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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

Glimpses into our day…

Local farmers’ take on Santa, a combo of hay bales and spray paint on the side of the road.

One of the stores we purchased presents from, had this sign. Although this sign may well have been posted also at our local Victoria’s Secret, where they locked us out after opening time and otherwise shunned shoppers, quelle horreur!

Thank you, aunts and uncles, for sending us all manner of healthy Stuff! The cheeses are going into my unnoticed 14 cheese mac&cheese on Christmas.

This is what it looks like lining up Stuff for each of 4 kids’ stockings on Christmas Eve, lay it all out! Are your stockings too heavy to be hung by the fireplace with care?

Present-wrapping

One elder son will tickle the ivories on Christmas and regale us with his talent, another son who envied his older brother’s talent, will receive piano lessons for a Christmas present and will enhance his current musical talents.

Christmas Eve

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Tonight our church observed a new tradition, holding a service of the Longest Night, marking the coming of the literal longest night of the season which immediately precedes the coming of the nativity of our Lord.

I’d never heard of it before, but during some of the moments of silence in the service, I reflected how it mirrors other challenging times that precede other celebrations, such as the 40 days of Lent leading up to Easter.

I suppose I’ve had some years of merriment, a seven year Mardi Gras of sorts, leading up to this Longest Night. But through the darkness and in quiet solitude, God is faithful to fill our horizons with bright crimson Sonrise.

This morning’s walk was breathtaking…

Psalm 46 was read tonight, one of my favorites: “Be still, then, and know that I am God…”

I decided to try out the service for 3 reasons: that I lost my mother last year and continue to grieve the deaths of both parents, that I work 70 hours a week helping the mentally ill, the suicidal and others who grieve, have lost, are hurting or are lonely…and that I myself have a fresh loss that has been a long time coming but just yesterday confirmed that it is a forever loss.

And yet, by God’s mercy, all 3 are gains.

Yesterday’s loss was punctuated by the sting of being told that only merry emotions and memories were welcome during this season, that my needs for afore-promised comfort, attachment and reassurance were interfering with the celebration of a dear one’s Christmas…

”So why would I want to be available to your mood swings during these precious days celebrating the birth of Christ, detracting from it?” the email sharply read, banishing me into the land of coal and switches, for even daring to darken the doorstep of one picture-perfect American Christmas. A fantasy blog to which I was apparently, blatantly and abruptly blocked. Unfriended. Unfollowed. Deleted.

My arms got tired holding up the happy mask 24/7. I flunked Christmas Perfection 101. Failed to leave the party while it was still rocking.

My Longest Night had begun, and the service could not have come at a better time.

The intercessor began with, “In the spirit of the season, let us now ask God for what we need for ourselves as we participate in the Season of Christmas as people coping with loss, pain, suffering, loneliness, grief and sadness.

“God, we come to you as Christmas dawns with pain growing inside us. As the nights have been growing longer, so has the darkness wrapped itself around our hearts. In this season of our longest nights, we offer to you the pain in our hearts, the traumas that some of us cannot put into words. Loving God, hear our prayer.

“Compassionate God, there are those among us who are grieving over what might have been. A death or loss has changed our experience of Christmas. Once it was a special day for us, too, but someone has died or moved away or abandoned us. Or we have lost a job, or a cause.

“We find ourselves adrift and alone, lost. Lord, help us find our way.

“The Christmas season reminds us of all that used to be and cannot be anymore. The memories of what was, the fears of what may be can overwhelm us. all around us we hear the sounds of celebration, but all we experience is a sense of melancholy Please be near us this season.

“Compassionate God: You loved the world so much that you sent us Jesus to bear our infirmities and afflictions Through acts of healing, he revealed you as the true source of health and salvation. For the sake of your Christ who suffered and died for us, conquered death, and now reigns with you in glory, hear the cry of your people. Have mercy on us, make us whole, and bring us at last into the fullness of your eternal life.

“Each of us comes bearing our own hurts, sorrows, and broken places. We want to invite each of you to offer your wounds to the God who loves each of us deeply and wants to carry our pain. God waits, patiently, gently calling out: ‘Give me your pain, come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, I will refresh you!'”

We were invited to either stay put and observe silence, come to the altar to receive a blessing or go to the back and light a candle.

I appreciated the options since I could have easily benefited from all 3. But I couldn’t go to the altar because I would have wept openly (what was I thinking, not packing Kleenex in my purse for this?!), and I didn’t want to passively stay put in silence.

So I made my way to the back and lit a candle and said a prayer for my parents and their parents before them, all godly people who fucked up and righted themselves at some point and somehow made their way back to God.

And, after looking around to see if it would be greedy to light a second candle, grabbed another one and quickly lit it, mourning the loss of my bff and noticing the brightness of that candle, there in the darkness, committing it to God and thanking Him for the salvation of a marriage and a family.

I quietly returned to my pew, kneeled in reverence, was washed over with peace and gratitude for God’s mercy.

Thank You, God, for Long Nights, for they signify that daybreak is near.

Thanks God, for Things that matter most. Sometimes the Long Nights are the Things that matter most.

And letting go (of things that matter most) IS letting God.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever.

Amen.

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The path to Christmas at our house seemed a lot like the one for which the day itself celebrates.

This year has been a long, hard journey…only to get to the end to find no room at the inn, in many ways.

The year has been a story of disabilities, disasters and way too many losses….but also one of perseverance, sharpening and victories, often disguised as hardships. I am highly confident that 2017 will be a year of rebuilding and grace.

So, there weren’t as many gifts under the tree this year, and many of them would have blended in with the latest Fruit of the Loom commercial….which may sound bleak for American children in this day and age – at least at first glance.

But in our culture of entitlement, I think it was just what the children needed to learn some valuable character lessons. 

Less yields more appreciation and a deeper sense of valuing “Stuff.” Less is just what was needed to drive home some salient points we parents otherwise try to teach our children with varying degrees of success. 

I can safely say it is much harder to teach some of these lessons unless a child experiences the sting of disappointment, of going without. A little humility yields great things!

There were lessons this morning in climbing out of a pit, of garnering one’s creativity and ingenuity to generate solutions to get where you want to be, to realizing your dreams. To being the one to make your own dreams come true instead of relying upon others and the world to make it happen FOR you. 

Actually, kind of like the very premises our country was founded upon!

Instead of a spirit of downtrodden weakness, a prevailing spirit of hope, faith and love.

And it didn’t come in the form of an expensive gift, it was not proud, it did not boast. There were no clanging cymbals.

My friends, God was right when He said the greatest of these is LOVE. This gift sat in at the back of the tree in a little silver, unmarked box, having gone mostly unnoticed until this morning.

The very youngest child patiently waited until all the gifts had been opened and he quietly padded over to his mother, the one in the room whose name was not on any of the gifts (because it’s all about the kids, right?) and he handed her the plain  tin box and eagerly waited for her to open it. 

His light blue eyes danced with anticipation as she carefully opened it and joyously received the greatest gift of all:


And Merry Christmas with love to you all! 

May God bless you richly with His love…but don’t look for it at the 5 star resort in the top-floor suite. It can be found in a quiet valley of solitude, where things are simple and lowly, sweet and holy.

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Hey, God…thank You for a beautiful Christmas season. May all the WP readers have joyous holidays…and blessings in 2016. 

Merry Christmas, my friends!!

~~ssm

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Thank you, dear readers, for your thoughts and prayers for the little ones I serve, and I wish you all a very merry Christmas!

~~ssm

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Dear                            ,

I hope you know that even though you just came to (this lockup hospital) Santa always knows where you are, so you don’t have worry that I didn’t know where to find you this Christmas! Santa comes to (this hospital), too, and I know all my boys and girls, and especially YOU!

I’ve been told that you’ve come through some very, very hard times in your life recently, and that it is terribly difficult for you to talk to others about those times. I want you to know that besides Christmas presents, I am going to give you a different type of present, a present that doesn’t come in a box or in wrapping. That present is called COURAGE, and it is something I know you already have plenty of. But I am giving you MORE, because you are very dear to me and you didn’t deserve to have the things happen to you that happened. Those things, dear one, were NOT your fault. (Remember that naughty people, especially grown-ups who are supposed to know better, get lumps of coal and a lifetime of shame for things like that).

Please know that as you use the courage I give you, time will help heal your pain. And I want you to know how very proud I am of how strong you’ve had to be, and how strong you will be as you learn to trust grown-ups again. That is not an easy thing to do. In the meantime, please don’t hurt yourself or hurt others – you are such a beautiful child, and I want you to feel good about yourself and about your life. You have a very bright future.

Thank you for believing in me, because I believe in YOU, too.

Merry Christmas with Love,

Santa

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Dear                             ,

Thank you for writing to me with your Christmas list. I always love to hear from the boys and girls I care so much about, and you are one of them!

I will try to get you as many of the things on your list as you listed. Even though you won’t be able to be home with your family this Christmas, I know where to find you at (this hospital). Santa doesn’t need keys! Listen for the clatter of my reindeer on the roof.

Since you asked me for some things, I’d like to ask you for something. I would like you to work on not saying naughty things when you get angry – try not to curse, not to make threats to hurt other people or your family, and to try to be respectful. Remember, the people you talk to are people I love and care for, too, and I like to see people happy. You are a smart boy, and I know you will be able to make good choices, even though things aren’t perfect.

Enjoy your presents, and have a very, Merry Christmas!

Love,

Santa

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Dear                          ,

What up, bro’? Thank you for writing me such a good letter! I will try to bring you as many things as I can from your list. I like how your writing has improved, and that you are able to talk respectfully to other people about what you’re feeling inside, more than before. That is what makes things better.

Did you have a nice birthday? I was so excited that you had so much fun and got to go on a pass and all that jazz. I overheard you asking me to bring you a Dad for Christmas, and I am working on that, although it won’t be THIS Christmas – hopefully soon, though. I want you to know that even though your family can’t be together this Christmas, that I know of another family who is waiting for YOU to join them. They will wait for you to finish working on your treatment goals, so keep trying to do your best. Everything will work out just fine.

And someday, I hope you decide to become a professional athlete – I don’t know anyone else your size who can shoot a hoop from across the gym each and every time like you do. You’re a pretty amazing guy. And now that you’re eight, you’ll be able to do even more!

Have a very, Merry Christmas and enjoy all your presents!

Love,

Santa

p.s. – Don’t try to fool the Tooth Fairy any more – she reports directly to ME. But your therapist told me that everything’s cool now, so we’re good, dude. Jam on.

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Dear                          ,

I got your letter that you wrote to me and I want you to know how much it meant to me. I will try to bring you as many things on your list as I can. My elves are working overtime to get everything just right.

I know how difficult it must be not only to be so far away from home, but to have to wait so long for the right family for you. I am so proud of how patient you are and how much hope you continue to have even though it feels like it’s taking forever. I see how hard you are working on your treatment goals, and I know someday you will join a new family who is waiting for the right child – that’s YOU! In the meantime, I want you to have fun this Christmas.

When you are sad, please remember that I am thinking of you and that so many people are working to get you home. Don’t do things to hurt yourself (no more tying things around your neck!) or to hurt others – this is very important, because I love all my children very dearly, and I want you to feel better, to feel happy. Remember that God and I care for you very much and will make sure that you stay safe this Christmas. We will wipe your tears away with our love. Never give up, never lose hope – stay strong and keep facing forward to your bright future. Keep believing!

Ho Ho Ho! Merry Christmas, with love,

Santa

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I began this post with a small collection of things that didn’t make sense over the past week, but fortunately, the planets aligned for the most part.

Of the things that threw me:

1.)  “I told you we should have brought sunscreen to go get the Christmas tree.” Most people were in shorts and t-shirts, sweaty and swarthy and crimson around the collar as they claimed their holiday cheer. Usually we at least get to wear long sleeves and jeans to get the job done, but not this year. It just looked/felt weird. While the rest of the country went home to make hot chocolate after the traditional tree-claiming fiasco, we went for a jump in the lake, so to speak.

2.) A sign (“Caution: Manatee Area”), in between two heavy equipment machines. Either…why were they working so hard in a manatee area, or why did a manatee helper put the sign up? Seems like something needs to be done above ground-level to get the job accomplished, assuming the point is not to disturb the feeding manatees. Pardon the lack of quality in the pic, I was on the fly and working hard not to bash into the makeshift lane barriers:

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(Parenthetical insert): We threw Grandma in the canoe Saturday for a big adventure in manatee sightings…the manatees were naught during our trip, but she enjoyed seeing the Christmas lights and decorations on the neighbors’ riverfront structures and docks:

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3.) I put the word out there that we would like a clergy person to visit Grandma regularly for a variety of reasons. I was told, “I know just the person! Your mother would get along great with this one. They charge a fee for visitation, but I know they’d enjoy each others’ company!”

WHAT?? Since when did it cost money to come to Jesus? Color me befuddled. And a few other things.

4.) I asked for and was given the 21st off, my first stretch of 5 consecutive days off in 5 years. Somebody had to go and tell me after the fact that that’s the last day on the Mayan calendar, so I said, “Well, at least now I’ll have it off in case we get sucked into a universal vacuum.” Are all those MREs in my pantry left over from Katrina are still good?

Anyone?

5.) Someone please inform my employer that this is how I wind up being late for work when I am rushing around trying to get ready to face the day, which can involve up to seven lawyers at any given moment (and I’m not a lawyer):

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How can you strut away into the “real world” when a little person engages you as such? Sometimes the “situations” at home are as big as the “situations” elsewhere, and demand equal but different attention, for the ultimate betterment of society. The little time we take today shapes the big time needed for tomorrow.

What went terribly right:

Presents under the tree (children staring up into the beauty of the tree, no materialism):

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– the 4 y.o. is asking us to go to the “Christmas Present Park” to fetch some presents to put under the tree. I wish it were that easy!

In an odd move this year, instead of parking the tree front and center in the front window where God and everyone can see our tree, we plopped it in a spot in the house where WE all can see, instead. The children liked it better there, and besides, the first one to knock the tree down or shatter an ornament will have less of a clean-up job.

Really and truly, Daddy DID go to the auto parts store today to get a fuse for the big tree lights which predictably didn’t light up this year after a year of monitoring squirrels and bats in the attic. He got the wrong size. Impatient as I am, I just had to slap a string of miniature lights on the bottom half before he could rectify the situation. The kids, bless their hearts, cared less – they were agog with the magic of Christmas. Bulb size/type simply was NOT an issue.

In a crass move of impulsivity and sheer sweaty exasperation, we permitted the four-year old to choose this year’s tree, a Leland Cyprus, with branches too soft and fragile to accommodate many of our ornaments. This was the best move ever: not only did it boost his sense of self-esteem and worth in the family, it made tree-decorating half-time, since many of the ornaments were “too heavy.” It was simpler, softer and twice the joy. And we were in and out of the Christmas tree farm in under 30 minutes.

Y’all, take it easy this season – don’t fret, don’t be compulsive, let something go. The meaning of the season is so much bigger than the things we think we MUST do. Really, it’s more important to think about what you do throughout the entire year than during this month alone.

Hey, God, help us stay focused on You and Your wishes for us despite our own ideas of what we “should” be doing/saying/thinking/feeling/accomplishing. Help us to slow down and know You. Really.

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To rise at 5:30 or 6?

Stockings before (like usual) or after (why not?) presents?

Should we make the kids call everybody and wake them up and thank them early while they’re full of zeal for each item, or wait till the day has worn on and we’re more prone to deep conversations like, “Um, thanks grandma, for the, um…that, er, thing you got me.”

How many sweets to allow before church?

Did the baby’s face get scratched in the nursery of his own doing, or was he really mauled by a ferocious bear like he insisted?

If the matron in the nursery thought Daddy was his grandpa, who in blazes did she think I was?

Kid darting in way of scalding water being poured down sink during meal prep: pour it on me instead?

How much will Christmas dinner menu shrink when Daddy and the boys have to cook it themselves while Mommy soaks her melted fingers?

Will they think it’s a ploy that got me out of both cooking AND dishes? (Scored!!!)

Are the new pet cockatiels always going to act this neurotic, or are they just mimicking the children who are jacked up on all manner of sugar?

Is feeling full after one helping a sign of good health or old age?

Pier or beach?

Crabbing or casting?

How could we forget to ask the man in the wooden canoe before he paddled away again, how long it was taking him to get from Cedar Rapids, Iowa to Fort Myers, Florida? And what did he have in his two little backpacks for that long trip, anyway?

Is it my imagination or does it already seem to be starting to stay lighter, later?

How long before they notice all the loud toys have gradually and mysteriously wound up in the loud toy time out twilight zone?

Should we send out terribly late Christmas cards, or make a slide show and distribute it electronically tonight?

Will all four of them ever stand still long enough within 2 feet of each other so we can take a picture? A picture without motion blurs and bunny ears behind the heads of the unsuspecting?

What’s more relaxing to listen to at dusk on Christmas, the comforting creak of the porch swing, or the winter-faint chorus of crickets?

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Enough gluttony (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, electronic) to crave fasting…

Enough slothfulness to look forward to exertion…

Enough mayhem to search for peace…

Enough noise to worship silence…

Enough diversion to seek and appreciate routine…

…no wonder New Year’s resolutions are so popular.

God, help us to keep our focus on You…You are peace. Help us return to this after all our busy-ness in this season which is supposed to honor Your Son, but has somehow turned into a worldly diversion from You. Help us be quiet, be still, be disciplined, and at peace…with You. Help us choose to slow down before You slow us down. Thank You for giving us things to consider, and choices to make…let us choose You.

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Thank you!

…to The Waiting for nominating me this week for the Versatile Blogger award, and to Gracefully50 for the Liebster Blog award. What wonderful Christmas presents, from such wonderful ladies. I am honored and blessed.

That is the nice me.

The naughty me takes shameless pleasure in shunning some conventional rules. I have a long history of having broken many chains, as well. This began with the first chain letter I received in grade seven telling me calamitous events would befall me the rest of my life if I did not write five other people and warn them of the same calamitous events if they did not continue the chain. I was simultaneously annoyed and fearful. So I later lied and told the sender I’d done my part, burying myself in my Twinkies at the lunch table days later when the other girls were doing the math and trying to figure out how the chain broke. I dunnit. As ominously warned, my life has been filled with calamities, most of which have been curiously interesting and made for great blogging.

It continued with a Mrs. Field’s cookie recipe my sister-in-law sent me in the early 90’s, warning me of various kitchen disasters I would encounter if the secret recipe was not forwarded to a baker’s dozen of others. Sure enough, over time I’ve been cursed with ovens which don’t bake evenly; a parade of ruined baked goods off of malicious cookware posing as the “non-stick” variety; and fairly regular run-ins with overzealous electric kitchen appliances run amok.

The last chain I had the dishonor of breaking involved being sent five pairs of (new, not used!) panties along with the sender imploring me to purchase and send another five out to others, with one to the original sender. Or something like that. I can’t recall what nasty things were supposed to happen if the panties-chain broke…we’ll just have to use our collective creativity to think about that. Or not, thanks.

I do not consider the blogging awards bestowed upon me this week to be “chains,” although they share some of those characteristics: my understanding is the recipient is to reference/link the originator of the award, followed by linking five (for the Liebster) or fifteen (for the Versatile Blogger) other blogs whom you turn around and then nominate, alerting each recipient of your nomination of their blog.

The problem is, I’m fairly new to the blogosphere, and I do not spend as much time as I might like blogging and reading others’ blogs. Therefore, most of the blogs I’m familiar with have either already won these awards because they’ve been around here so much longer than I, or I haven’t yet had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with such blogs which might qualify.

Then there’s the ignorance factor: I can’t tell if some blogs qualify or not because some of them don’t have telltale widgets which might provide such information. Thus, I shall do my unconventional best to accept these awards. The numbers are all wrong, the links may not work, and frankly, I do a much better job hanging out with you here on the beach shooting the breeze about other stuff.

But for the purpose of the awards anyway, here are some blogs I enjoy for various reasons. Their views don’t necessarily represent mine, and I don’t always agree with them, but they are writers I respect for their style of externalizing their internal reality, for their ability to communicate their lives (asterisks indicate Liebster, the rest VBs if they haven’t already been so bestowed):

Trask Avenue – This guy can write. And he almost makes New Jersey look good in the process, to boot.

Irresistibly Fish – Here is a fine example of a Christian putting his service where his mouth is.

An Observant Mind – A Texan-gone-Aussie, she brings a smile to my face every time she invites us to have a piece of her fantastic mind.

Cecilia and Her Sisters – * – Be moved by the beautiful life and joy of Cecilia, a real-life angel.

societyred – * – Life in the Pacific Northwest as he sees it.

Rockin’ Walk to Faith – * – My favorite combo, God & music.

J.D. Clemente – *- Application of faith to everyday life, these thoughtful posts inspire.

AdaLamar’s Blog – Fun reading, sassy gal, a great way to unwind while reading about her adventures.

Stories from the Waves – * – A blogger cut from my same cloth, life as seen from another shore.

RVingGirl – Vicariously live a life you’d probably like to lead through this insightful lady.

Dadbloggit! – The name alone should amuse you; his tales of his children will amuse even more.

Beyond the Pear Tree – This one elicits cause to pause and consider, and to stretch yourself beyond.

Kana’s Chronicles – No blogger’s life should be complete without a subscription to Kana! Kana flamingoed me some time back, for which I am most grateful. I love flamingos!

mommysaidaswearword – BYOS (bring your own sippy cup…with an adult beverage in it – for you, not the kid) and enjoy her wry mommy humor. And make sure you leave the toilet seat DOWN.

The Idiot Speaketh – I confess I read this like I read National Geographic: I browse the pics first, then go back and read. I am going to get fired if I keep inserting some of the pics from this blog into my emails at work, except they keep my boss laughing. For now. I haven’t checked with the IT department yet.

The Problem with Young People Today is… – Don’t be drinking or eating anything while you read this one; you will laugh so hard you’ll spew forth onto your laptop and electrocute yourself if it happens to be charging. I speak from the experience of a ruined keyboard and frizzy hair.

Hey, God…thank You for introducing me to these wonderful people and their awesome blogs. May You bless each of them, and those I’ve yet to discover. Thank You for sending Your Son into the world. Merci beaucoup, mon dieu!

p.s. God, help these links to work!

As the sign on the business downtown here says, “Merry Christmas, y’all!

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For my new followers from the last post, welcome – and allow me to confess that the heart-wrenching style with which that post (and several preceding it) was written, is only half of me. The other half is the ghost of Erma Bombeck, albeit merely a wish for a sliver of her master wit. Like the big, red clown nose one of our nurses wears on the children’s unit, humor is one sure way to counterbalance what otherwise would be very difficult profession for one’s heart to manage.

And I have not been very funny lately, since about Labor Day weekend – come to think of it, those were the last funny post out of my fingertips – because there was nothing all that funny while I was furthering my education and cramming for a national exam during the past three months. A grim undertaking at best, it is over. It was about as much fun as untangling my bra straps fresh out of the dryer.

I am beyond happy to report that I passed, have achieved a new and improved professional stature which only my colleagues give a rip about because few others can recognize the futile, haughty jumble of alphabet soup behind our names, anyway. Doesn’t really matter…I never hang my credentials in my office anyhoo…one, who cares, as long as you get the job done, and two, it’d be just my luck to hang ’em and have some kid go into an aggressive rage and break one the day after they were hung.

At any rate, I am finally starting to regain feeling in parts of my numb skull (no comment), which was due in full to said academic undertaking. I am vaguely aware that I have been nominated for the Versatile Blogger award, for which I am most honorably flabbergasted, but I will not be able to fully acknowledge nor make good on my responsibilities for this until I altogether come to. This acknowledgment shall be forthcoming, I promise.

Besides, I have yet to sit down and master the fine art of linking in text here. I suck at reading directions. And I’ve limited patience for fiddling. Yes, I’m the one who’ll be responsible for the off-balance, cockeyed tyke bike under the tree Christmas morning, the one with the handlebars coming out of the side of seat and the horn attached to the spokes of the wheel. And hauling my bleeding kidlet to the ER shortly thereafter.

That is, if it weren’t for my left-brained, instructions-guru husband, who tirelessly crouches and grouches over the assembly-required items at 11pm on Christmas Eve, while I innocently sip hot cider in bed playing online Scrabble. Rest assured our respective roles in this matter were decidedly determined after our first child’s Christmas, when we battled it out for which way was right, Cog A into Slightly-Off-Center-Grommet-B (“damn the manufacturers, gimme the drill”). No, sweetheart, go to sleep…that wasn’t Daddy and Mommy, just Santa’s reindeer on the roof. After that first Christmas, our roles were clearly defined in this department. Bless this one-flesh of mine…he has mastered the assembly details to where he now comes to bed within 30 minutes of the young masses falling asleep. Cool.

As I rub and blink my weary eyes and insert myself back into my life as I knew it in September, I have awoken to the results of the sole female in a house of six, turning her attention elsewhere for a season. I have opened my eyes and behold, entered the season of destruction. Season’s greetings, ya slackin’ mama! Thankfully, the Christmas tree and accompanying decorations have managed to materialize. The children made it through another semester, husband has been sufficiently trained not to expect me to cook for him anymore, and the houseplants resemble a Charlie Brown Christmas tree, but alive – nothing a little Miracle Gro can’t help.

On the flip side, the pantry is filled with man-snacks, as though I have irreverently entered a remote hunting camp, minus the skinned and hanging deer. I am being asked to believe that the floor was just swept two days ago when dust bunnies the size of Texas loom underneath the buffet. And the teenager responsible for doing the dishes has managed to chip every last bowl, plate and saucer in the cabinet. Evidently, hollering out from behind my book in the bedroom clear down to the kitchen, “I SHOULDN’T BE HEARING ANYTHING CLINK WHEN YOU EMPTY THE DISHWASHER!!!” wasn’t enough.

During my mental hiatus, I am quasi-aware of some less-than-intelligent conversations which took place. Monday afternoons found me chauffeuring the children to piano lessons, which take place in the town’s most upscale subdivision where lonely, looming Munster-like but manicured mansions abound. You rarely see people in them because they are elsewhere, off fetching the salaries they need to pay for the homes they barely get to enjoy. Except, that is, for our piano teacher, who has cleverly set up shop in her parlor.

Each Monday I recall being talked into letting them roll the windows down while we waited for the last one to finish his lesson, and each Monday I recall having to shush all of them getting verbally rambunctious, their playful shrieks from the backseat echoing off the stately homes surrounding us. One Monday I wised up and the windows remained up. But last Monday, it was unseasonably warm, so down came the windows to enjoy the sweet breeze. Within moments, they were back to their shrieking shenanigans, and I absent-mindedly joined them: “Y’ALL STOP ACTING LIKE A BUNCH OF HOODLUMS IN THIS NEIGHBORHOOD…WAIT’LL WE GET HOME, OKAY?!”

Driving off after the lesson was over, I found myself wondering just what I meant by that.

Another intelligent conversation transpired yesterday while I held my 13-year-old captive on a drive to and from a nearby island:

Me: “So what else do you want besides an Xpensive Box?”

Him: “Well, I know what I want.”

Me: “Well, what do you want?”

Him: “I’m not sure.”

Brilliance. I suppose the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

In other waking observations, I see the three-year old has not been adequately disciplined to date. I submit to you Exhibits A, B and C:

Broken beads, balls & Buzz

Exhibit A: Freud missed a stage; the proper stages should have been Oral, Anal, Nasal, Phallic, Latent and Genital. Here is the Mardi Gras bead (from the string he broke) which he inserted into his nose last night, another bead he was ABOUT to insert into his other nostril, and the crude but useful implement Daddy fashioned in order to extricate the offending orb Made In China. We escaped an ER copay and the child escaped Daddy’s operating expertise, when a small miracle (the forceful snort the child emitted when we had him pinned to the bed to examine the problem) caused the bead to descend on its own out of his nostril. I do believe Daddy and Mommy were more concerned, because as we frantically considered our options, Snuffy, bead up nose, nonchalantly asked for an animal cracker.

Exhibit B: Behold the multitude of broken Christmas items. Each child is allowed to pick a new ornament each year. The little one took it upon himself to locate each and every shiny, red icicle, the ones chosen by eldest brother, and snapped them all into at least two pieces. See the shards of the remains of another brother’s hand-painted (glass) ornament. And somewhere in that melee of mess is a lone jingle bell without its ribbon. We thought we could get away with not having to put all the ornaments halfway up the tree out of reach this year. Apparently not. He may have a future in advertising when the guy in the Allstate commercials retires.

Exhibit C: The top off a Matchbox race car. No clue how he pried it off so clean – he’s going to make a fabulous burglar someday. The little duckies from the farm set – baby duck ripped from its family, mother duck absent altogether, no telling where he put her. He probably ate her. And last but not least, Buzz Lightyear. Note the dangerously exposed wires where his left hand used to be. Left hand is now unceremoniously filed in the kitchen tool drawer of no return – you know, the one that has no actual tools in it, but instead has scores of broken household parts we mean to get to “some day.” Buzz’s amputated hand now holds the spring which held his hand in place where the wires now dangle. He still talks with authority when you press his buttons; he’s just not as believable anymore. Maybe the mishap occurred when he crash-landed by mistake, that’s what we’ll tell ’em.

Of unrelated interest is the distressed coffee table on which the exhibits lie. It did not become distressed until we first became distressed and gave up trying to keep the kidlets from playing on it “to keep it nice” (for what?! coffee?! made a much better surface for wood-scratching toys like Legos and cars). Luck of all luck, the “distressed look” came into vogue right about the time I was about get a new coffee table. Always me, fashionable by default, like the boots I bought in 1984 which came in handy 20 years later. I suppose I will postpone the purchase of a new coffee table until  (lessee, 18 minus 3…) um, 15 years from now.

As if these gems weren’t enough to collect in one day, I present to you Exhibit D:

Crunchy Christmas

It is our custom to decorate the children’s bedrooms with Christmas lights each Christmas. We had just put him down to sleep last night, and within 20 minutes, we heard an unearthly choke followed by a blood-curdling wail. Running in the room, he was spewing red and orange glass from the Christmas lights he tried to eat, all over his jammies and the floor. He had inquired as to their taste earlier in the season, and we lectured him thoroughly on the dangers of consuming Christmas lights. He stayed away from the lights the rest of the time, and we’d had them hung high on the top bunk and near the ceiling, not anticipating Curious George to climb up, pull them down and chomp on one. No, not one, but two. I wonder if he liked the taste of the red one so much he had to try the orange. The happy news is, no implements or ER trip necessary, once again everything came out just fine on its own fairly quickly. Lesson learned. Lights removed. We’ll try again next year.

Lastly, I submit Exhibit E:

Christmas Cow-Tipping

Yes, the naughty little shaver had to go and mess with baby Jesus after breaking his brother’s nutcracker, placing the head where the star should be on the manger scene, and tipping over the cow for good measure.

It’s a wonder we haven’t had a third incident involving the septic tank this year, as busy as he’s been. I guess he’s gone from putting things down the toilet to putting things down his hatch, breaking big things like plumbing systems to breaking small things. I will consider this a blessing, and progress.

The only thing keeping him from getting a lump of coal in his stocking was what he urgently said today as he noticed all the leaves had fallen off the maple tree out front: “We need to get more leaves for the tree for Christmas!”

Ah, the season of destruction just may yet yield to the season of giving!

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In a land far away from our minds stands a lone angel tree today, seen by few, known by fewer. This tree is different from the rest.

You know of the others. Right now in stores across the United States stand hundreds of “angel trees,” decorated with carefully disguised identities of needy children in the community. These are children who through no fault of their own are in situations which render them financially less fortunate than other children on Christmas day. These children may live with their families or perhaps are foster children, but they still have the freedom to live with a family, attend school, and, although challenged, have a fairly typical daily routine in the daily world.

Allow me to introduce you to a similar, but rarely-seen angel tree.

This tree also has the names of carefully disguised identities of needy children, but these children are apart from the community. These children are the emotionally less fortunate who, through no fault of their own, have been subjected to and somehow survived unconscionable circumstances which have scarred their souls so badly, that they are unable to function in society as we know it. These children cannot live in a home, neither with family of origin nor foster home. These children cannot attend school due to their disintegrated hearts.

These children are locked away in an institution, both for their safety and for the safety of the community, or because they are the most emotionally fragile of children. They simply cannot handle life as we know it. They are there to mend their hearts and souls, and remain there until they are fit for society. This may take days or weeks for those in acute care; months, or even years in the long-term residential facilities…all of which are eternities, in a child’s eyes.

There they spend their days and nights, eating and sleeping, playing and fighting, wondering how they got there, and contemplating what they need to do to get out. There they try their hardest to get through each day with the shadows of their past following and haunting them, trying to do what schoolwork they can, trying to get along with others, with varying levels of success.

Some try their hardest because they have hope. Others do not try because they have given up hope, and need encouragement from one moment to the next. Still others try their hardest to show others their very worst, because if they can be disliked or violent enough, they can reject others before others have yet another chance to reject them…at least it is one thing in life they can control.

Their angel tree sits quietly in the corner of the small, empty lobby, the only unlocked room in the building. Other than the receptionist, it is only seen by the few still connected to these children who are able to visit: the state worker who must ask the child to choose between a voucher for clothing or a voucher for toys and who will be home with their family on Christmas; the ashamed, distant relative who is reluctant to be involved but wants to make a good show, the occasional lost driver who took the wrong turn down the end of the long road; the tireless staff and nurses doctors. Oh, and the UPS guy and mail carrier, neither of whom bring things addressed to specific children living there, except on rare occasions.

The requests for needs for these children seem somewhat unusual. The angels on this tree bear wishes for things like socks, because their roommate flushed their last good pair down the toilet during another one of his nightly rages, with enough bone-rattling shrieking to create a new nightmare for another child down the hall on the unit, unable to sleep…and not a shred of memory of the crisis, come sunup.

Like playing cards, since many of the games on the market, electronic or otherwise, further cause them to be unable to distinguish reality from fantasy, and may trigger violent flashbacks. Or reinforce their tendency to want to solve problems with disconnected sarcasm and indifferent violence.

Like soft, stuffed animals or dolls, since anything battery-operated requires batteries – and anyone who’s been behind those locked doors long enough knows that if you slam a battery in the door near the hinges just right, it will expose a very sharp object that can be found in the core of the battery, which can then be used as a weapon to hurt someone. Or, for the self-harmers, to cut on themselves and draw blood, and wind up wearing scrubs and on 24/7 observation for days as a result. It is unfathomable to think how a young child might learn such behavior, but there it is.

Hygiene products are also popular, since the hospital-issued products are not exactly kid-friendly, and it is much more fun by far to brush your teeth with sparkly bubble gum toothpaste, like most other children enjoy on a daily basis. A pretty ribbon for her hair. An emery board, since nail clippers are not allowed on the premises, and long nails can be used to gauge eyes in a sneak attack from behind. A SpongeBob blanket for a bed instead of the typical ho-hum hospital sheets. Warm Cinderella footie jammies. Or a visit from a volunteer big brother/big sister or mentor, an objective other who will play a game with them and listen to their story…a story most can’t bear to hear, a story which defies common sense and human rationality.

Food item requests are never found on this angel tree; some children are on strict diets due to side effects of medications. And besides, the child who roamed the streets for his next meal has been known to wheel deals with other children: “I’ll give you the coupon I earned for extra game room time, if you give me your snack.” Snacks are then discovered hoarded under mattresses, up in ceiling tiles or in the paper towel dispenser in the bathroom which the adults all assumed were locked and childproof.

Some children ask for earmuffs to block out the incessant noise, which may come from either side of their skull at any given moment.

How did they get there, anyway? It may be because their parents sold them for sex in exchange for drugs. Or left them for long periods of time to fend for themselves. Or perhaps they locked them in closets or entertainment cabinets for their convenience. Or molested them repeatedly over the course of years.

These are the children who don’t know where their parents are, and the parents are either dead from their misdeeds or are happily homeless, preferring drugs and alcohol over their child….or simply abandoned the child and left the state, never to be heard from again. Some children may know where their parents are, but their parents voluntarily turn them over to the state because they don’t want them anymore. These children may have been in 15 foster homes, with no stability or sense of permanency. These children may have been along for the ride and witnessed a drug deal gone bad, resulting in murder. Or witnessed murder in their very own living room. Or tried to murder their family during a psychotic episode.

The end result is a child who is unable to make sense out of the world, who relates to others as they have been related to, and who does not and may never know childhood, as it is supposed to be known.

These are the children we forget about because they are quietly locked away from the rest of us while they pick up the pieces of their bewildered, shattered lives. You will not see them in schools or on sports teams. You may spot them briefly at the store, at McDonald’s or on a playground closely monitored by staff, if they are deemed well enough to go out into public at the time and their medication and behavior are stable. If that is the case, you will likely not know it is them you are seeing, and it likely will not register in the moment you see them, just where it is they lay their head at night – a place where they must be to work out their raw feelings of depression, anxiety, trauma, psychosis…their fear, their disappointment, their confusion, their rage

The angels on their tree represent a completely different type of need – a need that is real but often goes unknown and unheard by most.

Still needing and wanting to believe in something despite their inability to trust mankind, the younger ones hold fast to their belief in Santa. No, there is no chimney in this place, but they are assured that Santa has keys to the joint, nonetheless. Their lives may have taken an unthinkable course, but their anticipation and hope in being loved and cared for like any other human is entitled to, is no different from yours or mine.

I urge readers (and writers) to locate the nearest children’s psychiatric hospital in your area (and they are there, somewhere…I cannot point you in the direction of the children I know due to privacy and confidentiality issues). Please consider dropping off a small gift  for one of these children who will wake up Christmas morning behind locked doors…on the inside looking out, never sure when they will be ready, if ever, to be the one on the outside looking in.

This gift needn’t be material…write them an anonymous letter and tell them how brave they are, how proud you are of them for enduring all they have. Tell these children that they can do it, that they are loved, admired and respected. That they are believed, that their feelings are real and important. Tell them that they matter. Color them a rainbow with your words, that they might be assured that their world will hopefully not flood like that again.

Such a small gesture has incredibly meaningful ramifications.

For what is small to us, is huge to them, bigger than we might ever guess…whether or not we remember about their angel tree now and in years to come. Like a standout, cherished childhood memory, they will remember, and it may just be the one memory of hope and love that will help heal them on their horrific journey. It may be the one thing they have, hold, hang on to and refer back to as the biggest spark of light that brought them through their darkness.

God, help us all help the sequestered and forgotten children of the world, the ones least seen in our communities – the ones who most need miracles and a reason to believe again.

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