“Oh, the noise! Oh, the noise! Noise! Noise! Noise! That’s one thing he hated! The NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!”
From Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch Who Stole Christmas
Mr. Grinch, you and me both.
This may very well be the most wonderful time of the year, but it’s also the nosiest. All is not calm, as much as I had hoped it would be. All is most definitely not quiet. There’s so much busyness even though I’m militant about keeping organized and say no to multiple holiday events. Nor do I have unrealistic expectations. My house does not look like a Winter Wonderland. My family is not usually very Norman Rockwell-ish. Don’t let the photos fool you: Thanks to the magic of digital cameras, parents everywhere are able to catch the nanosecond moment when their children are cherubic pictures of perfection cloaked in hand-pressed red velvet.
Despite my efforts, I sometimes have trouble finding peace during Advent. In some ways, since my entry into motherhood, Lent is an easier liturgical season for me. There’s something comforting about its starkness. There are temptations to be sure during the 40 days of Lent, but there aren’t nearly as many distractions.
The weeks leading up to Christmas, on the other hand, are noisy, flashy.
I’m not a Scrooge. Really. I love my children’s effusion of joy, the magic of the season, and the sparkling lights. In fact, ever since we were newlyweds my husband and I enjoy scouting out the local neighborhoods to find and admire the house with the most over-the-top decorations.
There’s nothing wrong with the festooning. All the Christmas extravagance is a good reminder that when Jesus was born, angels sang, trumpets blared. Sometimes I just wish my kids wouldn’t take the words “repeat the sounding joy” so literally.
I savor the joy, but there are times when I’d like to turn down the clamorous Christmas soundtrack my children provide – just a little anyway. Maybe I’m being more of a grump this year because I’m more tired. Or maybe it’s because my house is louder this year with two very excited little ones and a babbling baby. Then again, perhaps we’ve just baked too many cookies. Enough sugar already! (Please postal worker, Salvation Army bell ringer, grocery store clerk, and every other stranger we encounter while running holiday errands, do not offer my children another piece of candy.)
Everywhere I turn there are children smacking lips while licking fingers sticky with frosting. There are children ringing bells and children singing and giggling and squabbling, too. There are theatrical meltdowns. There are so many questions: “How many more days until Christmas?” “Can I have one more cookie? Please? PLEASE!” “When are we going to Nana and Pop’s” “When are we going to see Gaba and Papa?” “Why can’t we go today?” “Why?” “Why?” and “Why?” again.
Sometimes I welcome the queries and the tender requests. It’s easy to pause for a child who wants to curl onto your lap for another story. It’s not so easy to silence the din of whining or screaming over who gets to open the window of the Advent calendar for that day.
As a matter of survival, I look for small pockets of quiet to fold myself into every day. I creep away when I think my girls are engrossed with their playthings, but their Momdar is sensitive, their Mom Positioning System units are very accurate. And it’s not long before they find me.
So I make a goal to wake up early. But often they wake up earlier.
The next morning comes. I nurse the baby and savor the darkness and the stillness of my cathedraled calm. I’m tired, but I decide to wake up once the baby falls limp against me while the rest of the world is asleep. I’m tired, but I know waking up before the sky is filled with the pink glow of dawn will fill me more than an hour or two of fragmented sleep will. I sneak downstairs. Only minutes later, they arise, too, and it isn’t a pitter patter of soft feet that find me, but thunderous stomps down the stairs.
I greet them, the little, chirping, morning larks, and serve them breakfast. Then I hand them a rainbow of crayons and a stack of coloring books, and I plan my escape.
While their hands are occupied, I steal away to my secret hiding place: The bathroom. I cannot count the number of times I have locked the door and sat on the toilet lid to pray or to write or to read books with titles like When Your Child Drives You Crazy (this is actually a really good book my dear mom-in-law gave to me) all under the guise of going potty (and I do go to the bathroom first, but then I just linger a little bit longer).
On this day, when I leave my cloistered peace after a 5-year-old pounds on the door and says, “Mommy, are you finished yet? Baby Rae did something bad,” I find the (toddler’s) writing (scribbling) is on the wall.
It won’t come off. She already tried to color over the black slashes with a white crayon (pretty clever, I must say). She’s contrite. “I sowry,” she says. Then, “It won’t happen again.”
My child is forgiven and whatever I had been doing in the bathroom forgotten. I’m back in the trenches, and my children are asking if they can make another Christmas card for their grandparents.
Later when it’s our daily quiet time and my toddler is crying because she can’t find her lovey and my 5-year-old asks me if I’m going to the bathroom again (I think she’s on to me) I’m reminded that just as the apostles would run to find Jesus when He sought solitude, my children will find me. They will wake me, as the apostles awoke Jesus, when a storm begins to brew.
As I recently mentioned, I’ll keep trying to search for the quiet, especially during Advent when we’re supposed to see past the holiday hoopla, the mass commercialism, the singsongy, overly synchronized Simply-Having-A-Wonderful-Christmastime-kind-of-vapid-lyrics (Paul McCartney, why, oh, why?), the chronic case of the gimmes that begin to plague children before the Thanksgiving leftovers are consumed, and find Christ, hidden and quiet, lying in a dusty manger and tucked away in the dusty corners of my heart.
Christ is calm. He is quiet. But I have to find Him in all the commotion. The angel’s proclamation, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace” wasn’t referring to peace among men – or peace in your household and with your children – but peace with God.
Silence is golden – perhaps because it is so scarce when you’re a mom. But God is in not short supply. He is everywhere, and He is sufficient. His peace is with me, and I don’t have to escape to the bathroom to find it.
*Speaking of quiet, things are going to be quiet around here for the next week or so as I celebrate Christmas with my family. Peace be with you – if not in your homes than in your hearts. Merry Christmas!