I know that Christmas can be a hard season for anyone over the age of 10. As a kid, Christmas is a day full to the brim with the wonder of newness and excitement and surprises and magic. But as we age, expectation slowly starts creeping in, fogging the light that is that Christmas wonder. Disappointment follows expectation and then we spend every Christmas just trying to get back to what it once was – for us and for our kids.
Last night, hours into the third shopping day of a full shopping week, I found myself leaning over my shopping cart and burying my head in my hands. It had all finally just become too much, three days before Christmas. I had spent most of my day trying to herd three pre-Christmas children in all their excitement and exhaustion around to different shops and stores and malls. Logan, the youngest, spent much of the time screaming or laying on the floor or doing both (because that’s the efficient way to be almost-two). I feel like I have spent every waking moment (and some in which I should have been sleeping) trying to figure out what I need to do and what I need to get to make Christmas perfect and magical for everyone. Now, I am just tired.
I did everything I could to keep from getting to this place – this standing-in-the-middle-of-a-busy-grocery-store-with-my-head-in-my-hands place. I have spent at least half an hour of every day this Advent season in quiet reflection, curled up with a hot drink beside my Christmas tree. I have tried to cut things out and plan down and allow myself to stop and breathe through the busyness.
But there’s always a weight to this holiday. There’s a weight that comes simply from it being situated at the end of an always-hard year. There is the weight of other people’s expectations and the weight of your own. We feel the weight of appearances and can’t escape the weight of memories and longing and wishing. And, of course, there is the weight of there never being enough – never enough money, enough time, enough of me.
My heart broke today as I walked into Toys R Us, determined to find a toy that I had messed up ordering online – Logan’s big gift. I had prayed for there to be stock at this store because the website told me they were sold out. I needed this toy to save Christmas, I was certain. But during my time in the store, another young mom was being busted at the front door for stealing. Inside the store was more than enough of this stock for me, and my bank account had the money sitting in it to pay for this gift for my son. But outside the store was someone who had less than enough, who was feeling the weight of trying to make this holiday more.
Lots of people stopped me yesterday to comment on how busy I was; how I had my hands full. Some of my mom-friends hate that comment, but I don’t. In those moments, as my kids were running and refusing to listen and laying on the floor immovable and screaming and almost breaking things… in those moments I appreciate being seen. I appreciate the small comment of “this time is tough” from people who know. Mostly, this comment comes from people who are a few years older than me, people who are no longer in this small-kid stage but remember it. I look at them with big wide eyes and say “Yes” because what I really want to say is “You get me! I am feeling exactly that at the moment – hands full, but otherwise empty. My tank is empty, but levels are drained. Right now, in this moment, this is very hard. Thank you for noticing. Thank you for seeing me, when all I can see and hear and feel is them.”
(I saw that woman today outside of Toys R Us. I see her. I don’t want to vilify her. This must be very very hard.)
Yesterday morning, during that time of quiet that I have held on to so dearly, I was reminded that I can still find an attitude of wonder in this Christmas season, still, even as an adult. Yet, this reminder didn’t feel relevant to me – what was there to feel wonderment about that I didn’t already see? But as yesterday dragged on I started to feel more and more weighed down by the holiday and less and less in awe of it. I stood in line at the grocery store at 9 PM with a cart full of food for Christmas Eve and Christmas with a dead phone and I started to cry. I cried because someone was playing the piano so beautifully. I cried because I was tired. I cried because I had let the wonder go that and I was somewhere else entirely, my back turned on the reason for the season.
Where do I find wonderment in all of this? It can’t be in the promise of presents from a red-suited bearded dude. That stopped doing the trick ages ago.
Maybe, just maybe, the wonder is right in the midst of this exhaustion I feel.
Because no matter how hard I try, I can’t make perfect this thing we define as Christmas. I’m always lacking, always striving for something that’s just out of reach. And, it isn’t just Christmas. It is everything! Adult Christmas lists aren’t simple: Toys for our kids that we just can’t afford; New jeans; A giant stuffed animal at the first store I visit; A fix for a broken-down van; More money, fewer expenses, less debt; More family, more friends, less drama; Promotions; Hugs; Love; To be desired and wanted and valued; Someone; Trust; Health; Healing; Joy; Peace. It isn’t just this Christmas. It doesn’t matter that life got busier for me lately or that this year was hard. There are no degrees of hard. When life is hard and you are tired that’s just how it is. We all feel it. Especially at Christmas.
My kids are lucky. A non-existent red-suited bearded guy can (and will) come down our non-existent chimney and fill the holes their wishes leave. But I feel that longing too. Who is going to come for me?
That’s where it all connects. That’s where the longing for more and the feeling of emptiness latches on to Christmas and wonder comes out of it. As we shop and prepare and make things perfect, we feel it, and we ask “Who is going to come for me?” The answer? That’s Christmas.
(I see you, Mama.)