yet to finish because they’d rather go play football with the neighborhood kids after school.

And that’s okay. I’m happy to let this season play out and have their days as normal as possible with just a hint of anticipation. I know we’ll get to Christmas. I know I’ll stress out at least three more times before now and then. I know I’ll question my decision to host a Christmas Day Open House until about five minutes before the first guest arrives. But I also know my memory of the season will still be their faces when we saw a house insanely lit with tens of thousands of lights, snuggling in a floor fort for movie night, fellowship with friends, Christmas morning snuggles, bourbon and Die Hard with the husband as we wrap gifts, the 5 year old singing Away in a Manger 153 times a day, the 8 year old’s blind belief, and not the rush of how we got there.

Maybe Publix has it right. Maybe they’re showing us the memory, not the reality. After all, we don’t see the chaos of Santa’s workshop, right? Just the joy of the end result. And Santa must only remember the cookies and the wind in his hair as he flies from country to country delivering surprises and magic to children around the world or else how could he do it every year? We don’t remember the pain of Good Friday on Christmas, even though we know how the story ends, we remember the hope of a new life.

So I know that my Christmas Eve reality will look a lot different from the Publix ad (did you see how clean their house was on Christmas Eve? Who are these people?), but it will feel the same. A season of anticipation, doing for others, moments with our children and big hugs. What more could I ask for?