Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Christmas Tradition

Days morph to nights with no awareness of the passage of time. Games, puzzles, parks, hikes, food, and family. It's been a good holiday week.

The holidays are all about tradition, and we indulged in ours. Christmas Eve was spent at the Phoenix Zoo. We love going that day--hardly anyone is there, and the temperature is delicious.

Annie loved every animal and every ride and every kernel of kettle corn.
My little kids loved showing her their favorite corners of the zoo--the elephants, the Komodo dragon, the spider monkeys . . .

. . . and the orangutans.
Micah fell into a fountain and smelled of swamp water for the rest of the morning, and Lily sat in a puddle of water that soaked through her jeans, leggings, spandex, and underwear to make her cold and miserable for the rest of the morning.

Our time was limited that day and we were unable to take our traditional train ride around the east side of the zoo, but Lily convinced me that they needed a carousel ride.

I was so bad about pulling my camera out this Christmas--one shot on Christmas morning, and none the night before.
Things I want to remember about this Christmas--fancy dinner on fancy china without a single major spill. That's got to be a first in a while. Brad stuffed the pinata as full as possible, and after Eve took the first turn, Brad raised it up for Hyrum's turn--where it promptly broke off the hook. Lily instantly pounced on it, threw it against the fence and yelled, "Look! Free CANDY!" Instead of the kids being mad about it, they scooped up handfuls and headed back inside. I never thought that would fly with this bunch.

As we sat around the Christmas tree that night, I asked the kids how they felt about having fewer presents under the tree this year (part was a purposeful decision we made as a family to serve others this year, and part was imposed upon us by others). Three of them determined that they didn't like the season as much without guessing presents and piles under the tree. At that moment I agreed with them. Much of my attitude this year was tainted by the choices of others, and I had a hard time getting into the season.

After piling all together in Lily's room for the night (watching Will Ferrell's Elf and stuffing themselves with pinata candy), they came into our room to see what Santa had left in their stockings. They knew that only three presents would be under the tree for each of them, and they savored their stockings. I liked how each small gift was unwrapped and enjoyed before moving on to the next. By the time they got to the tree, their moods had changed. Each gift was important and valued--none of those "filler" gifts that I always seem to stack under the tree because they need new jeans or because this child is one gift short of everyone else. Brad and I didn't exchange gifts this year (I've been driving around my Christmas gift for the past month already), but he surprised me with a beautiful bouquet and a card that brought tears to my eyes.

The best part of the morning was opening the last gift--a small cardboard box that had found its way to our house all the way from Peru. Ben wrote a letter to the family and one to Tucker and Karli explaining their gift, and he wrote four letters in four copies of the Book of Mormon for each of his younger siblings. Tears fell as we read his words, and our family drew close in that quiet moment. I took advantage of the spirit we felt then to reiterate my question from the night before. Now that the present opening was over, did they really miss having lots of presents under the tree? All four of them said no, and they said that they hope we do it like that again next year (minus the theft out of the garage, Mom added).

Finally, after 25 years of mothering and fussing over Christmas and presents and the questions of "Is it enough?" or "Is it too much?" I found the perfect balance for our family. It was peaceful and joyful and calm and beautiful. I don't know if I can repeat that feeling next year, but you can bet that I'm going to try.

Six hours later, we were connected across the hemispheres to our missionary.
I love this boy with all my heart. In his Christmas letter, he requested that his 40-minute call be divided in two-minute increments, with each family member having time alone with him. I was in charge of monitoring the time, and in the transitions between siblings I would hear tender or funny exchanges. My heart swelled with joy. I can't explain it any other way. I saved the last two minutes for myself, and as I sat down in my chair, my eyes and throat swelled with tears. I looked into the eyes of my son, and both of us silently cried for a moment. I can't believe it's been almost fifteen months since I've hugged my son. I can't believe he only has one phone call left from the mission field. I can't believe how he's grown and changed and yet how he's still exactly the same. Too soon the time was gone, and the chasm between Lima and Mesa closed once again.

As we crawled into our beds at the cabin that night, our thoughts were the same.

It was the best Christmas ever.

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