Sunday, December 12, 2010

Breath of heaven

One morning this week, as our infant son wailed in his "room" (our walk-in closet) from his "bed" (a pack and play), I nudged my husband and asked "Are you awake?" He grunted. I took it as a maybe.

He later told me that he heard a small voice asking him if he was awake, and while he was indeed awake, he couldn't muster the strength to form any words.

That's how I've felt lately about, well, everything. I'm awake, but I can't really speak or think too clearly. It's been about 10 days since I've posted anything in this place. It's December. We've celebrated Danny's birthday. We've decorated for Christmas, mostly outside because our children would destroy whatever we put up. We've gotten a tree which will stay outdoors until a day or so before Christmas. It's even snowed, a lovely, soft snow.

But life goes on. We're in survival mode. I have seven-month-old who is doing this:

I have a little girl who is almost two and trying to potty train herself. (It's not as serendipitous as it sounds. So far this weekend she's peed on the floor and wiped poop on the fridge but at least gone potty a few times on her own.)

I have a four year old who is, well, now that I think of it, actually quite pleasant and fun right now despite the fits of willfulness.

The laundry is backed up. I literally cried when Fiona knocked over my pile of folded laundry. After that, I stopped folding and just stuffed all my clothes in my drawers. (This hurts, people. I used to fold and organize my shirts by color.)

I have three parties this week, one involves a cookie exchange (yeah!!) and the others involve bringing some type of food. And I've scheduled our first attempt at family portrait session, or, as I will likely refer to it for years to come, the holiday suicide mission.

My first attempt at a Christmas calendar was so badly botched by the drug store that I abandoned the entire project and started over with a different store. So much for quick, easy and convenient. On my way home from the store, feeling defeated and stressed, I heard a Christmas song with this charming line, "There's something about Christmas time, makes you wish it was Christmas every day."

Um, really?

I wanted to punch the radio. Better yet, I'd like to hunt down that Bryan Adams and punch his silly Canadian face. (No offense to my French Canadian relatives, of course.)

Christmas is hard enough for me without all this going on. Every year I am dismayed by the excess and the lack of authenticity surrounding celebrations and depictions of Christmas. Every year I struggle with how to connect the dots for myself and my children from the gift giving we do for each other to the gift of the baby Jesus, because, really, a new cell phone or a remote control car or even a real car pales in comparison to that gift. Let's face it, I'm not going to out-give Jesus.

Every year I struggle to explain to a child and myself why we put plastic wreaths and garland and lights up in our house and decorate a live Christmas tree. I mean, it can't just be that we like all the extra vacuuming that comes with these things. I awkwardly explained to Danny the other night that we'd celebrate Jesus' birth soon by bringing our tree in the house. Jim then summed up my confusion nicely, surmising what Jesus may actually think of our charade down here.

"You cut down a live tree and wrapped it with electric lights and put what under it to celebrate my birthday?"

Yeah, what he said. But I would add, "And you spent how much time and energy and money on this?"

Every year I spend at least the first two weeks of December stressed about what to buy for whom and how what I buy will compare to what I receive and whether any of it will be good enough or thoughtful enough. I even feel slightly stressed that while I'm thinking of all these things, the true story of Christmas is not weighing sufficiently enough on my heart. See, guilt is so second nature to me; I was just born to be Catholic.

And, speaking of Catholic, someone showed me to this the other day:
Mary. Doing to Jesus what every mother on earth does to her baby. Hold them close and kiss them. A lot. And I imagine, too, that she's feeling the breath of her son, that breath of heaven, soft and ticklish on her cheek. (I suspect that she's also whispering in his ear that he really should sleep more and let her get some rest.)

My grandmother was Catholic. Much of my father's family is Catholic. I was not raised Catholic, though I chose Catholicism as an adult. Growing up, I never understood my grandmother's love for Mary. It seemed like an obsession, beyond understanding. The year that I played Mary in our church's live nativity scene was a proud year for her. Photos of me dressed as Mary adorned her apartment for years. She once, to my mother's great distress and horror, put a string of rosary beads around my neck when I was a toddler. I'm not sure if it was the Catholic-ness of the beads or the strangulation risk that upset her.

Friday morning, I worked at my Parents Morning Out program at our church. Around 9:30 or so, I sat in the darkened back portion of the church to nurse Owen before his nap. A group was up front saying the rosary. I sat silently and listened.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art though amongst women and blessed is the fruit of they womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

And I finally felt a little peace about the season. I felt that breath of heaven as I sat with my son, who was breathing steadily in my arms.

Now that I'm a mother, I understand Mary, perhaps better than I understand Jesus, and I understand his love for me. I understand selfless, imperfect love, the kind that would lay down its life for the same child that you want to strangle when they smear poop on the refrigerator door. I understand being afraid of the task I've been charged with. I understand feeling blessed yet unprepared to raise these children. I understand doubt, I understand fear because never before has so much been at stake.

I believe there's a little bit of Mary in all mothers. Esteemed, shown a divine mercy, uncertain but hopeful. The image of Mary and her son is the picture of Christmas to me, not the lights or the decorations or the gifts or the songs or even the food that I love to cook. It's the familiar feeling I get at the sight of her nuzzling that baby in her arms. Because I know what that kind of love feels like. I get to feel it whenever I choose to, not just in December or during the entire Advent season.

And I get to remember that I, too, am loved that way.

1 comment:

Kelley said...

I know we talked about this in more detail at an earlier time, but I think I have some of the same feelings and discoveries about our grandparents. It's interesting for me to hear your memories of them since things were so different by the time I was on the scene. Stay tuned for my own thoughts on the season.