Sunday was magical. That kind of parenting magic you dream of but don’t dare to wish for. Except we still do, running the risk of disappointment.
I’ve experienced much disappointment in my years as a parent. Good grief. That sentence sounds so depressing. Let me try to say this differently. What I mean is, as a dreamer and a wisher, I often pull together in my imagination exactly how I want an experience to play out. This is particularly dangerous as I curate traditions for our family, occurring most frequently at the holidays. So as we sit in the middle of the Christmas season, one with a great many expectation for tradition, the threat level advisory for dashed hopes is most certainly at a red, and that’s not just for Santa.
When it comes to expectations around the holidays, it seems like there are two options available to us. You can be a wisher and a dreamer with high ideals and a beautiful Christmas card moment in your head for that special memory you are going to make. This is my default. Or you can lower the bar waaaay down. You can assume nothing will go right and start dreading all the events ahead in hopes to guard your heart from this disappointment. Be realistic and you won’t be let down. Admittedly, I’ve been here too. This category of people is often where the wishers and dreamers are funneled after becoming a parent. It seems safer. Much easier to manage. Unfortunately when you expect nothing, you too often get nothing.
But what if there was a third option?
This year adding a third set of eyes to the watching and waiting of advent, my fallback expectation of choice was in the sceptic category. Remember my weary mother post? A season of exhaustion is not the best season to plan big plans and dream big dreams for the idealic Christmas season. Implementing operation low-expectations seemed to be the perfect choice.
And yet, this season has felt different to me. Magical in a way I wasn’t quite expecting.
Maybe it was seeing the five stockings all lined up on the mantel for the first time and yet looking like they were always meant to be together. Maybe it was the way the Christmas lights brightened my heart as I breathed in my hot coffee and the brief sound of silence in the wee hours of the morning. Maybe it was watching her dance around to the nutcracker and catching him singing along to Jingle Bell Rock.
Or maybe I was slowly and gently learning how to keep the traditions that bring me joy while also allowing space for them to be what they will be.
As I mentioned in my recent post, we celebrated our family’s Christmas on Sunday. What began as a practical way to exchange gifts with our own little family before departing for the Great Christmas Tour of the Midwest, has slowly grown into a very special and long awaited tradition. There’s the looking for the pickle in the Christmas tree part, and the breakfast for dinner part and the packing up hot chocolate into the car for Christmas light viewing part. And of course, there is the gifting part which I feel has become magical in and of itself. Somehow we have turned gifting into a more personal experience. The gifts aren’t elaborate. There are lots of handmade items, books, and something special from mom and dad. The big dream gifts come from Santa. From us, they are learning that gifting can be very thoughtful and intentional and hopefully something that the whole family can enjoy.
This is where the magic part appears. I had all the plans into place. The handmade gifting was finished by the end of Saturday. The schedule was set to accommodate the usual requirements of our day, a.k.a. naps. I had researched a couple ideas for decorating the pancakes that I thought might be fun. And I wanted to remember to pull out the record I love to play when we start opening presents. It sounds stressful as I type all of this. And I think in years past, the stress was real. None of those traditions were necessary. A tradition is not a requirement. But if we are not careful, we sometimes treat them as such. I do. Or I have done. But this year, I felt a surprising sense of peace. I could sense an intention in my heart to let the day happen as it may. Instead of acting as the choir director, I tried to lean in a little bit more into my seat in the audience. Watch the show. Feel the experience. Let the tradition play out as it does.
And so I did. And it was magical.
Gifting was precious. Children were joyful. And grateful. The pancake idea was a hit. I was so relaxed I had to be reminded of the pickle part (the lids never forget.) And, miracles of all miracles, the baby sat peacefully in his car seat and let us look at the lights. Go tell it on the mountain!
I’m certain if I look closely there were parts to my day that were not magical. As it should be. But the tradition as it was this year played out as it was meant to in this season of our lives. And we all let ourselves enjoy it.
Even me. That right there is the magical part.
There’s another reason for the magic and it has everything to do with how this tradition was started in the first place. It began because I sensed a longing for something that wasn’t present in our Christmas traditions. Spending Christmas traveling to see family is so special. But it also means those little traditions reserved for Christmas morning with your own little nuclear family are missing. I was sad about this. Until I realized traditions are created from this very thing, as a way to bring a special ritual to those moments that feel lost. Maybe our tradition of family Christmas looks different than most. That’s what makes it so special to us. And with the freedom to create traditions at any point a need is there, here lies another example of the magic that can be found.
This gentle grasp on tradition is my wish for you too. Realize when you notice something missing from your life, perhaps this is a time to create your own tradition. And when you hold this tradition, remember to hold it gently before you. There’s magic to be found in this.