Tuesday, December 25, 2007

What's Christmas all about anyway?

One of the blogs I read asked for advice about toddlers and small kids lying and hiding things away. It's an interesting topic, and one that, thankfully, we've not really had to deal with yet.

A study done with littleys shows that there are 4 stages to the development of lying in a child. First, they have no concept of being able to lie, or how that might benefit them, so they always tell the truth. Then they realise that they don't have to tell the truth, but still can't actually lie, so stay silent in order to avoid trouble. Then they start to lay the blame at someone else's door - but can't yet identify who a logical alternative is, so for example will say that their teddy did it. Finally, they are not only able to lay the blame at someone else's door, but able to choose a viable alternative, someone that might actually have done it.

One woman, Rachel, who commented, said that what she had been telling hers is that stealing, hiding and dishonesty makes our hearts grow as heavy as rocks. When this happens the rocks fall into out tummies and make us awful sick. I LOVE that image. It's exactly what guilt feels like, and guilt does make us ill, so it's being truthful while putting the idea into words a kid can grasp.

I heard a story this evening while at supper with my mother's side of the family about my cousins who stole their mother's belt and buried it, and then gave the belt a proper funeral service - all because they hated getting the occasional hiding from her with it! How cute is that? Kids know what they want, and will find a way to get it.

This blogger's situation was that her child hid her phone away (not so accidentally), and turned it onto silent (accidentally). She commented that maybe her child did this because she spent so much time on the phone. A common toddler response, by the way, to you being on the phone is to misbehave. They can be playing happily by themselves, the phone goes and INSTANTLY they want your undivided attention, and then start to whine/ scream to get it.

Lots of parents advocate developing a signal that the child can give you when she really wants your attention, but stress that then you must listen to it when she uses it, and switch your phone off/ stop doing whatever you are doing. I have no idea whether this actually works with toddlers, but can see the value with older kids.

While our work (at home, or at work, or our ministry, or whatever) is vital, God can raise up others to do it (hard to hear, I know, but ultimately true). Children are precious, and only have one Mommy. It won't be long before they're off and out of the house for good - I know you know all this, but it is so important that we appreciate them while we have them, that I think it bears repeating.

I wish I'd really understood that while Zoe was still alive. Even now, I have to remind myself to stop and smell the flowers with Janel, remind myself that life does not consist of endless doing, but, rather, of endless being. Who (or what) we choose to be with is the vital decision - ourselves? our children? our computers? our TVs? our spouses/ partners? our kitchens? our cleaning equipment?

Ultimately, isn't that what Christmas is about? Jesus choosing to be with us - in the flesh, not at a distance going 'yes, yes, dear, I'm just busy stopping this earthquake in Guatemala [or whatever]; I'll pay attention to you when I've finished'?

This Christmas doesn't feel at all like Christmas to me. I don't know what it's supposed to feel like, or what I'd expected, but this was not it. I never used to like Christmas, in fact, I positively dreaded it. And it seems that nothing much has changed. I guess it's the stress of not being able to have one big happy family. Christmas-time makes me aware of how fragmented my family is. Blended families have unique pressures at times like these, and just because the kids grow up does not mean those pressures decrease.

I was reflecting earlier today that all I really want for Christmas is to have our entire family (all 70 odd of them) in one place at the same time, and for Graeme's family and my family to get along with each other, and to like each other, and for us to have enough time to talk properly to each of them, and for no one person to be stressing about catering or hosting. That, for me, would an incredible Christmas. But of course, that's the stuff of dreams.

They don't get on, they don't like each other (at least, that's how it appears to me!), and it feels like we're being torn in different directions with each family wanting their time with Janel (and us). All have said to us that they understand and that we should choose just one family each year, but then all of them demonstrate just how much they would miss us if they didn't see us. Kind of puts us between a rock and a hard place. I WANT to be with my parents. That already tears us in two. Then there's Graeme's family. Rrriiiippp. Then, it's Graeme's birthday (on Christmas Eve) so he wants to see his family (and vice versa) for that. Rrrrriiiipp. Please don't misunderstand, I love our family dearly, and seeing them is never a burden. I just find the stress of managing their expectations against my own desires very difficult.

So that brings me back to the question - what is Christmas actually all about? It's not about materialism, although buying and opening presents is great fun. (Can you tell that presents are one of my primary love languages?) It's not about doing stuff, although traditions and rituals bring a sense of security and familiarity. It's not about being with your family (ironically, we didn't see family for several Christmases and it felt more Christmassy than when we did!), although spending time with them is precious and special. It's not about going to church - at least, it never has been for me. I seldom go to church over Christmas because I hate carols. (Too much enforced carols practice at school!) It's not about the snow or lack thereof (personally, I think I prefer snow.)

That brings it down to one thing - the real deal. Jesus. It's about him, and him choosing to become a human being. And of course, he's the one person that I'm most struggling to talk to at the moment. Where does that leave me? I'm not sure.

No money (ok, not really true if you take in account a global perspective on wealth), no friends (not really true either if you have that global perspective, although so few of them have bothered to send us a card it sure feels that way - out of sight, out of mind I guess), no Zoe. And just in case I was thinking of having a good festive season despite all of that stuff, I got struck down with flu for a few days, and just as I'm recovering, Graeme and Nellie are both ill. (We suspect Nellie has measles.)

The only thing I am sure of this Christmas is that this is probably the suckiest one ever.

Edited to add:
I'm sorry I sound so miserable. It's just that several people have, in the space of 2 days, talked about Zoe openly for the first time, and it's been hard keeping my tears in check. I felt I had to, however, because this is supposed to be the season of joy, and I don't want to rain on anyone's parade. And it's not all doom and gloom. We had a lovely tea this morning for Graeme with friends, and we had a lovely meal with my folks this evening, and I'm sure that our meal with Graeme's family tomorrow will be lovely too.
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