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Take a deep breath. Blow it out. Good. Now take another.
That’s what I’ve been doing since returning from trick or treating: reminding myself to live in the moment and breathe. It’s remarkably hard to make myself do this – I tend to get caught up in the details when I ought to be focusing on the big picture.
Last night, instead of enjoying what is likely to be my last trick or treating adventure with Large (he’ll be choosing friends over family all too soon), I was obsessed with Small.
“Did you say, ‘Thank you’?”
“Slow down. Wait for the rest of our group!”
“Freeze means don’t move a muscle. It does not mean walk slower!”
“Stay on the sidewalk!”
“You don’t always have to be first.”
“Wait for your cousins!”
“Have we lost your sister?”
“I didn’t hear a ‘Thank you.'”
I was already teetering on the brink of sanity by the time Large tattled on Small: “Mom, Henry got a granola bar at that house and he said, ‘What the heck is this?’ instead of, you know, ‘Thanks.'”
When the kindling is dry, it doesn’t take much.
I pulled Small aside and scolded him. He was sullen, as most people are in the face of direct criticism and a strongly worded reprimand. I kept him back from two houses and under the pressure of my scowl, he promised to do better.
He’s excited, I told myself as he ran off. Don’t ruin his Halloween.
He bounced back, remembering to thank a whopping 60% of the candy distributors at the rest of the houses we hit and refraining from running over his younger cousins. But I didn’t. My grump cloaked me as thoroughly as Medium’s vampire cape. I couldn’t wait to get home.
My heart hurts at my own idiocy. Why do I let the little things bother me so much? Why can’t I enjoy the moment more?
I’ve got a year to redeem myself. You’ll remind me, won’t you?
It’s that time of year. Heaps of stress, never-ending lists, presents that will not wrap themselves no matter how hard I wish it, (plus!) scheduling my annual pilgrimage to church with my mother.
The funny thing is, I love the holidays. I love the twinkly white lights, the tangible greetings from family and friends delivered right to our mailbox, the all Christmas music radio station (Bing Crosby, Vince Guaraldi and last but not least, Jon Bon Jovi’s Please Come Home for Christmas).
I tend to be more thankful at this time of year than at any other.
My kids are out-of-their-minds excited for Christmas; they decorated the house with gusto, happily picked out presents to give to each other and our family members, reminded me that it is tradition to put the tree in the corner of the room—NOT in front of the window. While I know that somewhere in their consciousness lurks the understanding that this holiday is about more than Santa Claus (unlike me, they are semi-regular church-goers), it is not often that that knowledge is exposed.
A case in point: Let’s flashback to five years ago. Nora was an infant and Liam was four years old. Henry was but a twinkle in my husband’s…eye. Overwhelmed by dirty diapers and a dearth of much-needed sleep, I came downstairs with the baby to find an empty house. I searched for Liam, who should have been happily ensconced in front of the TV, for five long minutes. On the brink of insanity, I happened to look outside. At the end of our driveway, stood a small, snow-covered figure with a bucket and a bell. Ripping open the front door, I shouted, “Liam! Get in here, this instant!”
Reluctantly, he trudged back up the hill with his bucket.
“What were you thinking, mister?”
“Nana told me never to pass someone with a bell without giving them money. I rang the bell, but no one stopped.” He was both wet and disappointed.
“Oh, buddy. What were you going to do with the donations?”
“Well, you won’t buy me that Star Wars blaster, so I’m gonna buy it myself.”
Obviously, this prompted a long conversation (alright, I’ll call a spade a spade—it was a lecture) about the Salvation Army, people’s basic needs and our family’s commitment to charitable giving, which has been repeated on multiple occasions over the years and augmented with both planned and random acts of kindness. Still, I wasn’t sure that any of the kids were getting the big picture.
And then between the blank stares and shrugged shoulders, I glimpsed a ray of light.
We were, as usual, running behind schedule. The kids missed the school bus so I dispersed them—Medium first, then Small, and finally, Large.
Liam trudged toward the double doors of the middle school, munching on toast and hefting an enormous backpack. Without warning, he spun around and headed back to the car. I put my window down. “What did you forget?”
I was immediately suspicious. “What are you bringing money to school for?”
He met my skepticism with righteous indignation. “I’m helping buy a turkey for a needy family. Do you think five dollars is enough?”
A buried memory of an e-newsletter burbled to the surface of my mind. I was speechless. Not only had he remembered the food drive without any parental reminders, but he was using his own savings to participate.
It was my tiny miracle.
Happy holidays, everyone.
My family is no more (or less) dysfunctional than others—like most, we have our secrets and quirks. However, on the holidays, we drag out our best behavior along with the good china and we gather together. Each of us strives to avoid the hot button issues that we know will ignite old arguments and we all uphold the small traditions to which we are accustomed, at least obligingly if not effortlessly.
As a teenager, I was far less accommodating. I would sulk in corners and make disparaging remarks, then disappear before the dishes were cleared from the table. I’m not sure how my parents withstood my insufferable attitude.
Now, with every passing holiday, I appreciate my family’s particular flavor of dysfunction a little more. Although I cannot dispute that we are an acquired taste, it is one that I prefer over any other.
My husband and I, along with Small, Medium and Large, celebrated Thanksgiving day with my parents, my sister, and my brother and his family. Our blessing went like this:
“Give food to the needy,” my mother added her normal intercession.
“And world peace,” my husband said quietly.
I shot him the Not Now look.
“Oh, yes,” said my mother, gathering momentum for a longer prayer. “And bring our troops home safely and….”
“Yes, yes. That’s fine,” my non-Catholic father interrupted. “Let’s eat.”
Driving home after feasting like Kings—an incredible meal that I know took my mother all week to prepare—I asked the kids what they were thankful for.
“Family,” said Liam.
“Yeah, family,” said Nora. “And for the stars.”
Pleased, I turned in my seat to look at our littlest angel.
“What are you thankful for, Henry?”
“I am thankful for….mythelf,” he said smugly.
I guess he hasn’t acquired the taste as yet.