This year, things are a little different.
For many years, since the advent of the epic Advent unit, about 15 years or so ago, Advent has been pretty much the same--lots of traditions, done year after year. We have added a few new ones, winnowed some ones that don't work, but mostly, things have stayed the same. This year, life has called for shaking things up a bit.
Last year, during Advent, I did the usual thing: I baked and I made candy and every feast, it seemed, had some sort of food attached. This is (was?) for me, as old as life itself. I come from a long line of Italian cooks who will tell you that food is a love language. I love to cook and bake; I'm good at improv and creativity in the kitchen.
But last year, words from another place came ringing into my head. I remembered an old friend telling me how hard it was for her to even plan meals for her family because she saw food as an enemy. It wasn't her imagination: food--certain (many) types of food--was making her sick. I remembered those words, because Advent made me sick last year.
Sugar, dairy, wheat--they make me sick and even though I try to deny it and I try to offer those long-loved food experiences for my children, I have to admit, they're really better off with fewer cookies and candy and pasta and cannolis if that means a healthy mom by Christmas Eve. I can't have even a little bit and lots of little bits over the course of a month are downright dangerous.So, this year things are a little different. The old familiar box of books has come up from the basement just as it always does. I think about the things we've done with these books and resolve that we're going to put most of the food-related ones aside this year. Instead, we'll just love the stories. Creating with food isn't happening here.
This year, my older children are needing my attention in ways I didn't anticipate. I am torn between creating a brand new set of poinsettia fairies with my littllest girls, because I want them to have everything the others had, and acknowledging that what I really want and need is to create anew.
This year, I have come to face to face with the fact that the best Christmas gift I ever received is feeling acutely the pangs of being the youngest boy, as his brothers move up and away, and everything that was dear and familiar seems to be threatened. I see in that still-round face that moments of little boy in this home are very few indeed. I see that he misses his dad, who is traveling both for work and with the big boy. I see that he needs me to figure a way to make these moments, right now in this crushingly busy season, matter for him.
I don't even want to bake this year, so tired am I of fighting with food. I'm not very inspired with old, familiar crafts. But I am compelled to create with my hands. And I am seeking peace and order in a world that seems suddenly chaotic to me. So is Nicholas.
I promised Nicholas in September that we would take a quilting class together. I knew that it was an act of craziness for me to assent to making two quilts--our first two ever--during November and December. But when Deborah made me an offer I couldn't refuse, I told Nick he'd have a handmade quilt, sewn by him, by the first day of winter, which just happens to be his birthday. I planned for him to make a simple patchwork quilt and for me to make the sampler quilt for the class. From the first moment of the first word of the first page of her book, Deborah has almost magically inspired self-confidence in me. Crazy as it was, I made that promise to my boy. My last little boy.
I tried to tell myself that there would be mellow, firelit afternoons of sewing with my children while someone read picture books nearby. Truth be told, there has been some of that. There have also been hours of Sarah and Karoline taking full advantage of the nativity sets in the room that became The Quilt Room to reenact The Nativity for us again and again and again. There has been a full teaching of a "Twelve Days of Christmas" dance (cousins beware; it's coming your way on Christmas Day). There have been lots of chatter and not a few math and design lessons as we watched tutorials and learned together.
In the interest of full disclosure, there have been a broken seam ripper and far too many coins added to the cuss jar (by me). There has been a perpetual mess while I neglected routine household things and instead cut fabric and thread into tiny bits to be scattered throughout the house. Several times, I'd cut or sew and Mary Beth would sit there with me, taking dictation while I made lists of all the other things I have to do. And quite a bit of online shopping has been accomplished while I wait for the iron to heat.There have been a few tears. And once, I literally reached up and pulled my hair out. We've worked through this process together. I kept my promise. Because promises are important.
My quilt is nearly pieced--all it needs is a border. The fabric arrived yesterday. I've learned enough in that process to dedicate another post to my quilt. Maybe I'll write about it after Christmas. Maybe I'll finish it after Christmas. It's the children's quilt I'm thinking of today.
The children's quilt is finished. And I'm very glad I put theirs first. It was a happy scene to see them all kneeling on that quilt, pin-basting it together. It was amazing to see even Karoline take a turn quilting it, and to see Nicholas allow his sisters a part in the making of his quilt. It was very good to do this project together, even though I was beginning to feel like it was consuming our days and keeping us from the peaceful pursuit of calm. In the end, that quilt has stitched us a together a little bit.
There are some big things happening in our house this month, things that change lives and things that cause happy stress, but stress nonetheless. I have been drawn out of this house way more than I've liked--to three-times-a-week therapy sessions for my elbows, to office parties, to college visits, to all sorts of big kid tasks. And I've missed my little ones, worried about my baby (who isn't a baby at all) and fretted over the little boy who seems to have been left behind as his heroes conquer the world. We haven't been baking and we haven't made candy and really, it hasn't been feeling quite like Advent for me. When I'm home, I'm sewing and I'm sewing in their midst and often with them. But I've been gone. A lot.
Yesterday, I was on my way home from doctor and grocery store, dropping kids off before leaving again. I was talking with Colleen in the van, sitting in my driveway. I cannot talk on the phone in the house because I can't hold the phone. My elbows won't allow me that motion. The new van has a hands-free option, so the only time I talk on the phone is when I'm in the van without children. Not very often;-). Mary Beth came running out to the van and told me to come inside right away. She was insistent.
Sarah had spent the morning cranky and miserable, up way too late the previous night because I'd been with Mike at an office party. Everyone paid for her fatigue the next day. Nicholas, trying to comfort her, had gathered Katie and Sarah and a book under his quilt. He read and read and read. And then, Sarah fell asleep, wrapped in the quilt. That was what Mary Beth wanted me to see: Sarah asleep on a handmade quilt while Nicky read The Christmas Miracle of Jonathon Toomey. I don't have a picture of her asleep. Mary Beth thought to take one earlier, but at the book's end, she and I just stood and watched them until the story sighed happily ever after. These sweet little girls at the end of the line; I worry sometimes that they are not getting the energy and enthusiasm and undivided attention that a young mom would bring. But there they were, with one of the most beloved of our family books, listening to my littlest boy--their big brother--read a version my eldest received for his First Communion, an Advent 17 years ago...
...all snuggled beneath our newest Advent tradition--a quilt they made together.