Friday, December 27, 2013

A Christmas Review

I don't know what I thought Christmas would be like as I got older, but I'm pretty sure I still anticipated it being about me - being showered with gifts, mostly.

Thank goodness I grew up, and am less (please much less) selfish.

The nice thing is that now I really love Christmas in a whole new way - I love buying gifts for my family, I love making gifts now (thanks to my awesome sewing machine that I got for mother's day this year!), and I love introducing Zuzu to all the beautiful traditions, both new and old, that are dear to my heart.

Here are some highlights of our season so far: 

Her getting to wear this long sleeve RL dress. It's adorable.

Advent cleaning and organizing - making my measuring cups accessible and clearing up some much-coveted drawer space!

Laughing when we realized we didn't have enough lights to finish off the tree, and were too lazy to go get some more...luckily on Christmas Eve our neighbor noticed and gave us an extra strand

The constant destruction of the Little People Nativity set

My big Christmas gift from the hubs - this AWESOME mirror for over the piano! It's so beautiful, I can't even express how much I love it!!

Our beautiful name plaque that Jen gave us, which now hangs proudly next to our front door.

My new beach cruiser! The perfect gift from my parents; I am getting Zuzu a seat and we're going to be able to bike places together! 

And that's just what I've managed to get pictures of so far. I was blessed to be able to give gifts I truly wanted to give - I made two mothers (my mama and my MIL) table runners, which was such a fun thing to work on while I prayed for and thought of both of them. (Advent always makes me more cognizant of mothers and all the ways my life is blessed by them) I got the husband a case for his iPhone (so maybe these ones will last??), and got my dad a great tool box (that I now realize we need as well). 

But what did we get Zuzu? 


That's right - we are big meanies. But we were so overwhelmed by so many lovely gifts from all our extended family and friends, what could she need? She can barely process all the new toys as it is! By far of course, her favorite is her bay-bee: 

She got a baby doll, and a doll bed, blanket, and pillow. This is made all the more special because the doll was picked out by her GG & Aunt Sally, then the bed was made by her cousin Raf and Grampy, and GG made the pillow and blanket! Isn't that wonderful? She loves to take her baby with her, set her down, lay the blanket over her and adjust the pillow. She's truly my little mami. 

Overall, this season has started so peacefully. Christmas Day dinner was exceedingly simply (roast beast, mac n cheese, done) and the following days have been relaxing and picking up. To be honest, I don't even have our ornaments on the tree - but who cares? There are Tasha Tudor books to read to my babe, square foot gardening to dream of, ornate boxes to put my jewelry in, monogrammed bags to hold my things...

But really, there is love. There is my cozy little nest that I am still working on, filled with warmth and love. I have a home of my own, and a family to take care of. I am still so often struck with wonder and joy that this is my life! There is a rosy-cheeked baby who calls me 'mama' (very often) and a husband that calls me darling, and I couldn't ask for a thing more. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

In Advent

I have survived Advent this year by telling myself that it is okay to do most of my celebrating at Christmastime. Y'know - those 8, or 12, or however many days after December 25th - when we're supposed to be really celebrating the birth of Christ! I put so many things back there: baking cookies, pulling out aaaall the decorations (not just the few I've been putting out, bit by bit), mailing our Christmas cards, etc.

Picking out our tree on St. Nicholas day

The result is it's December 23rd and I feel a little sad that my house took so long to get Christmas-y. I'm reconditioning myself to put more in at the end, but it's hard - hard to have it feel like Christmas when there's no extended family gathering on Christmas Eve (which is our tradition); hard when Christmas comes in with a quiet hush, not a roar. Christmases in my family always seemed so... LOUD. Tons of people. Food. Drink. Presents! And more and more people - especially kids. I have nine nieces and nephews on my side - plus my three siblings and their spouses and my parents and usually everyone's dogs - so that's a lot of people in our modest homes. I love that squished feeling of Christmas Eve - our house so bursting with love and life.

Some days, my house feels so empty and quiet in contrast.

It's most often just the two of us - and sometimes, she's quite quiet

I love being Zuzu's mother - I love having this time with her as my only child. There is nothing I would trade for those sweet nursing moments that we are still treasuring (especially now that she can sign 'please nurse?'). Yet Christmastide will now always bring to mind the memory of Francis, our first baby, gone home before I could even behold him. And sometimes, my house seems a little empty - I wonder what it would be like right now to be the mom of two instead of one. I wonder if that loss is why I feel like I'm always forgetting someone at the table, why I have a vaguely guilty feeling that Zuzu is an only child.

So I started wondering: what if we invited someone new to the table? We're open - we're always open - to new life. But it seems we're on the slower fertility plan, for now at least. What if we did a bit more than send an open invitation to God to bless us - what if we went out and looked for blessings instead?

What if we adopted? 

My compassionate tendencies lean towards adoption. I took the adoption law class at UA Law and talked about it with Mr. O. It comes up, from time to time, both of us furrowing our brows and thinking, maybe. But our hearts have always seemed unready and thinking is all we did. And then suddenly, just last week, something shifted and we seemed to want to do more than talk. So we did - we sent inquiries and began researching.

In between taking Zuzu to Christmas parties

That's where we are. We're researching, thinking, praying - and trying to talk to those in the adoption community. I'm trying to reach out and ask people, "what's it really like? how do your biological children adjust? are we crazy?" There is so much to take in and while at first I thought - yes come Holy Spirit - this is awesome! Lets do it! Adopt all the kids! - now my naturally cautious nature is saying, not so fast, lets do some research, lets get a realistic picture, lets make sure you aren't commodifying children.

The outside trappings of Christmas are more simple this year, maybe because of all this interior preparation. But mostly I'm grateful that this Advent has been the first one that has really moved me in the direction I think I was supposed to go - to make room for a child in a world where there is no room, even when the end of the story is as yet shrouded in mystery. Even if that room doesn't end up being in my home any time soon, maybe it's in my prayer life - maybe it's in my home in the years to come.

Whatever it is, and whenever, I hope I'm ready to make room when the time comes.

Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Haters, the Waiters, & Me

Tonight was our Advent Penance Service - always a good time. I love penance services - nothing quite like meditating on my sins to make a scrupulous person like me feel better.

This was my first one with a toddler.

I love my parish, very much. I rarely get a stank eye for bringing Zuz everywhere I go - every service, every Mass, every event and party. I don't like to leave her, so I bring her - and largely, it seems, no one minds.

NOT TONIGHT. The haters were out. As soon as I walked in they glared at me (unusual). I gave them my usual big grin and hoisted her higher trying to show them "isn't she so cute??" They would not be molified. They quickly looked down at their rosaries with deep frown lines. I shrugged and took my babe by the hand to see the Mary statue, where she holds the "bebe eesus." St. John is her second home; we take rude interlopers in stride.

There were others there too, early. Many who know me (most people do). They smile at me - some with great weariness. I recognize that look - the look of waiting. They are ready, they are running the last of it, they are tired and ready for the joy of Christmas. They are ready for the preparations to be done and for the feasting to commence. I shush Zuzu quickly when she is talking - I know they need this, these moments of peace before God, asking "how long, Lord, must we wait?" I don't want Zuzu to be another distraction in a season of busy-ness.

The haters and the waiters, both there early, waiting for the Baby. The haters thought my baby was a distraction from the wait; maybe the waiters saw her as a reminder of what they were waiting for? But I had a different kind of consideration for each group, so where does that leave me?

Bit by bit, the rest of the huddled masses filtered in. Some families, mostly the elderly, a few younger people. Two singles that I counted. Some of my teens, only one of my fifth graders, none of the middle school kids. Everyone eager to receive the gift of absolution. Many were nervous to smile when Zuzu played peek-a-boo with them; some hid their grins sheepishly, others abashedly entertained her. I appreciated them all - it was late and I wanted to stay, since we have one car and my poor husband bums enough rides as it is.

I usually like these services because I get to pick a priest I deem worthy - one who will give me good council, who really does confession right, I think to myself. This time, I just chose the spot that was empty. It happened to be a priest I know, and I had some rather uncomfortable truths to confess. I did so; I could tell he wanted to say something to me, personally...but he chose brevity and professionalism.  I appreciated that reciprocation of my trust in the sacrament - he wasn't there as my friend so-and-so, but as Christ. The burden and beauty of the priesthood.

It was a good night. I felt so much a part of my community, my wonderful messy parish. It is so very far from perfect, but it must be, since I'm a part of it. I'm glad I got to confession, glad I had the chance to see some people I haven't seen for a while - glad for a community that comes together to declare we have committed wrongs through our fault, through our fault, through our most grevious fault.

. . .

Tomorrow is the Middle School Christmas Party.

I am sure I will need to attend confession all over again afterwards, but hopefully the lines will be shorter since everyone already went tonight.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

I Have Become Someone I Used to Make Fun Of

If I'm being honest, this year's Advent looks a lot different than I thought it would. Honestly, I want to crawl under the covers until June at this point.

Mr. Oram has something nearly every night until Christmas - a rehearsal, a meeting, more rehearsal, etc. - which leaves the babe and I mostly on our own. So I give her dinner while I throw together something myself, I forget to light the Advent candles, by the time I get to sit down, she's done and wanting to be know the drill. I see him less and he can't help as much, and I'm only now realizing how much I depend on him to help me every day, how blessed I am to have my husband around so much to help me with the house.

My Christmas projects are all behind because I'm working. My work (youth ministry director, again) is behind because I'm tired, and my parish is still getting the hang of this "we're-a-team" concept. I'm feeling frustrated with the program - frustrated with myself, mostly. I step into these positions because they need doing and then I feel everyone expects me to be making magic with next-to-nothing in next-to-no time. I feel unseen and unheard, like an afterthought. That's extra hard when I feel like I'm sacrificing so much of my family's peace for this job.

The house is a mess, obviously. At least we have a tree (lovingly toted home by us and some friends, in a ....convertible. great story, really). Strewn about are half-unpacked boxes of decorations, and stockings that I can't decide whether to donate or keep. Add to this craft projects for CCD, holiday magazines, my previously unfinished Christmas projects, and oh yeah, Zuzu's suitcase from Thanksgiving (for real).

I feel a bit of a mess too. How is this Advent? How am I preparing? I'm not! I'm an overworked mess, and I feel like there's no way to get out. I always read about people doing this stuff and I usually think, "what an idiot! Why over commit? Commit to NOTHING." And yet, here I am - I don't feel like it's my fault, because these things really have to be done and it happens to be my husband's busy season - but it's so frustrating, nonetheless.

I try to comfort myself by thinking about the Blessed Virgin. This wasn't really a blessed season for her either, was it? 9 months pregnant, traveling on a donkey to who-knows-where, all because some idiot emperor decreed it and her husband was from somewhere else! That is certainly grounds for a tantrum right there. But she pressed on...and had the son of God, in a stable somewhere foreign, without her mother or any women at all around to help. Maybe she was so stressed and worried and frantic feeling - or maybe she had peace, because no matter the externals, here she was - holding her precious baby, the son of God.

I'm trying to grab some of that peace myself, before the season passes altogether and I'm left feeling dazed and unhappy that I wasted such precious time. If you have any tips, feel free to let me know.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

What's Worth Waiting For?

Tonight with the teens, we discussed chastity. The theme of the night was Gift - the gift of ourselves, to God or our spouse. And it tied in so perfectly, on this first Sunday of Advent, when so much of the world is thinking about gifts!

Encouraging my 5th grade CCD class this morning to hold off on celebrating Christmas, I felt a bit like Scrooge. I explained to them some traditions Mr. Oram and I do, and they were aghast. Where is the Christmas tree? Where are the cookies, the music, the lights? Where is the full nativity? How could I prevent Zuzu all the fun of a real old-fashioned secular Christmas season??

But these two themes - Advent prep and gifts - got me thinking about what is really worth waiting for. When we know something is going to be reeeally good if we wait, we're willing to wait. It's only events or matters of little consequence that we just want to 'get it over with.' We wait and plan our weddings, wait and plan big parties or date nights - we agonize over what to wear, the food, the guest list. We'd be insulted if someone said we should just wear our wedding dress around town before the wedding, because it's so pretty and fun - um, excuse me, this is for something SPECIAL, we'd say, and besides it's not really appropriate if it's not my actual wedding.

I am so glad it was my liturgically-correct husband that insisted we not listen to Christmas music. At first I grumbled, just like my 5th graders, but now - oh now. Now I'm excited. Christmas gets to be special again - instead of the apex of a near-frenzied season of shopping-wrapping-baking-rushing-exhaustion, I can prepare little by little, focusing on my heart, and then let all of that interior preparation burst forth into the Christmas season! Christ's birth is worth waiting for - it is worth it not to cheat the Incarnation out of it's significance.

This year, as Mr. Oram and I sat down and brain-stormed, I realized what a blessed way this is to celebrate the season. We can buy our tree in Advent, but will wait to decorate it until Christmas Even or even Christmas Day (although we may have lights on it beforehand...I do adore that twinkly light glow!). We will light our Advent wreath and say our prayers. I have decided to veil every Sunday (instead of sporadically, whenever I can find my veil) this Advent, and bought a new veil especially. We began and will finish consecrating ourselves to the Blessed Virgin, using a new way that is certainly easier on us as parents, although I'm not sure that I prefer it yet.

And then, when Christmas comes, I will do all the other things: I will bake, deck the halls with bows of holly, play Christmas music, put a baby Jesus on every thing in the world, and get the tree all gussied up. I'll be able to bask in the light of Christ's coming: we will be on a break from CCD and youth group, my family will come up, Mr. Oram's work load will momentarily slacken. We will celebrate Christmas - not a moment too soon.

To be honest, I need this time of preparation. I'm not ready yet for Christ; my heart has been wearied these past few months. I need time to ready my heart and soul for the Christ-child. I am grateful that the Church in her wisdom has preserved this season for me, that I can come to Christmas Mass rejoicing and rested, instead of frazzled and on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

I hope everyone's Advent is off to a roaring start. And if you need ideas, I very highly recommend checking out Catholic Icing's ebook Advent Christmas Planner. It is exactly what I need to figure out what to do with these four weeks, and I really hope she puts together an ebook for each liturgical season!

*None of these links are affiliate; just for fun. :)

What I Would Have Said

This past Friday was my dad's birthday (hooray!). We had a huge party at his shop, complete with a rocking band and tons of booze. Everybody worked really hard to pull it off, and I was so amazed with the result.

My sisters and I each gave tributes to our dad, in age order - which means I go last. Well, naturally, both of my sisters gave incredibly moving talks that had all of bawling. So by the time I got up to speak, my well-crafted speech flitted neatly out of my head and I mumbled a bunch of idiocies before I introduced the slideshow, and fell off the stage. Sorry, Dad.

If I had the presence of mind to write things down (like Ali) or keep it short (like Kim), it would've been better for everyone. But anyway, here's what I would have said - if I'd been able to.

Dad, you built a business out of nothing but a dream and hard work. You have used your talents to make the world more beautiful, and a man who values Beauty is rare - but a man who works to bring it to birth is even rarer. Thank you for teaching me that beauty is valuable, and that hard work didn't go out of style after the Depression.

Dad, you married mom despite not knowing how to be married. Your dad was often gone, and your mom died far too young. But you knew mom was the love of your life, and you dove in head first. You made your share of mistakes, but you refused to give up. In an age where divorce is more common than  lifelong marriage, please know how much it means to me that you and Mom are still married. Thank you for not leaving her - or us. The love that you have for mom inspired me to find a man who would love me the same way, and I wouldn't have known what to look for if you hadn't modeled that for me. Thank you for teaching me that marriage is worth suffering for, long after all the feelings you first had are gone.

Dad, you've always been a man of strong opinions. To this day, most ideas you vehemently disagree with will be loudly denounced as "horse s---." I never thought I would see the day when you would re-examine a long held idea. But you proved me wrong when you did your own research, and decided to become Catholic. I can't imagine how hard it is to change - to change when everyone who's known you thinks they have you all figured out, when it means changing yourself and your habits, when it means being subjected to ridicule for wanting to change. Thank you for teaching me that I should follow my convictions, even when it means I'll be going it alone.

Dad, I'm grateful every day for the man you have been for me. Thank you for my father, and for loving me so well. You have taught me how to live and I only hope I can do your lessons justice. Here's to my father - David Rogers.