A Beachy Christmas: Fun Friday

Fun FridaysAs you are reading this, Craig and I are skipping through the Magic Kingdom with the kids and our uberhappy nanny, whose life dream has been a trip to Disney World. Today, it’s much more low-key . . . still, it’s a beachy Christmas. No snow in sight — and that’s just fine.

beach walkersIt’s the happiest day of the year . . . for everyone but the lizards. We count 24 skinks between Mom’s trailer and the beach (a five minute walk). The kids respond very differently, Sarah shrieking and Christopher excitedly trying to scoop them into a coffee can, to take them home. (No luck. Rats!)

Tomorrow we’re going to watch the sun rise on the beach — I have visions of cupping a mug of hot tea and murmuring Christmas carols. Most likely the kids’ version will win out, pitching seashells at each other and shrieking until we relent and head back to the house to open gifts.

Christmas traditions, like all family traditions, look a bit different from the outside than the inside. The “keeper of the memories” (usually the mom) envisions beauty, sweetness, and solemn joy — which is a lot easier to pull off if no actual children are involved. But then, the whole point of making these memories is not the Kodak moments they create in the family album, but the sense of love and security they create in young hearts.

So . . . this year I’ll be setting aside my wonderful images of Norman Rockwell tableaus full of Christmas carolers in perfectly matched scarves. We’re going to go chase lizards. We’re pretty sure Baby Jesus likes those better, anyway.

FUN FRIDAY: Briny Breezes, Florida. We’re not going to be going many places this week — just hanging out at the beach. My mother-in-law says if you want a good place for fish, check out the “Prime Catch” — they make great sea bass!

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On Arriving: Thoughts before Christmas

cropped-road-trip.jpg Two days in the car with two kids and a dog. Two days, twelve hours a day.

Suddenly I have a whole new appreciation for what Mary and Joseph must have gone through those final days before the angels sang to the shepherds.

Mary: “Please, honey. Lay off the Diet Coke. My legs are cramping from riding on this blessed donkey, and my ankles are swelling to the size of small watermelons. It’s Bethlehem or bust. NO MORE PIT STOPS!”

Joseph: “Yes, dear. I’ll let my throat parch if you can talk that kid on the next camel into stop whistling that inane tune: ‘100 wineskins of wine on the wall.’ Honestly, one more round and I may have to toss him to the robbers.”

OK, so the Holy Family didn’t have this exchange exactly. After all, they were the perfect couple — the kind that radiated in each other’s sunshine. I’ll bet Joseph never drove Mary crazy by loading up on electronics until the camel blew a fuse, and he never rolled his eyes when Mary couldn’t resist one more cute little trinket from Matzo Barrel.

Our family is not so perfect. We do not practice the virtue of detachment when we travel . . . The other virtues like kindness, neatness, and sweetness get quite a workout as well. And yet, these trips are the stuff of our family history. Years later, the memories are whitewashed and recalled– like the new mother, we forget all about the pain once we hold our loved ones in our arms. (Probably better that way, or there would be no more road trips.)

Halfway through ours, I’d simply like to give thanks for the highlights:

* For parents who are always happy to see us at the end of the road, no matter how late we arrive or how disheveled the house is when we leave.

* For a seven-passenger van, so that the person most in need of solitude can hide in the back seat with a Supersized set of headphones.

* For two kids and a dog who can ride for four days in a car without anyone getting carsick. Even when Sarah bathes in the Justin Bieber perfume Michi’s friend gave her for Christmas (thanks, Matthew).

* For traveling mercies — including the angels that sat on our bumper yesterday, so the Budget truck that swerved into our lane did not hit us (and the SUV in Michi’s blind spot in the next lane sustained only a small dent). It could have been much, much worse.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Christmas Cheer(ier)

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It’s official. The bunkbeds are officially history. Last night a young couple came to the house and dismantled what was arguably the worst $200 I have ever spent in my life, bar none, and took it home with them. “You have given my daughters the best Christmas gift we could ever ask for,” the woman said to me. “Are you sure we can’t pay you for it?”

“No, I’m sure,” said I. “We just need it out of the house.”

And today, the transformation is nearing complete. The bunkbeds have been replaced by a decked-out full bed, replete with polka dots and animal prints (I know, it sounds horrid, but Sarah will love it) and a GIANT doll house. Tomorrow we go to storage and get out the gold framed Roccoco-style hallway mirror that belonged to Craig’s sister, and install it as a headboard. That way she can catch a glimpse of her full glory every time she plays dressup and bounces on the bed.

For Craig, I found a gadget that will turn all his vinyl into DVDs, so he can enjoy his LARGE collection of classic rock. I’m hoping it will put a smile in his heart, if not on his face.

My Christmas present is on his way, heading toward Philadelphia in his pick-up, dog by his side. We get to see Chris on Wednesday, but Dad will be here on Christmas Eve. I better get started with that cherry pie!

To be honest, this is not likely to be the happiest Christmas ever. As I said to Sarah today, I’m hoping it’s the last one, for a long long time, that we won’t get to spend together. The good news is that Christmas doesn’t have to be perfect to be meaningful. The darker the night, the brighter the star.

Merry Christmas to all . . . and to all a blessed night!

Christmas 2011: A Year in Review

Despite my best intentions, Christmas cards did NOT make it in the mail this year. For the record, I also did not manage to bake a single batch of Christmas cookies. Which is why it’s a good thing that there are TWELVE days of Christmas. But I digress.

This year has been a year unlike any other. It all started, appropriately enough, last Christmas, when in an unguarded moment, brought on by tremendous career and family upheaval, Craig turned to me and said, “If you find a job you like, we’ll move.”

I didn’t need to be told twice. (I’ll spare you the details, except to say that as far as I’m concerned, “family business” is an oxymoron.) In fact, I had already been looking locally, and had applied to a number of church jobs for which I was reasonably qualified. The highlight was showing up for one interview, only to be told, “We knew we weren’t going to hire you – but we just had to meet you after reading your resume.”

Have you ever been in a place where you were desperately seeking God’s will for your life, and nothing – nothing at all – was happening? I knew God had heard my prayers for deliverance; I also knew he had a plan for our lives, and that he understood the stress my husband was under.  I knew all these things . . . and yet, it grew harder and harder to trust as one job interview after another resulted in . . . nothing. After six months, including a few tenuous inquiries at a couple of publishing houses in the area, I was still jobless. “What does God WANT from me?” I asked my pastor, who had been praying for me as well. “I know exactly what you mean, Heidi,” he replied. “I often feel that way myself.”

Then, as if on cue, God threw our lives into hyperdrive. One day a friend mentioned to me that Ascension Press was looking for an editorial director. And next thing I knew, I had a job offer. Ten days later, I packed my car and moved to West Chester, PA. Within weeks, the kids and dog had joined me (Craig, it was decided, needed to stay until Christmas to give his work adequate time to transition to the new IT guy). Also with us was Andrew, the kids’ favorite sitter, who at nineteen was ready for an adventure away from home. (The kids alternately refer to him as “our new brother” and “the manny.” Andrew is an aspiring chef who spends his days while the kids are at school riding the train and checking out local eating establishments, and his nights dreaming up new taste treats for us.) This job has been such a great fit for me; I tell people I won the “job lottery.” In reality, it was simply a matter of waiting patiently for God to orchestrate all the details in his perfect time.

Of course, a few pieces still need to fall into place. We are still in something of a holding pattern, thanks to Craig’s boss, who convinced Craig it was his duty to stay on until they were good and ready to let him go. As I’m sure you can imagine, this has been hard on the kids (hasn’t done great things for our marriage, either). But I’ve come to realize that sometimes love means taking a step back, finding one’s own center, and letting the other person work things out for himself. (Or herself.) I also understand, for the first time in my life, why some seemingly successful marriages appear to suddenly unravel at the seams.  Finally, I’ve come to understand that marriage can be a lot like a warm woolen security blanket: Sometimes all you can do is hold on, and pray for the storm to pass. As the skies grow darker and the wind blows stronger, you keep holding, knowing that if you grope with both hands, the wind may soon carry it way.

I am grateful beyond words for all the people who have extended themselves for us this year: my parents, who have made several visits from Georgia just to make sure we got packed and settled, as well as friends in Michigan (especially the Phelps, Hook, and Tucker families and good friends Denise and Lilian) and here in PA (especially my new coworkers) who have reached out to us again and again. On our last weekend in Michigan, we had a little barbecue at a local park, with close to 50 people in attendance. As I looked over all their faces, I was so thankful for the wonderful people God had brought into our lives over the past eighteen years. It was hard to think of starting over . . . especially for Christopher and Sarah, who were leaving behind not only good friends but a brother and sister as well. Even so, we knew God was leading us to a new adventure. And that one day, we would get to enjoy it together.

In the meantime, we have settled in for the long haul. Christopher, 11, is in middle school this year, and for the first time ever is on the honor roll. His science project this year will be to prove which brand of deodorant is most flammable. (His idea, not mine.) He will be confirmed at our new parish, St. Joseph Parish in Downingtown, on March 1, 2012. His new passion this year is Beyblades. He misses his friends, but has picked up a couple of good friends here and was recently asked to his first dance (yikes).

Sarah, 9 going on 16, is in fourth grade. She and I went to see her friend Grace perform in the “Nutcracker 1776” at her friend’s school. I think we need to get Sarah back in a tutu. She continues to love to draw and change her clothes a dozen times a day. I suspect she has a future in fashion design.

This year Craig and the kids spent 10 days over Christmas break in West Palm Beach with Craig’s parents (I didn’t have vacation time, but I flew down for the weekend). Craig’s dad has stage-four lung cancer (he’s a non-smoker), so we wanted to make a few more memories with and for Craig’s parents. We then spent Christmas weekend with my parents in Georgia, who opened their home to three out of four daughters and their families for the holiday. We decorated gingerbread houses, tried to stay out of the way of the four dogs, and had a lovely time. Craig and I are home now, and he will be with us until January 7. My Christmas wish is that this time next year, the transition to our new life here will be complete.

Wishing you and yours the brightest and best of Christmas blessings this year.

When a Soldier Comes Home for Christmas: A Mother’s Confession

This week the “Mebane Enterprise” posted a touching article about my nephew, Ryan Redner, who with his wife and daughter Bella (whom he adopted when he married her mom) made a surprise visit to my sister’s home this year for Christmas. You can read the article here.

On the second page, my sister wrote a special “Letter to the Editor,” which she gave me permission to adapt here.

There’s a commercial on the air right now for a certain brand of coffee. A young man comes home for Christmas where he is greeted by his anxiously awaiting sister. He hands her a gift, and she takes the bow off and plants it on his chest with a quiet declaration: “You’re my present this year.” It makes me cry. Every single time.

This is the time of year that my husband asks what I want for Christmas. As in years past, his look implores me to give him a specific list of easily identifiable objects that one might obtain from any reasonably stocked store within the first ten feet of the entrance. And as in years past, I tell him I don’t want anything — and he shorts, “Yeah, right.”

What my husband doesn’t know is that this year I mean it. Nothing could possibly compare with what is already headed my way: Our son Ryan along with his wife Misty and daughter Bella. If my husband knew that they were coming, he’d feel just the way I do. But you see … he doesn’t know yet. Ryan’s arrival is a closely guarded surprise. Which makes my Christmas just a little more magical.

The calendar says it’s December 20, but I’ve been celebrating Christmas for weeks already, ever since I heard the magic words, “Yeah, we’re coming home. But only for a few days.” A few days? Santa’s reindeer never flew so high as the cloud I was on after hearing the news. Baking, cleaning, decorating . . . Christmas was in full throttle with the help of our daughter, Holly.

A seasoned military friend cautioned me against getting too excited. He knows that in the military, plans can fall apart at the last minute. They have before. As always, his caution falls on deaf ears. My boy is coming home, and it’s time to celebrate.

It’s been nearly a year since we’ve seen our son. When Ryan frst announced his intention to join the Army, I was torn between apprehension, pride, and a sense of loss. My baby had grown up. I learned rather quickly that this was the permanent state of emotion for an Army mom. While recruits are given basic training, there is no such luxury for Army moms. Once they deploy, you breathe in and out and go about your day. You stop watching the news and avoid some movies altogether.

Holidays and birthdays? You just get through them, somehow. You send packages. You wait. When they return from deployment, you wait some more. Particularly if your soldier is also a husband and father. Army moms take a back seat to Army wives, as they should. But that doesn’t mean we like it.

Ryan completed his first tour of Iraq in November 2009, and arrived back at Fort Hood the day before Thanksgiving this past year. Sergeatn Redner faces his second deployment to Iraq sometime between January 31 and February 9, 2011.

And although I know there are long days of waiting ahead, for us in North Carolina and for his wife and young daughter in Texas, I also know this Christmas is one I’ll never forget. For a few precious days, Sergeant Redner will be simply “Ryan” again, and I will just be “Mom.” I plan to spend a lot of time freezing his crooked grin in my memory, taking in the sound of my granddaughter’s giggles, and spend time reacquainting myself with my extraordinary daughter-in-law.

Ryan, you all are my present this year, and you’re more than I could ever ask for. And I’ll bet, for once, your Daddy will agree that I’m right.

Now that you’ve read this, I hope you will join me in a prayer for peace. May God grant that the war will come to a timely end!

“‘Tis the Season of Christmas”

A couple of years ago I was asked to write something for St. Andrew’s upcoming post-Christmas pageant, a fundraiser that benefits the St. Louis Boy’s Center. In writing up this little ditty, I came across a number of intriguing customs and details about Christmas around the world that I wanted to share with you today . . . While my family and I enjoy one more day on the beach in West Palm Beach!

Enjoy!

 

‘Tis the season of Christmas,

And since the Word became Man,

Every nation and culture

Has told the story most grand.

 

Posadas[i] and crèches and szopkes[ii] abound,

And carolers make music[iii], heard all the world ‘round.

In Ghana[iv] and Holland[v], Belize and Brazil[vi]

All gather together with joy and good will.

 

In the islands[vii], the most festive carols are played

With singers and dancers in bright masquerade.

In Egyptian legend, a large cherry tree[viii]

Bent low to feed the dear Lord’s family.

 

In England[ix], the “Holly” and “Ivy” entwine[x]

As they worship the wonderful Child divine.[xi]

In Russia, a miserly old woman[xii] brings

To children the gifts[xiii] she kept from the Three Kings[xiv]!

 

Near the City of David, a star from the east[xv]

Still beckons to you, both the greatest and least[xvi].

In China, paper lanterns all beckon and gleam,[xvii]

In Japan, feast on cakes with strawberries and cream.

 

Down under, Australia spells joy “barbecue”

As Saint Nick comes riding a large kangaroo.[xviii]

And here in the States, land of plenty and more,

We stop from our labors, bow down, and adore.[xix]

 

The angels[xx], ethereal; the shepherds[xxi], so lowly.

The Mother, so gentle; the Infant, so holy.

And as ornate Wise Men in tribute bend down,[xxii]

“O Come, All Ye Faithful,” to Bethlehem Town!

 

Copyright 2008 by Heidi Hess Saxton

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