"How was your weekend?" the daycare office manager asked me.
“Not that great,” I replied with a sigh. It was first thing Monday morning.
Her raised eyebrows prompted my explanation: “My children are like a small band of monkeys.” (At the time my three boys were ages six and under).
“Oh, well…it’s that time of year…”
I was recovering from the second weekend in Advent.
I had arranged my work schedule and decreased my commitments in an effort to enjoy the holiday season that year. But it wasn’t happening.
I had envisioned that the kids and I would put up the tree and decorate it during Thanksgiving weekend while listening to Christmas music. Then over the course of the next several weeks, we’d bake cookies, and make peppermint bark and other treats together, including our traditional gingerbread structures.
We’d talk about the story of Jesus’ birth while we set up our nativity scene under the tree. We’d watch some Christmas movies, make wish lists for Santa, and observe Advent every Sunday. That meant I’d have to plan a lesson and an activity and a treat, but that would be okay. After all, I was only working four-day weeks in December (because I needed to use up vacation time, or lose it). We’d count down the days with our Advent calendar.
What it was really like in my house
I put up the tree. The boys lost interest in decorating it after hanging a few ornaments each, after which they proceeded to use them as missiles and other weapons. A couple of weeks later, our tree was mostly decorated on the top half, as is the tree of any family that includes an eighteen-month-old. (Though, one day I did find a pair of dirty socks draped across some of the lower branches.)
The boys would have rather watched Power Rangers reruns than any of my favorite Christmas specials like “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” or “Frosty The Snowman.” I insisted they do that upstairs. So much for togetherness.
Creating our gingerbread house was extravagantly messy affair. Not only because the pastry bag sprung a few leaks but also because I can never keep those things twisted closed, and the icing always squeezes out the back way, we all used our hands to smear the royal icing “mortar” on the gingerbread pieces before we stuck them together. It was decimated nearly as soon as it was built. The kids picked the candy off of it and then the older two reduced it to rubble with their fists. And more than a week later, I was still finding crusted icing on various knobs, dials, switches, and faucets.
I considered briefly the “Pajama Run,” an event one of my colleagues includes in her holiday celebration, which consists of driving around in your PJs with hot cocoa to look at Christmas lights. I discarded it just as quickly. Until someone invents soundproof, Plexiglas units that fit over booster seats, we’ll observe holiday lights on our regular, utilitarian routes. My youngest was just as happy to look at the “moom.”
Speaking of my youngest, he couldn’t keep his hands off the electronics and quashed every single Christmas CD I put on. Because I play them in the DVD player attached to the TV, he couldn’t understand why there’s sound, but no picture. “Show?” he would ask plaintively as he handed me the fingerprint-covered CD he’d just divested from the DVD player. So much for the Christmas music.
Instead, I was frequently serenaded by the older boys belting out “Jingle bells, Batman smells, the Joker learned ballet…hee hee hee snicker snicker snort!” Another very special musical number was “Who Let the Dogs Out?” rendered on percussion instruments.
The older boys fought over the Advent calendar. My oldest figured out if he was odds, then he’d not only get more days, but he’d get the day. My youngest wasn’t participating in this yet other than to examine and then discard on the floor every day’s felt-and-Velcro nativity scene characters, much to the chagrin of the two rules-based, school-aged kids, who tried in vain to keep the characters in sequential order beginning with the star, angel, and shepherds and ending with the Wisemen, gifts, and Jesus. When I moved the calendar upstairs into The Bigs’ room, we lost count. Oh, well.
I was on overload, as I was essentially trying to cram five days worth of work into four days on top of all the added holiday hoopla. This resulted in my sampling far too many cookies and chocolates, and drinking too much coffee. And I won’t go into detail about why I needed to replace both my laptop and cell phone within a two week period, but suffice it to say that the loss of data was a major setback for me.
The The Bigs made a battle scene out of the nativity set and launched baby Jesus off the roof of the crèche. That we still had tiny baby Jesus and his little straw bed after four seasons was, in itself, one of the miracles of Christmas. Compounding their irreverence was the extent of their interest in our Advent celebration. “Fire. Heh-Heh. Heh-Heh. That’s cool,” about summed it up.
Embracing the pandemonium
“It’s chaos at my house,” I concluded to the office manager.
“C’mon, that’s all part of the fun!” she chuckled and nudged me.
I rolled my eyes. “Uh huh.”
But, as I drove off that morning, I thought about our conversation. I really didn’t want to be such a grinch, and the office manager was right — this was Christmas — all the boys’ antics should be taken in stride because it really was all part of the fun.
Right then and there, I decided to embrace the pandemonium.