I get a text every year from my dentist around the first of December. It always confuses me since I know I don’t have an appointment coming up in the near future. Instead, when I call them, they remind me to put in my mouthguard. My dentist knows that pre-Christmas is the time when I’m most likely to clench my jaw at night and possibly crack a tooth. He knows this because I show up in January saying that my face hurts. A pattern has been discovered.
This is how I kick off the holiday season: with a reminder to put in my mouthguard. Apparently, I am an anxious, old, unglamorous Scrooge of a woman.
This mouthguard device should be called a “mid-life marriage wrecker.” It makes me look and sound like a football player. My husband did not sign up to sleep with a football player. The very first night I wore I this ridiculous nighttime appliance, I was self-conscious and apologetic to Bryan. Not surprisingly, that very night, one of our twins vomited everywhere. We heard her crying and Bryan and I ran upstairs. I began yelling instructions: “Start the shower. I’ll get towels. Move her to the bathroom.” He couldn’t understand a word I was saying. I had to start pointing and gesturing dramatically like a psychotic charades enthusiast while I was pulling this slobbery plastic thing out of my mouth. Bryan was calmly explaining, “Anna, I have no idea what you are saying. I can’t understand you!” I’m sure he was thinking, “Good God, woman, what has happened to you?”
I wish that I were less anxious during this pre-Christmas time. It’s been years since I’ve worked in a church, so I can’t blame my job for the increased stress level around here. I’ve already paired down our family’s festivities to a bare minimum. We don’t host any big parties. The elf has been sent to Goodwill and will not be visiting our house again. (The last thing I need is a stalker-elf making messes in my house.) I do send out cards and make pies for a lot of people, but I think those things are fun.
My kids each get three gifts, modeled on the three gifts that the Magi brought to Jesus. I’ve stuck with this tradition, even though each Christmas Eve I panic because it looks so bare. Three gifts per child does not fill up a family room. Each year, I say to Bryan, “I need to go buy a bunch of plastic junk so it looks more festive in here.” Fortunately, it’s usually too late and the stores are closed. By the end of Christmas Day, after they open presents from grandparents and other family, my kids have received plenty. Let’s be honest here: my kids don’t “need” very much. This is why I budget a good amount to spend on families at my children’s schools that need help with Christmas. Just this week, shopping with a list for a teenager who needed undershirts, socks and a winter coat was the most meaningful part of my Christmas preparations thus far. My children’s classmates need coats. That should be our priority as a family, not the newest gadget.
Even with these intentional practices, getting ready for Christmas is still a lot of work. I remember teaching a workshop based on the book, “Unplugging the Christmas Machine” that was really helpful to me. One of the activities was to list everything that your family does for Christmas and then to figure out how much time those preparations took. Next, you were supposed to figure out where you would find that time. If it takes you twenty hours to get ready, where will you find those hours? Most parents steal them from sleep or from self-care, I suspect. Christmas is demanding. So, I find solace in the liturgy and the rituals of my church’s traditions.
This was why I was excited about making an Advent wreath after worship on Sunday. There was a lunch after worship and then families started gathering the supplies to make Advent wreaths. I should have paid more attention to the fact that most of my friends with young children left. I’m sure they had places to be, but I think most of them also recognized the perils of doing a family craft project in public. I was, of course, talking to too many people and missed lunch. So, I was scraping the bottom of a mac and cheese pan while my four beautiful children started on our family wreath. Bryan went over to try to get a sweet picture of our kids doing something together. Instead, this is the shot he captured. My four kids had just looked over at their neighbor’s wreath, which was clearly superior to our wreath. Elizabeth looks terrified. Katie looks shocked and appalled. These are not the faces of people waiting joyfully for Christ’s birth. These faces look miserable.
All I know is that my lovely children were calling each other “bossy” and worse by the time I got back to the table. There was hissing amongst siblings. Other families looked beatific in comparison to our family. It was embarrassing.
It wasn’t until I did some investigating once we got back in the car that I discovered what had happened. Apparently, Caroline declared at the start of the wreath making that our wreath had to be the best wreath ever. EVER. Since most people seemed to be making their wreaths with their college aged kids, we were doomed from the start. If it had been a competition, which it wasn’t, we would not have placed. It wasn’t a competition. No one else was competing. There would be no prize. And yet, the McArthur children were hell-bent on winning Advent wreath making. Looking at our neighbor’s wreath sent my kids into a downward spiral.
This is what too much looking around will do to you. This is true for Advent wreaths, house decorating, cookie swaps, teacher gifts, Santa lists, Elf-on-the-Shelf traditions, family gatherings, and general Christmas enjoyment. I know from personal experience that looking around will make you wonder what you are doing wrong and why your family sucks. This helps no one. We should give ourselves more grace. Trust me on this: whatever you pull off for Christmas this year will be enough. It will be good. It will be fine.
Our Advent wreath was fine. It wasn’t the best. It wasn’t perfect. It was good.
Good should be enough.
Sometimes, when I’m having trouble falling asleep, usually because I’m worried about one of our kids or my list of things I didn’t accomplish is scrolling behind my eyeballs, I ask my husband to tell me something good. He’ll list that our kids are healthy and that we have each other. He’ll remind me of upcoming things that I’m looking forward to or tell me about things that have recently gone well.
He always ends by saying, “It’s all good, baby.” He doesn’t say that it is all perfect or that it is all award-winning. Instead, Bryan reminds me that it is “all good.”
It is all good. I’m deeply grateful that it is. “All good” is more than enough.