Just a few years ago I was a young mom with five little boys under 10. They were lively, loud, competitive, loving, and fun. My life was a mixture of noise and laughter and conflict and exhaustion. The holiday season became a time of emotional overload that was stressful, tiring, sad, and wonderful all at the same time. I looked forward to a break in the school routine, but before that could happen I (as a high school teacher) had to turn in the semester grades, attend basketball tournaments, shop for groceries, plan meals, and prepare for Christmas.
One day it won’t be like this…will I miss it?
The season break also coincided with at least two hunting seasons, and this activity offered much camaraderie for my guys and their friends. By the end of a typical day, our house was a mélange of mud-caked hunting boots at the front door, footballs scattered on the lawn, strewn towels from half-washed hands, runny noses, occasional wet beds, and spontaneous hugs and kisses. It was usually punctuated with at least one major meltdown (mine) and ended with me collapsed on the couch in the midst of clutter at the end of the day.
I always berated myself for not being more organized, for not shopping and planning ahead of time, for not considering the many people we knew who weren’t as blessed as we were and doing more to reach out to them. As hard as I tried to keep the spirit of the holiday season foremost in my mind, I felt like a colossal failure. I distinctly remember one Christmas Eve when one of our sons said to me as we were en route to his grandmother’s house, “Mom, you bust your can and you still don’t get everything done, do you?”
Will they always remember me as the grumpy, frazzled mother, “bustin’ her can” to get everything done?
Our sons all played together and enjoyed relationships the way brothers do, and we were as happy as any family I knew, but I always felt there was something I could do to make us more appreciative of each other and grateful for our blessings. I wondered how things would be when the boys were grown. Would there be any family values or special holiday traditions they carried forward when they had their own children?
Fast forward 49 years…
Our family has grown from a tribe of seven to twenty-two (and counting). When our three-generation clan comes together, some habits return. The brothers step back into their growing-up roles, only they handle them in a more gentlemanly fashion. Always looking for clues of my own failures as a mom and analyzing lessons learned from years of parenting them, I watch for any signs of unresolved conflict and indications of unhealed emotional bruises. I’m also on guard that new ones don’t occur—at least not on my watch. I want harmony, cooperation, and I want everyone’s emotional tank to be full when we separate.
So what could we do that would make a difference?
This year, I conferred with our daughters-in-law (DILs) and came up with a plan: We’d do a service project as a family. We’d get the focus off ourselves and serve someone outside our family. The challenge was to think of something in which everyone could participate. We have eleven adults and eleven children (12 and younger), so our options were limited. We landed on the idea of making fleece blankets, the ones that are tied around the edges, and require no sewing. The stipulation was that everybody had to make one apiece in the same room together. The DILs did the prep work—buying the fabric and cutting strips around the edges, so when we got everyone together all we had to do was to tie two strips together around the blanket’s sides. Easy peesy.
Our family members didn’t hesitate. It seemed as if everyone was waiting for this kind of unity to take place. When I looked around our gathering room and saw the parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and children laughing, teasing each other, relatives helping little ones tie knots, and cooperating as a family should, I saw a beautiful picture of love, belonging and peace.
My heart was full, overflowing!
The next day, our DILs and girls went to a local recovery home for women and gave the residents the blankets—all twenty-two of them. The women couldn’t have been more appreciative and receptive. We lingered for quite a while interacting with them and being blessed.
This year, everything wasn’t perfect.
We didn’t have the perfect holiday menu: we didn’t have turkey and dressing and we ate our family meal on Wednesday, not Thursday.
We didn’t have perfect order and calmness: we ended up with a broken lamp from playing basketball in the living room (the grownup sons, not the kids), several “spills” of various liquids, lost items, tired bodies, and one stomach bug.
But when the last goodbyes and I love yous and bless you with safe travels were said, my heart was at peace. Those difficult years of striving and serving and failing at times have morphed into a season of holiday reward.
A note about the author:
Careen Strange is the