Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Magic of Christmas

It’s our first Christmas in a new home.

Unlike the last two years, we decided not to buy a real tree. I just wasn’t up for cleaning the fallen pine needles this year. So we bought a big, full, beautiful fake tree—and despite feeling like I ought to like real ones more, I just can’t help it … I love my big, full, beautiful, fake tree so much more than I did the small, sometimes sparse, pretty, real ones that we’ve had the last two years. It’s big enough to hold all our ornaments AND have room for more! It makes me very happy, especially knowing that we don’t have to hope for an equally good one next year; it’s already ours.

This is the first time in our married lives—my first time since I lived with my parents—that we’ve had an actual fireplace and a real mantel. For the last two years, we hung our stockings from shelves we’d put up in our dining room. Before that, they were draped from the top of the china cabinet. I like the fireplace much more.

My husband even found a use for the random strand of multicolored garland that I’m not sure we’ve ever used for anything …

And he found a similar use for a strand of green garland.

Our Nativity set from Cambodia first was guarded by Leonidas …

then witnessed by various incarnations of Dr. Who and his enemies, as well as a little plastic sheep masquerading as part of the original set.

We spent a couple of hours one afternoon making paper snowflakes, which we hung on twine in our windows and across the pass through between the kitchen and dining room.

Jeff made a special one in honor of his abiding love for Star Wars.

We spent more than a couple of hours one afternoon making our first ever gingerbread house. We bought a kit for the gingerbread pieces, but I made the royal icing myself, and Jeff bought Twizzlers, M&Ms, and gummies for decoration.

We’ve watched Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, The Grinch That Stole Christmas, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. We were reminded of the real meaning of Christmas in the Veggie Tales show The Toy That Saved Christmas.

We’ve read a book about the real Saint Nicholas, and another about Christmas traditions around the world. We read The Polar Express, Lucy’s Christmas, and a customized version of The Night Before Christmas.

We’ve added magnetic pieces to our Nativity-themed Advent calendar and discussed the birth of Jesus.

Lexa made Christmas cards for our neighbors, which will be delivered today with the cookies we made and the traditional good luck charms Jeff bought.

Our plans for tomorrow include gifts in the morning and a potluck Christmas dinner with my husband’s coworkers in the afternoon and evening. I’m prepared with ham, crescent rolls (God bless the Naval Exchange!), baked macaroni and cheese, and a couple of different pies—all ready to just go in the oven tomorrow, no further work required. And of course, we can’t forget the gluhwein, which just needs to be heated in the slow cooker.

On the one hand, I have felt so busy, and so tired, and so stressed, that it doesn’t much feel like Christmas.

On the other hand, this feels more like Christmas than any of the last few years.

The rooms in which I spend most of my time look like Christmas, full of simple, beautiful decorations.

Rather than deciding that Christmas activities are too much effort this year, or deciding to do them but not committing enough to tell anyone, I took the simple step of planning Christmas activities for each day (sometimes as simple as a book to read or movie to watch) and putting a slip of paper in the Advent calendar for Alexa to find. No matter how tired or unmotivated I am, I know I can’t back out of the activity when she expects one each day. You better believe I’ll be prepared for it rather than face her disappointment—no “I’m sorry, sweetie, but we don’t have the materials to do that today” this year.

Christmas didn’t sneak up on me this year, as it usually does.

I think this is what Christmas feels like as a grown-up. There is no more just having the magic happen—that’s what Christmas feels like for kids. The adults are the ones who make the magic happen. It’s still magical, but it’s magic with an effort. That may be the real reason it hasn’t felt like Christmas so much the last few years … I kept expecting it to just happen, without the work, the way it did when I was a child. That isn’t the way it is anymore. It’s my turn to make the magic happen for my daughter.

In the process, I made the magic happen for myself.

May you and yours have a wonderful, magical, Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Our Year in Ornaments: 2015

It’s that time again! That time between Thanksgiving and Christmas (or between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, sometimes), when I write about the annual Ornie Competition in which we participate. For those new to the blog: Years ago, Jeff’s stepfather began a tradition with his family. Each person picked or made an ornament to represent his or her year. On Thanksgiving Day, all the ornaments were presented, and a winner was chosen. The tradition has continued for decades, since Jeff’s stepsiblings were children. We began participating in 2006, the year we married. This year was no different: Jeff, Alexa, and I each picked an ornament to represent our years, and we presented them to the family via video chat on Thanksgiving Day.

So what were the themes of our years? And what ornaments best represented those themes?

Alexa's 2015 Ornament: The Glove Balloon

Alexa’s social development took off this year. She’s always been shy and anxious, with no apparent desire to spend time with other children. Even when she did want to play with other kids, she wanted more to stay safely by my side. That’s how she was at the beginning of this year: she stayed with me rather than going off to play with other kids, even other kids with whom she’d interacted regularly for almost two years, even other kids that she called her friends.

Then out of nowhere, she changed. Suddenly she could not get enough playing with other kids. She didn’t need me to be there with her anymore. She happily stayed in Sunday school classes with complete strangers while we were in the States over the summer. She barely said goodbye to us before she was off and engaged in whatever activity was ongoing. She cried, not when we left her, but when we returned to take her with us. The one thing she wanted from our new home in Greece: the opportunity to play with other kids. No parents required or wanted, just kids.

And through it all, her obsession with all things Disney remained.

Of course the perfect ornament for her was from Mickey Mouse Clubhouse—how could her perfect ornament not be Disney? This year’s version was the glove balloon, floating off with a basket full of friends. It represents Alexa’s newfound desire to go off with friends, her interest in adventures, her need for similarly aged friends. It represents that our little girl is ready to fly off with her friends and leave us behind, at least as much as a 5-year-old can be.

Jeff's 2015 Ornament: The TARDIS

Jeff’s ornament also is from a TV series, though not one owned by Disney. Over the past few years, he and I have become a bit obsessed with the BBC show Dr. Who. Although it’s growing in popularity in the States, many Americans aren’t familiar with it yet, so here’s the basic rundown: The Doctor is a Time Lord, a master of time and space. He travels wherever—and whenever—he wants to go in his TARDIS, which appears in the form of a blue police box. (It’s actually bigger on the inside, though.) The Doctor is the last of the Time Lords, but it’s very bad for him to be alone. Because of his abilities and his intellect, he tends to divorce himself from normal emotional experiences, which can result in rather psychopathic tendencies. In order to keep himself grounded, to remind himself of what real life is all about, he tends to travel with a companion, a human woman whose innocent delight and adventurous spirit reminds him to take joy in life, to be more human himself than he otherwise would be.

Jeff does not travel through time, and his travels through space are much more limited than The Doctor’s. However, like The Doctor, he travels from place to place doing work that is important enough that it sometimes threatens to consume him. He said that his ornament this year is in recognition that, like The Doctor, he needs companions to remind him of why he does what he does and to inspire him to enjoy his life rather than allow his work to consume him. He has found his companions in Lexa and me.

His ornament this year is a replica of the TARDIS.

Deborah's 2015 Ornament: Inside Out

 For my own ornament, I’ll tell the story much like I planned to tell it during the competition. (It didn’t come out exactly like this, because things never do when speaking without notes!)

I am a member of three online communities. One is a diverse homeschool community, where most members are homeschoolers, and most members live in their home countries—for most of them, it’s the United States. The other two communities are expat groups—one mostly Christian missionaries, the other Foreign Service personnel and their families. I first heard about the Disney movie Inside Out from these three online groups.

At first, I heard only wonderful things about the movie. Members of both expat groups raved about how amazing the movie was. It captures the experience of moving, it provides a vocabulary for discussing the emotional realities of expat life with our kids, it explores the purpose of those troubling emotions like sadness. It’s a must-see movie, a deeply emotional experience that had moms crying in the theater and kids making connections between their experiences and their emotions like never before. And in addition to all that relevance, it’s a fun movie too!

Then someone on the homeschool group mentioned the movie. The reaction was almost completely uniform: Disney missed the mark on this one. This movie is boring. They tried to make it relevant instead of fun, and made it neither. Don’t even waste your time on this movie.

Of course I was eager to see the movie myself, to see which camp I would fall in. I finally had the opportunity this summer, while we were on our Disney cruise. And I was blown away. I am not ashamed to admit that I sat in the Walt Disney Theatre, aboard the Disney Dream, with tears running down my face as I watched a young girl go through the emotional upheaval of a cross-country move. The analogies weren’t perfect, but I recognized my experiences in this movie—and just as importantly, I felt like my experiences were recognized by the movie.

I’m not certain if I would have loved this movie as much as I do if it had been released last year, or next year. All of the emotions associated with a move are close to the surface for me right now; they have been all year. The sadness of saying goodbye. The optimism that the next place will be good, too. The difficulty of holding on to that optimism when faced with difficulty after difficulty, both expected and unexpected. The desire to give up and run back to where you were … and the recognition that where you were doesn’t really exist anymore, at least not in the way it did when you were there. And eventually, the contentment that comes when you’ve made the new place your home. (I’m not there yet, but I’ve done this enough to know I’ll get there.)

Inside Out is definitely the theme of my year. But more than that, it’s the theme of my last 7 years. It’s the theme of my life as a global nomad.

Previous Posts About The Ornie Competition: