sled

I had this dream of Christmas looking like sparkling white lights with the smell of cinnamon and taste of hot chocolate, warm meals appearing night after night on our candlelit (clean) table while Little Boy shoveled spoonfuls of food into his mouth, the flickering light reflected in his eyes. Our first Swedish Christmas held the promise of elegant perfection.

But oh I am so exhausted. 

Night after night, my chubby Baby pushed me to my physical limit, and day after day my Little Boy pushed me to my emotional limit. When the dinner hour rolls around, I have the energy to grab chicken nuggets out of the freezer, and thank God for the frozen section at Lidl (and the husband who bought it for me).

Yes, we’ve lit the candles. It is magical every night, but I mostly enjoy the way it hypnotises both boys completely into silence, and I eat up those minutes of quiet because the whining and crying and tantruming will be around the corner.

My desire for supernatural, sacred moments in this time of Advent have not come beautifully wrapped with the lesson letterpressed into the gift tag. Parenting desperation drives me to the stable this year.

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It snowed last weekend, and it held all the promise of Christmas magic. Little Boy’s first snow day in Sweden, we finally get to use our wind/water/snow/life-proof snow suits and boots. He opens his advent calendar envelope for the day – Snowman Day – we are all excited.

The snow stayed on the ground, and on Tuesday we went out to the water – at his request – with the sled. I knew it was a risk, it was too close to lunch and nap time, I knew we would have some problems walking there and back with me pushing the stroller and him pulling the (light and plastic) sled. But this is the moment when I tell myself, Come on Mom, it’s Christmas, it’s time to be spontaneous, there’s snow, he loves this, he wants to do this, he will surprise you with his resilience. 

So we get out there in our impenetrable gear, and half way down the street, I can feel the drizzle beginning, and it turns out I left the one other thing we would need: the stroller’s rain cover. So all of us are weather-proof except for Baby.

Two-year-olds don’t cope well with changes of plans, I’m discovering, especially when it means losing a trip to the water, one of his favourite activities. I try to pre-empt the disappointment as best I can.

Can you feel the water on your face? It’s raining, kiddo, Daniel will get wet. 

My sweetie, we aren’t going to be out as long as we thought. 

Let’s leave the sled here and walk to the water without it because we have to come back quickly. 

Okay, we’ll say ‘Hello ducks’ and ‘Hello water’ and then say bye bye. 

None of this is working, he can’t be prepared, he doesn’t want to leave. We only just arrived.

There are times when obedience is required and necessary, other times when I know I need to be gentle with his tender heart and the aching emotion of disappointment. I wish I could say that I choose these patient and quiet qualities in these moments, but I do not.

The tantrum begins, and I have to carry him and a sled and push a stroller, eventually he starts a bit of walking, only to cry again, and the truth is I am fast losing “it” – whatever ability I have to be compassionate. When we are finally almost at our house, standing on the pavement across the street and the raindrops are falling a bit faster, I give up. I can’t drag/carry/push them both anymore, and I don’t see a way home without leaving one momentarily on the sidewalk.

Little Boy sits on the ice-laden pavement crying, red-faced with tears dripping down, and I leave him there to push Baby into our yard. It’s less than a minute, and we can see each other the whole time, but his face is tragic. I turn around and run back to him, pick him up, and I try to fight my anger and frustration with him, with myself, with the situation.

No talk about obedience right now, please Mom, let gentleness reach out to him, allow kindness to meet his needs, and beat down on your need to lash out in a lecture. We enter the house, and I start to get lunch ready still battling my own emotions. Because what I really want to do is give him the silent treatment, to let my frustration speak in a turned back and ignoring form.

You deserve your unhappiness because you did not walk home and comply. 

Yes, I want him to suffer a little bit.

Maybe next time you’ll listen and do as I say. 

Because I’m suffering, too.

How could you leave your child on the sidewalk like that? He will have rejection issues for the rest of his life because of this moment. 

These are the worst moments, for me, when I feel like I’m fighting everything, but in a moment a wave of compassion breaks through, and I see him – a little human, frustrated by a change he didn’t see coming, being told he was going to have something and then that thing was taken away. I see myself, the strength it requires physically and emotionally to take care of kids I love, the disappointment of not being able to give him a normal, fun experience because of a forgotten rain cover, and the truth – everything will work out in the end.

I sit down on a kitchen stool, pull him into my arms, he is yearning to be held.

You wanted to go to the water. We had to change plans because of the rain. We can’t let Daniel get wet, kiddo. I’m sorry you were disappointed. You will not always get what you want. 

We hug and we hug and we hug, and the truth is washing over me. I have to overcome my petty emotions – I am the parent, he needs me to reach out to him.

This is what love is – it means being the first to move, it means making the effort when I don’t feel like it, it means embracing my son when I have walked away, it is offering myself when he has rejected my efforts. This is what has exhausted me all advent long because my children have needed my presence day after long day and night after long night, they have needed me and drained me, and I’ve given (and withheld), and oh I am so exhausted.

And it’s in this mess of hugging when I don’t feel like it, nursing when I want to sleep and reaching out when I want to be still that my advent miracle arrives.

Every moment I give the boys my presence in their daily lives, I do it in the shadow of the stable where God chose to lay aside his rights and his home to embrace our broken selves in all our tantrums, disobedience and sin.  Every moment I spend myself for my small ones, I do it in the shadow of the cross where God spent himself for me, for the world. 

Jesus chose a dirty stable, a humble carpenter’s life, the sting of the whip, the pain of the nail. He reached out to me, my name written forever on his hands, and he pulled me close.

This is my Advent story.

I’m linking up today with Jennifer Dukes Lee and the #TellHisStory community of writers.

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