I’m so thankful for Christmas-day magic this year. That’s not to say that I’m not thankful for it every year – I’m a serious lover of Christmas. But our Christmas Eve ended on kind of a rotten note, and I was genuinely worried that it might sour the entire holiday for me and everyone else.
For the most part the 24th was OK: we didn’t take on too much, the kids got baths, we went to a Christmas Eve church service, we walked through Bronson Park to take in the lights (for roughly 90 seconds before it was way too cold and we headed for the car) and this was probably where the trouble began: we offered them hot cocoa after dinner. Then dinner happened and everyone refused to eat veggie lasagne so the promise of cocoa was rescinded. Cue a total meltdown from Jonah, complete with throwing things at me, screaming at the top of his lungs, the works. The night ended in me taking two of his wrapped gifts from under the tree and walking them outside to the “trash” while he wailed in disbelief that doing such a thing was even possible. Lately their sense of entitlement has really been pushing my buttons, but I know that I took this way too far on Christmas eve. (Side note, this has been one of my favorite Christmas songs for years despite its dark weirdness, but I swear that isn’t where my mind was going when I threatened to throw his gifts away).
I called my mom and she reminded me that we have great kids who have pretty good manners most of the time, and she told me that she thought it would be fine for me to change my mind and give the gifts back to him in the morning following a serious “talk” about his behavior. I’m so thankful for my mom’s level head and reassurance, because when the kids went to bed (before I called her) I’d honestly lost all enthusiasm for creating Christmas magic. And I love creating Christmas magic, I really do, and it’s only once a year so I was crushed at the prospect of having ruined the night.
Fast forward to Christmas morning and I was feeling much better. Jonah woke up in the 5:00 hour and came in to tell us that he’d gotten up so early because he wanted to see if Santa had eaten the cookies they’d left. Kristin gave him the green light to go check, and he looked around in wonder before running in to wake up Jude and Vivi.
We always do stockings first, and I do my best to drag out the events of the day so that it isn’t just a whirlwind of torn paper and greed. At some point when things had reached a lull (but still well before dawn) I sat Jonah down and explained that I’d given it some thought and that my decision had been a poor one, that the presents weren’t ruined and that he could have them after all, but that he needed to understand that his behavior the previous night would never be acceptable. We talked about the fact that sometimes the answer will be no, and you won’t like it, but you have to cope with it. I don’t know how much of this he was truly listening to and maybe it was just the Christmas magic, but he was incredibly well behaved and grateful for the next two days without exception.
One of the things that most impressed me was their ability to open a gift and run off to play with it, forgetting that there were more gifts under the tree yet to be opened. Vivi was a bit more insistent on moving to the next one, but the boys were happy to spend a significant amount of time with each item before moving on.
They all shared toys incredibly well and played together all day long. Jonah’s favorite gift came from my parents: a bow and arrow set with big padded tips.
Jude’s favorite was the garbage truck he asked for.
And Vivi’s was probably a set of fairy wings, which she wore all day.
The funniest part about the wings is that the Christmas eve church service had costumes available for kids who wanted to wear them. Naturally Vivi spotted girls in angel costumes and wanted to know where they’d gotten them, so I grabbed a pair of wings for her. Soon after both boys wanted wings too, so all three wore them throughout the service. When she saw hers on Christmas, she asked us to be sure to bring them the next time we go to church, because she now believes that you wear wings when you go to church (obviously).
The collective gift that I was most excited about was a sleeping bag for each kid and a play campfire set. We set them up in the great room and I’d almost forgotten about them until Vivi discovered them some time after opening stockings.
The kids hung out in their sleeping bags roasting marshmallows and pretending to eat the felt s’mores I made for them for a significant chunk of the morning.
Breakfast is the only meal that matters for us on Christmas, but because it’s more of a production than your average morning the kids are ravenous well before it’s ready. We let them each have a sugar cookie to tide them over, which was well received.
After peaches and cream french toast we opened all of the family gifts with the sun finally up. With each gift there seemed to be such joy and such gratitude from the kids; I heard the words, “I always wanted that!” many times that day.
When all was said and done we bundled up to shovel the driveway while the kids played in the snow. Oddly I was happy to do it. There was something magical about working together and being out there in all of that snow, the sun making it all shimmer from time to time, when just a day or two earlier everything had been green and we hadn’t been at all certain that we would have a white Christmas.
The previous evening we’d talked about doing sparklers (we had some left over from the 4th of July), and Jonah was excited about it, but in all of the chaos and anger we all forgot about it until the kids were asleep and it was too late. I felt badly, as it sounded like such a magical thing to do. I remembered on Christmas though, and asked the kids if they were interested, so they bundled up enthusiastically and we headed out to the driveway.
Jonah and Vivi were really into it, but Jude was a little nervous.
Eventually though he did hold a sparkler and seemed proud of his accomplishment.
At the very end, as Vivi held one of the ones that cycles through different phases (which Jude never wanted to come near) he walked over, put his arm around her shoulder and said, “Wow Vivienne. You’re so brave, just like Moana.” It made me melt to see how proud he was of his sister. The way that they enjoy one another’s company lately is one of my favorite things.
It was a good day, and they continued to show me what kind, polite, grateful humans they can be on the following day as well. Maybe I just needed the universe to remind me that none of us are perfect and that I’m going to make horrible parenting mistakes just like they’re going to make ordinary kid mistakes and that yes, it’s OK for us both to have high expectations for one another, but that we also need to offer a whole lot of grace and try to focus a little more on the beauty and the goodness that’s there too. Christmas is about forgiveness, after all.