Friday, November 30, 2012

Waiting in Advent

It’s been a season of holding on, letting go, growing spiritually, and seeking to know my true self over my false self. It’s been a handful. My heart is full as I enter the advent season with my girls. The Christmas tree is decorated, the manger placed and filled with animals.

Yesterday our advent activity was to make “I Care About You” bags to keep in the car. We started this tradition last year when Twila started wondering about the people who stand on the road holding signs; the people who, sometimes we stop to greet and hand money to, and sometimes just drive past.

We filled Ziploc bags with personal care items, snacks, water and hand warmers and handed them out anytime we saw a person in need. Twila and Jada got very good at pointing out people they suspected were homeless. Often near the U of M campus the identified people were not actually homeless, just students with unkempt hair and torn clothes.  Twila took particular pride in handing the bags to folks I agreed were indeed homeless and saying reverently, “This is for you.”

The rest of the activities this year vary from the simple (making popcorn and listening to Christmas Music by the fire) to the extravagant (going downtown to watch the Holidazzle Parade). Some activities include gifts; some are making or buying gifts for others. 

While the work of readying these activities made the fall months anything but relaxing, now that they are ready and all supplies are laying in wait to be used or revealed, I can rest in my preparation, relax and enjoy the season.

But lest I take it too easy on myself, I decided to hand make the girls’ Christmas gifts this year. The process has been fun, since I started in August, but is anything but complete and most nights I have to pull out a work in progress after the girls go to bed instead of just sitting on the couch inertly and sipping wine (my usual preference).

I asked one of our teachers at Waldorf how her family handles Christmas and she said plainly that they give each child one gift. 

I nodded and smiled. You’ve got to be kidding me. The idea is of course lovely and pure and would simplify Christmas gift giving immensely. But I fear that if we went from last year (a dozen shiny packages under the tree) to suddenly giving each child one hand-made gift, it might feel like a punishment. Of course this is likely a projection since kids typically absorb and re project the energy and perceptions we have. 

Talking to that teacher was the first time I realized that I pictured my family culture one way but was still living quite another, or to be kinder and gentler with myself, I am still on the journey toward simplification, but certainly not there yet.

Like the time I read Simplicity Parenting and imagined myself sweeping and scrubbing the floors with a blissful look of peace on my face, humming softly, as my daughters imitated my slow and careful motions, then tried to put that kind of parenting into action with our next baking project and ended up making both Twila and Jada cry with my controlling, snappy mothering. I was trying so hard to be quiet and lead by example. But how can you be quiet when one daughter is eating baking soda and the other is massaging the raw eggs with both hands? I can tell you from experience, you can try but your strategies will seem even more overbearing and scary than just asking them to stop.

Joining Waldorf has been the most overwhelming experience of my motherhood journey so far. It’s overwhelming in the totality of joy I feel every time I am on the campus or talking with the other parents or teachers. It feels exactly like where I want to be, where I want my children to grow, where I want our family to mature. Yet the more I become entrenched in the culture, the more I see my own missteps as a parent, the more glaring are my shortcomings: a lack of calm and patience which everyone at Waldorf seems to have in spades.

Maybe they joined in progress too, maybe other moms at Waldorf struggle with talking less and incorporating their children into chores and activities more. They probably do, but I don’t want to. I want to blend right in with the atmosphere that feels so right. I want to instantly manifest the energy that makes Waldorf feel so life-giving and rich. But no matter how much time I spend loitering around the halls and the parent lounge, I can’t seem to channel that beautiful energy all the time. 

And of course, life just keeps coming from every direction. Last night Ryan went to Twila’s Kindergarten meeting and I took the girls with me to the second to last class in the thirteen week series I’ve been taking at our church. The class goes from 6:30-8:30 so it’s not an ideal one to bring the girls to since 6:30 is usually when we’re brushing teeth and putting jammies on, but it was the only one of the two commitments that had child care. So Ryan went straight to Twila’s school from work and I fed the girls dinner and got them into the car…just around bedtime.

The girls were sleepy; we were running late as usual. I wanted to have the proper bedding in the car to allow them to fall asleep on the way home and they needed to be dressed warmly (it was only nineteen degrees outside). 

“Everyone, to the back door; get your boots on,” I said, and then turned to the kitchen to get a treat for the dog.

Sometimes I feel like a train walking around the house. I lead the way and usually the dog follows me, his nose uncomfortably close to the back of my thighs. Then comes Twila holding the new kitten and often Jada after her begging for a turn with the new kitten. The trouble comes when I reach my destination (my closet or the back door where all our boots are piled up or to the treat cupboard to get a treat for the dog), retrieve what I was going to get, and want to back up. Instead, I find a backlog of children and animals tripping over each other, falling, spilling things.

The opposite effect is magnets turned to polar sides. When Twila is whispering loudly in the hall first thing in the morning and I’d like to direct her out to the living room instead, but as I step closer to her she takes a step back. She keeps doing this until she backs into the dog dish or the clattery toy outside Jada’s door, or until I claw at her arm and grab hold before she can back any further away.

I’m not sure what these two phenomena have in common or what their relationship to each other is but they are both equally vexing. 

So there I stand with a treat in hand, and a train of beings behind me.

“Girls! To the door. Boots! Jackets! Go!”

I lead the dog to the kennel and successfully close him in. The girls are still arguing at the water dish, which is now getting kicked and sloshed recklessly as they argue. I can’t fathom how much water we’ve wasted, how many towels have been washed having to clean up spilled dish after spilled dish.

As the girls clean up the water, the kitten escapes down the hall and I have to chase her down to get her closed in the girls’ room with her cat box and food. Jada follows me whining that she wants to hold the kitty. I remind her we are leaving to which she gives me her pat answer, “No!”

I’m not sure which part she’s objecting to but decide just to pick her up and bring her to the door myself. Once there, I wonder where Twila is. “Here Jada, pull these boots on. Twila? Twila where are you?”

“Hey mom, look!” Twila pops out from the family room, now with one less sock on her feet and an old stuffed animal covered in dust. “I just found Carmel behind the couch!”

“Twila, honey,” my voice is measure, “we need to GO. Where is your other sock?”

“It got wet when I cleaned up the dog water and Jada did NOT help me clean it up at ALL. My pants are wet too.”

I gritted my teeth and sighed. “Okay, let’s go change.”

“Mommy, I need HELP!” Jada yells from the back door, followed by a thunk (her head on the ground) and a sob.

“Twila go and get a dry pair of pants and socks and meet me by the back door—please go now!” I say over my shoulder as I go to Jada. 

Suddenly the dog is barking. I can’t tell if he’s just agitated about being in the kennel while we’re all running back and forth, or if he suddenly remembered he has to go potty. In retrospect I might have been anthropomorphizing slightly, but I am sensitive to the plight of those with full bladders so I let him out for one last pee. Unfortunately our neighbor dog, Django’s girlfriend she has been dubbed for how much time they spend together and the inordinate joy they seem to bring to each other, comes bounding over just then. Though Django is getting older, his puppy disobedience comes out more than ever when his girlfriend is over. Off they run ignoring my shouts and commands.

As I rush back to see if Twila is making any progress with new pants, I realize I haven’t watered the Christmas tree all day. Anyone who chops their own knows this is very bad in the first days after having cut it. A newly cut Christmas tree sucks a lot of water and if its left dry too long, the end seals and it dies, dropping brown needles all over the floor and leaving you with a Charlie Brown style skeleton well before Christmas day. I abandon my first mission and divert my efforts to filling a pitcher for the tree.

As I crouch down at the base of the trunk, the kitten runs by. Twila has let her out while trying to find new pants. Suddenly a pantsless Twila is charging after her and snatching her with one hand.

“I want to hold her!” Jada whales. 

And then we are back at that argument. I begin to think that Ryan has gotten a much sweeter deal going straight from work to Twila’s meeting, grabbing a sandwich on his way and carting only himself from door to car to door.

Somehow we finally made it to the car and I was catching my breath, lamenting my loud voice and short temper, wondering if I will ever get the calm, patient core that seems deeply rooted in the Waldorf parents.
That night at my class, we talked about the true self and the false self, about Thomas Merton’s comparison of our successes and accomplishments to bandages we use to wind around ourselves to cover the fact that we’re empty.

It dawned on me that maybe the idealistic patient, perfect, earthy mommy is part of my false identity which I create to feel better about who I am but which ultimately ends up punishing me daily as I am reminded that I have not yet lived up to it, or probably ever will. What if my true self is fast paced and energetic and sometimes even a little fiery? Is there a way to work on being gentler with myself and my kids without trying to force myself into a mom-mold that simply doesn’t fit?

Today both girls are sick and I am presented with an opportunity to practice both patience, and acceptance of myself. What was shaping up to be a busy day of school for Twila, parent tot class for me and Jada, picking up cat food,  and dry cleaning and going to Eagan for a holiday open house then back home for bedtime, is now an open and sprawling day with a fire in the fireplace and two advent activities to enjoy. One includes paint and wood and the other a new soft Christmas blanket to enjoy by the fire, almost as if they were timed perfectly for this sick day. 

But there will be the challenges of too much free time too, the constant interruptions to help get drinks, find toys and give hugs. Sensitivities are high as their bodies run low on energy. My hope for the day, (for the rest of the year, for the rest of my life,) is that we will all be able to be patient with ourselves, and each other.