Advent is the road to Christmas. It is my favourite time of year. I love Christmas, but I crave Advent.
I am a woman with many opinions and a well exercised mouth. Or at least I can be. Many times my thoughts come out with a force stronger than I would have wished had I taken a day to think about it. (That counting to ten thing doesn’t work for me and mine. Ten seconds is only enough time for us to rev the engines a little hotter.) The best defense is a good offense came built into my operating instructions. My bold words mask fear and protect against rejection.
Then Advent comes and it all finally looks like what it really is. Utter nonsense. Babies don’t get bravado, they just want you to be with them. Provided I don’t get caught up in lists, the relief I feel walking the path to Christmas is palpable. Very little is required of me beyond what would naturally pour out of me were someone to hand me a baby I long for. My broken tear ducts work for this little one. I can cry just thinking about welcoming the baby in the manger. I want to be ready.
Babies know things without words, and they drink, and poop, and sleep it off. I don’t want my sarcastic, caustic self for a baby. I want soft and warm. A voice that is used to saying kind things. Arms that are accustomed to embracing generously. If I allow it, Advent gives me a break from me.
I don’t float around gently dispensing peace and love in my kitchen or on the street. I try to be a little kinder and I then I fall flat on my face because it is barely December and I already cannot handle the fifty two memos from school about canned food, shoeboxes for seniors, parties, concerts, celebrations and never ending details. I snap at the innocents, feel like a failure and snap some more. I want to go on strike, say choice words, and kick over a few snowmen. Then I remember that it is just about the baby and I go quiet again.
I scrounge around in my heart. Pace back and forth. Sigh. There’s no use telling a baby that I couldn’t think of what to give him, just come back next year. He doesn’t want my stuff, he just wants me and you. Good news that is terrifying.
It’s like the bathroom needs cleaning and the laundry isn’t done, but company I really care about is at the door. I pull shut the laundry room door, and yell for them to let themselves in. I grab a clean hand towel, some disinfectant and a rag for as good as I can get it in 90 seconds.
I’m coming, I yell from the bathroom.
Me too, says the baby.
When I was a teacher, I would tell my students that it was important to dream. That really no one, including you, knows who you might become. At the same time, I would tell them, we are only human. We have limits. There is something called reality. If you are two feet tall, you are not going to star in the NBA. Accepting your limits is ok. It doesn’t mean you stop dreaming.
I have a child who wants to become a saint. Let’s just say, it’s a long shot.
It hurts to watch her struggles. Her dream is painful to me. Part of me wants to tell her to give it up until she can at least listen to her mother, but something tells me to keep my mouth shut. There are worse things to dream about.
I want some comfort. I want cold hard facts. Tell me that Mother Teresa once had a thing for stealing chocolate milks, and I’m there. Mostly. Maybe add in that Mother Teresa lied like a cheap rug. Was a master storyteller, practicing her art at a tender age, before she taught us how to live.
If sainthood requires compliance, this mother superior sees trouble ahead. Things like, do not go into my room without permission, are routinely ignored despite consequences. Nail polish, scissors, or a button are deemed worth suffering for. I went through the boots last week and found something to fit everybody. Young saint deemed her grey boots unsuitable. She hides sneakers in her bag because they are boy boots and she would rather have her toes frozen than inside them.
Give it up, child! I want to scream. It is hopeless even without your dream.
She frustrates me , confounds me. Her dream to be a saint is beautiful, but it hurts to think about. Her teachers couldn’t possibly do anything but laugh at the idea.
This summer at the bus shelter, I discovered chaos. My recycling had been raided. Plastic bottles filled with this and that were on the floor. The benches were covered with piles of papers, disheveled, some also on the floor. I clenched my teeth, sick of the messes and picked up a few of the pictures. They had little money signs taped on them. 25 cents. 1$. A sign said, “Art sale.” Beside it was a labelled jar. “Money for the poor,” it said.
Sitting in a parking lot yesterday, I realized that I was being asked to give more than clear re-direction, and considered consequences. Against the odds, in the face of everything that laughs, I need to believe in her dream.
I didn’t arrive home to angels dancing. I arrived home to stories that didn’t add up. Today I will drive her to school and stand with her while she makes amends. Others may rightly shake their heads in frustration. I am sad at her choices, but I will hold her hand today and believe that this little girl will someday be a saint.
(Fasting from all things masculine as prayer for the sick? Stolen art for the needy? anybody? anybody?)
No, really, I’m going to believe it. We both need me to.
When my daughter told me to write about Ivan, my son added without looking up, “Write about Remembrance Day.”
Remembrance Day brings out my split personality. It’s the day I came to Canada. It’s boy two’s birthday. Maybe if I lived in the States and called it Veterans Day I would always remember that it isn’t about me. Coming to Canada was a big deal for my then twenty year old self. I remember it like an Israelite remembers leaving Egypt. Scary at first like you wouldn’t believe in the desert. Wanting to go back. Then wandering in circles for a few years while the promised land waited patiently for lights to dawn on marble head.
Mid gratitude reflecting on what the day has meant for me, I inevitably pass a veteran and am filled with shame. NOTE TO SELF: This day is about THEM! My brain believes in gratitude and remembrance but knowing what to do about that seems hard, so I let it get lost in the details. Besides, it’s boy two’s birthday. There’s celebrating to be done.
Boy two does not mind sharing his birthday. He thinks it’s special to be born on Remembrance Day, the same way he thinks it’s special to be short and bow legged. (He claims this puts his legs at a better angle for tree climbing.) He was not impressed that I did not take him out of school to go to a Remembrance Day service.
Writing a letter two days after the day doesn’t fix it. Mine is an imperfect attempt to do what I tell my kids: you can’t undo the wrong thing, but you try to make it right.
I am not wearing a poppy because they always fall off and poke me. Seeing you overwhelms me with the size of what you did. I have read many more books on events during WWII than I am years old. For some reason I just listened to six hours of an American History Channel WWII series while driving. I don’t see an old man, or whatever age you are, when I walk by you, I see some mother’s son risking his life for other people. I imagine shaking your hand, looking you in the eye, saying thank you. Instead, I fumble in my purse for change and send the kids to buy a poppy sticker for themselves. I nod at you. Say something inane to the kids about staying with me in the parking lot and move on.
I don’t like the way I do it either. I have no idea how to properly say thank you for the United States that I grew up in or for the Canada where I found home. I promise to let the kids skip school next year to stand in front of the flag with you even if it is cold and raining. Everything I get to remember on November 11, says thanks to you.
Sincere admiration and thanks,
From a woman who ought to have said something sooner