Making Christmas goodies.
THE IDEAL: Mom and all kids old enough to stand gather around the kitchen island, taking turns adding ingredients and mixing with the gentle sounds of Christmas music floating in the background. Kids take turns licking the beaters and/or spatulas without dipping into the actual mix, waiting patiently for treats that are baked, hardened, cooled, or otherwise ready for actual consumption.
THE REALITY: Mom referees fights between the 9-year-old and 2-year-old girls over who pours in which ingredient. Seven-year-old boy begs to play computer games. Six-year-old boy asks 97 times to sample cookie dough. All four children bicker about who gets to lick more batter. Pouting, whining, and stomping drown out the Christmas songs buzzing merrily in the background. Mom has had it and sends all people under 4.5 feet tall OUT of her kitchen.
Enjoying a break from school.
THE IDEAL: With no schoolwork to take up precious moments together, the house is clean and organized. Kids and parents enjoy sitting around the table working on puzzles and playing games together.
THE REALITY: Somehow the house is dirtier and less organized than ever. Game and puzzle pieces are lost. Kids wrestle on the furniture, chase each other with pointed objects, and wake the baby from every single nap. No two kids ever agree on which game to play, so Mom grits her teeth, breathes a deep sigh, and heads to the kitchen to clean and cook...again. Boys are banished to the backyard multiple times. Toddler is put in bed for an extra-long nap. Sulky 9-year-old disappears somewhere to bury her nose in a book.
THE IDEAL: With spending money from parents, kids enjoy shopping for each other, learning about the joy of giving.
THE REALITY: Dad takes Tobin and Arden to the store. "Boys, we're shopping for Charis and Kenna. I don't think they would like Star Wars action figures. Boys? Boys! No, we are NOT buying Transformers for your sisters. Stop--no, come back here! BOYS! Put that back right now and come HERE! Oh, fine. I'll pick out 'your' gifts to the girls."
Bringing gifts to neighbors.
THE IDEAL: The whole family goes around the neighborhood, singing carols in 4-part harmony on front porches as we deliver perfectly packaged goody bags filled with delectable treats.
THE REALITY: No one is home when we make our rounds, so over a 4-day time period, we send kids out the door one at a time (rather than bundling up the whole crew again), hoping to get rid of 7 dozen cookies before they end up in our own bellies. Better yet, we ask people when they'll be home and they show up at our doorstep--do-it-yourself Christmas cheer!
Kids learning to give to parents.
THE IDEAL: Kids decide they want to make Christmas presents for Mom and Dad, feeling excited about giving back to those who do the most for them.
THE REALITY: After being disciplined by Mom a few days before Christmas, the 7-year-old goes to Mom's stocking, where earlier he had joyfully placed several drawings that he had painstakingly created, retrieves said drawings, rips them to shreds, and loudly stuffs them in the trashcan, making certain that Mom notices her empty stocking compared to Dad's stuffed one. (Sigh.)
Enjoying Christmas Eve.
THE IDEAL: The family enjoys a traditional meal together before heading to church for the Christmas Eve service.
THE REALITY: Only 3 out of 6 people like potato chowder, so Mom scrounges up some leftovers that the younger ones will actually eat. The baby is fussing, so Mom changes a massive poopy diaper while the carrots scorch on the stove. The boys wrestle and spin out of control next to Mom and baby, and the 7-year-old swings his sweatshirt around over his head, whipping Mom in the face in the process. Mom feels like the Grinch as she bangs around the kitchen, calling for people to come and help because we're running late for church. Bah, humbug.
Going to church for the Christmas Eve service.
THE IDEAL: The family arrives on time and enjoys a special time of singing and celebrating Christ's birth.
THE REALITY: The family slides into the few remaining seats (which happen to be on the front row) right as the service begins. Earlier disagreements melt away as we hold hands, wink, and smile at one another while singing Christmas carols and listening to special music. Dramatic Scripture readings juxtapose Christ's birth, death, and resurrection. Our hearts are full as we remember the reason we celebrate Christmas--because Jesus came to overcome all the ways we fail to reach His (and our) ideal standards. His ideal--holiness. Our reality--sinfulness. His ideal--salvation offered through His sacrifice on the cross. Our reality--hope and life eternal with our acceptance of His sacrifice. Thank you, Jesus!
An ideal Christmas Eve continues as we read "The Night Before Christmas" on our way back from church. A dozen Krispy Kreme donuts ride along with us as we head to our local fire station to wish firemen a merry Christmas and say "Thanks" from FairCreek Church for serving the community. We find a quiet station and get a quick tour of the garage before heading home. New jammies are waiting for the kids, their first Christmas treat, met with great excitement and much petting as they stroke their fuzzy sleeves.
Kids are tucked in and prayed with by 9:30 p.m. Parents are asleep by 10:00, dreaming of an Ideal Christmas Morning.