Are you a "Santa Family?"

We’re a “Santa” family. I understand the reasons behind some families choice to keep Santa out of their Christmas celebrations, but for us, it’s important to include him.

There is beauty in the “magic” of Santa. In the innocence heart of a child that can believe a man can make it around the world in just one night, solely to bless the lives of children everywhere. The story is appreciated and loved because of its wonder, sans the syndical and bitter questioning that sneaks its way into our hearts with age.

We use the Santa story to teach our children about the unconditional love that can be found in a gift that is given out of love, not earned like a sticker on a responsibility chart. Once a year, for just a few years, they will wake with the type of anticipation that only lives within a child. They’ll know that awaiting them under the Christmas tree decorated with holy cards will be presents, right next to the manger that’s present all through Advent. The gifts won’t be there because they have earned them or they deserve them, just because they are loved – similar to the baby Jesus who will be placed in the manger that sits under that Christmas tree through Advent.

Accepting unconditional love and unearned reward may be difficult later in their lives depending on their temperament. The “Santa years” are great practice for them to accept that they are loved just because. They are loved by us, by each other and ultimately, by Christ. They did nothing to earn this love, can do nothing to lose the love and need only accept it – like a gift on Christmas morning.

There is no “naughty” or “nice” list and Santa works in his worship year-round making toys for boys and girls because St. Nicholas inspired him to be loving and kind to children out of the goodness of his heart.

There is no danger of our children learning one day about Santa and drawing a parallel to Christ thus dismissing the resurrection as a fable, myth or moral story. We talk about Santa from December 7th to December 25th every year. We talk about the baby Jesus everyday.

My biggest concern that comes along with being a “Santa family” is not a spiritual one. We’ve got three daughters in this home. Teaching them to sit on an old man’s lap, tell him their secret desires and then take candy from him does really coincide with what we generally teach our daughters about strange, odd looking older men! Then, on Christmas Eve, we’ll celebrate Jesus’ birthday and while we are sleeping he’ll sneak into our home and we’ll leave him a snack? It is rather amusing when you think about the details.

Seems my girls feel the same way, judging from the Santa pictures we’ve taken the past few years.

A blessed feast of St. Nicholas! May his goodness and generosity inspire our Advent and Christmas season in whatever way is best for our families.

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Take Cover! Christmas Bells are Ringin’

The only people who think about Christmas in October are St. Nicholas, people who work in retail and sprinkle Halloween in one aisle and Christmas in the next and, of course, moms.

Although fall is by far my favorite season, a tiny bit of my autumn joy has been stolen since I got married and had kids. My fall to-do list has multiplied since becoming a mom. “Check out new fall TV line-ups” has now been replaced with less “fun” chores.

These tasks are dreaded all year by most moms I know. They include:

The “whose family are we going to for what holiday so everyone we’re related to can be happy and we can be miserable” traditional seasonal fight with your husband:

To be fair, we’ve got the cutest daughters in the world. Unfortunately, they are the only grandchildren in both mine and my husband’s family. So, we’re in high demand. And, of course, by ‘we’ I clearly mean the children. It’s very common for my husband and I to stay up all night packing everything we own so we can crisscross the state through a snow storm in the middle of the night with screaming children. We do this only to arrive at our destination and have our children snatched from our hands and swooned over while we collapse onto the couch without so much as a hello. Once we’re acknowledged it is with a well-meaning “You look awful. You really need to take better care of yourselves. You should get more rest.”

All this is done, of course, so that we can spend the night (if five hours counts as a night), wake up to share a meal with said family and then pack it all up, stuff it back into the mini-van and head out to a dinner hosted by the other side of the family—four hours away.

I have a friend who, in negotiations with her husband, traded every single major holiday of the year just so that Christmas could be spent in her hometown and she and her husband would never have to have this fight again. She should take that poker face to Vegas. I would’ve folded.

In order to please everyone and ensure you’ll still be married by Christmas, negotiations really need to start in the fall. Recently, our discussions on the matter took an interesting turn as we found we were each advocating for the other’s family to ‘get us.”

Shopping:

If there is ever a test of faith, it’s preparing for Christ’s birth in your heart while trying to find a parking spot at the mall. This is done to the soundtrack of car horns honking and people swearing at each other. Once in the mall, you can’t make a purchase without giving out your e-mail, phone number and zip code to the sales person, so you can be harassed and reminded of this experience all year long with ill-timed phone calls.

And there’s always those super uplifting human interest stories about humanity at its finest on TV. The one where people are willing to stampede each other for a $40 toy. Let’s not forget our favorite holiday dance: stretching that family budget to include buying gifts for people because they bought one for you/your kid last year and you were mortified they were not on your list and you were empty-handed.

The Christmas Card Picture:

Please tell me I’m not the only mother who turns into an insane beast of a woman when it comes time to take the photo for the family Christmas card. If I had to pick the worst four hours of my year, it would be taking the Christmas card picture. And, yes, it does take four hours. It is also the hardest workout I do all year, and for what? To capture the fact that my kids refuse to smile for a picture, someone is shoving their finger up their nose, the baby is crying and my make-up is dripping down my face with beads of sweat?

Between takes I scream, “Everyone shut their mouths, stop crying and smile or I’m canceling Christmas!” All of this just so we look like a big happy family in the photo card that has “Christmas blessings” scrolled across it. Last year, I attempted running this marathon while pregnant, and the whole thing actually put me into contractions. We’d already received cards form more successful friends who got their cards out the first week of December. Card after card made me wonder if all of our friends’ children had become catalog models or the face of dental offices.

If you look closely at our card from last year you can see me digging my fingernails into my husband’s leg because we were going on photo shoot hour three, and I was realizing that our photo wasn’t going to have the same fate as every other family we’d ever met. I was going off the edge. Nothing says “Merry Christmas” like a nervous breakdown over a photo card.

Enjoy the Season

This year I’m putting this on my list. Amid all of the stresses the holiday season brings to motherhood, our Church gifts us with the season of Advent. When everything around us defines Christmas by slapping a manufacturer’s label and price tag on it, our liturgical year builds in time for us to prepare our hearts for the real gift of Christmas, Jesus. We’re asked to quite our hearts and our mouths and prayerfully reflect on what this gift means to us.

We’ve decided that this year, no one is going to “get us” for Christmas Eve. You don’t have to travel to meet Baby Jesus. We’ll celebrate in our home and invite others to join us here. They can drive.

We’re not above bribes. We’ll use the kids to lure our families to our side of the state. We won’t tell them they’ll be sleeping on pink and purple twin sized beds in little girl rooms. They’ll also have to get up in the middle of the night to go out in the cold and create reindeer tracks in the snow to enhance the Christmas morning experience for our daughters.

Our daughters will receive three gifts from us. Because if it’s good enough for the baby Jesus, it’s good enough for us.

As for the Christmas card, maybe if I attempt to do a funny ‘out takes” type card we’ll finally get that Norman Rockwell family Christmas photo. It is baby Jesus’ birthday. If our Blessed Mother can ride a camel across her country while nine months pregnant, I think I can pack my kids into a mini-van and drive across the state to see family over the holiday season. I believe in Christmas miracles.

Now Thanksgiving, that’s another story. We’re still trying to work that one out……

Baptism by Fire

**This post first apeared on Catholicmom.com last week. Elena’s baptism was the most beautiful sacrament I’ve even seen. I’ll share part II later this week.***

Part I

In making the preparations for our third daughter’s baptism my husband and I were challenged on our beliefs about the sacrament and necessity for infant baptism.

Our baby’s baptism brought with it the culmination of several manageable, but timely, stresses in our lives. Since Easter we’ve had a baby, moved to another city, joined a new parish and my husband wrote and defended his graduate thesis, received his master’s degree and started a new job. Also in that time we did some genetic testing on our newest family member and learned she shares the same genetic condition as her daddy.

Although thriving, it is necessary for our little “Laney Bug” to have some testing this week at the Children’s Hospital involving putting her under. For us, this meant she must be baptized before her testing and the clock began ticking on getting a baptism on the books.

We were met with some opposition and questions about why she had to receive the sacrament before her tests.

At first, I was extremely bothered. In fact we were outright angry someone dare question our wishes for our child. We are the parents of this beautiful child and thus all spiritual intentions for her are our responsibility, which we accept with joy.

Ironically, that’s a big part of baptizing an infant – renewing our own baptismal promises and committing to our community, and our Lord, that we will do our very best for our child to carry the light of Christ in her heart and be a faithful member of the body of Christ. It’s why I cry like a baby whenever I witness a baptism.

I expressed these views and was asked to just admit that this was an “emotional issue” for my husband and I, not a sacramental issue. In the end, it boiled down to me being asked this question:

“Do you, in your heart of hearts, really believe that your beautiful, innocent baby girl would not be welcomed into God’s kingdom if she were not yet baptized upon her death?”

I skirted past the question and we gave our reasoning for our intentions. We shared Church teachings and decided to disregard the opinions of others and set up the baptism. However, just because something is right doesn’t make it easy.

We struggled with the disappointment in how our third daughter would not have the same baptism experience as our first two. There was no party. In fact, there was no family. We were given an 8am mass baptism a week in advance and both of our families live over 3 hours away. We decided not to invite anyone or throw together a party. The whole thing had already been too stressful.

Amid this disappointment it was difficult to look forward to our daughter’s baptism this week. That question I had been asked was haunting me. It had struck a chord deep in my heart.

The truth is, I don’t really know what I believe would happen to my daughter were she to die before she were baptized. I know what my Church teaches me, but I also know I am a mother and my love for my daughters goes to ends of the earth. Doesn’t God’s fatherly love for us goes even further?

One may be baptized by blood, water or even intent is some cases. And, as long as someone is baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, they’ve been claimed for Christ.

I however, feel as if I’ve just been baptized by fire. I’ve been baptized into a renewal of my own faith and baptismal vows. My mama bear instinct kicked in. In protecting my young I was forced to question my Father. Would He protect me as a mother and offer me comfort by welcoming my child?

Through much prayer and discussion with my husband I came to this:

I don’t know what would happen to my daughter should she die before she was baptized. Just as I don’t know what happens to anyone who does not live their earthly life as a member of the body of Christ.

But, I DO KNOW what WILL happen to her if she is baptized into the faith. Our daughter will be re-claimed for Christ and welcomed into Christ’s kingdom.

Because, even when she’s not with me, I need to know where she is. I am a mother.

Daybook – Thursday September 22, 2011

Outside My Window … The leaves on the trees are starting to change colors and fall is knocking on the door. There is something about fall in Wisconsin that warms my heart. Sometimes I think God gives us this brief, but beautiful, season right before the long winters just so we won’t all pack up and leave. Fall and the Packers – that’s what we’ve got here in the north.
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I am listening to…
Tessa and Anna are playing dolls and Laney is under the sound board batting at buttons and playing music. I can’t believe my big girls are old enough to fight over dolls (sigh) and the baby is already playing. This home is full of noise, and it is good.
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 To Live the Liturgy…
We’ve finally got the details of Laney’s baptism figured out. It’s been a long road. We had to cancel the original baptism date due to the fact that we had scheduled it at the parish I was going to be working. When we decided I would not accept the position we also decided not to join that parish as it is far from our home. We joined a new parish and then got in contact with their pastoral associate and asked to have Elena baptized before her medical testing on Oct. 4th. She will have to be put under for her echo and we do not want to do that without her being baptized. It turned out to be more of an issue than we thought .

Apparently believing in the sacrament of baptism is an “emotional issue.” There is no such thing as original sin, Adam and Eve are a myth created by early Church Fathers and we couldn’t possibly believe that a sacrament can completely wash away all sins. Joseph and I struggled through this conversation in a baptism prep class last night. This class was given by a nun who is the pastoral associate at a parish – a CATHOLIC parish. We were not angry, just really sad. She was gracious to us. She offered us a private session because we could not make the scheduled class. She also allowed us to share our complete disagreement with her and she even bit her lip and didn’t say anything when we mentioned the Magisterium believes otherwise and she is representing the Catholic Church. She did however mention that she hadn’t heard the word Magisterium in 30 years. She really was a very nice women who is very misinformed and calling her misinformation Catholicism. But alas, the baby will be baptized before she is put under so we genuinely thanked this nun for her extra effort.
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To be Fit and Happy….
I’ve cut out (ok, really cut down) on my drug of choice: coke. It is really, really hard. I don’t like coffee and I NEED that caffeine.
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I am thankful for…
Space and order. Two things I have avoided my whole life, but much needed over here these days. I’m also grateful things have settled down a bit class wise for Joseph and he is working a more manageable amount of hours. It’s nice to have daddy home a tad more often.
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We are teaching the girls…
Tessa has grasped the “letters together create words” concept and now wants to be able to read books. It is awesome to see her fall in love with books. Anna is working on a few colors yet and on above/below/next to/under/over.
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From the kitchen …
We were gifted with garden and freezer surplus from a few people and have been busy putting other people’s abundance to good use. We’ve been baking and cooking and spending many more of our daily hours in the kitchen. This makes me so happy. I’m also working on being creative in order to allow for less waste.
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I am creating …
Lists, lists and more lists. There is much to do and I’m working on not letting it consume me with anxiety.
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I am working on…
The hubby and I are working on our holiday season plans. Our big girls both have November birthdays and then there is Thanksgiving and Christmas. We live 3 hours from both of our families and our families live across the state and 4 hours from each other. Plus, my parents are divorced. There is a lot of places to fit into a short amount of time and a lot of unrealistic expectations. We don’t want to spend the season pleasing others and not serving our immediate family. Last year there was major drama from some folks who don’t know what that situation is like with little kids – so we’re trying to be proactive this year so we can define them and be upfront about what our family will be doing. It’s really hard for families of origin to come to terms with now being extended family and extended family now being extra-extended family now that we have our own immediate family. We think that in order to cut down on some driving and fit everyone in we would like to host something here in our home. We have the space for the first time and I would love to host a holiday! How do you handle the holidays with extended family?
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I am reading….
A ton of NFP info. Wow. I feel like I am in grad school again.
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Towards a real education …
This evening I will leave for my first NFP (natural family planning) teacher certification course. It will be 5 days of intense study. I almost didn’t share this as I am really nervous. I know there is a test and I’m a “test anxiety” type of person. But, I’ve read so much about our bodies and how our cycles work. I also like to offer advice to friends looking to conceive or trying to figure out fertility issues. Joseph really felt called to have me go and be certified, so here I go!
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Bringing beauty to my home …
Curtains and finally being hung thanks to a 30% off coupon code from Kohl’s and a 50% off hardware sale at Shopko. Things are finally coming together in our new place and it really feels like home. I love to decorate and we still have some blank spaces due to my lack of time and decision making abilities. We are close though.
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I am hoping and praying….
For the stress level of my husband. He’s got a lot in his mind.
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On my mind…
How fast life seems to be going. It’s sad to watch Tessa and Anna turn from toddlers into “kids,” but it is also really wonderful. I was cuddling with Tessa last week because she wasn’t feeling well and we had this conversation:
Mama: “I’m sorry you don’t feel good, Sugar Plum.”
Tessa: “That’s ok, mama. It’s not your fault, you don’t have to say sorry.”
Ahhh, when did my baby become so smart?
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Around the house …
The big girls are working on “lady charts.” Each column has an area of life they need to work on in becoming little ladies. We have prayer, control of self and temper, being loving and so on. There are certain rows full of stinkers and other rows that are still empty. When the charts are full, the gals get to pick something fun to do. Tessa has chosen going to the movies with daddy AND eating popcorn and Anna has chosen riding a horse. I’m not entirely sure a stable is going to let an almost 3-year-old ride a horse and I’m a little worried certain rows in her chart (like controlling her temper and staying by mama and daddy in public) will be filled before the snow files. That being said, it is really nice to have then clearing their dishes from the table after meals and bringing things to mama when asked because they want to earn stickers.
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One of my favorite things …
My family in the fall. We have some great family traditions to celebrate our favorite season. On the list for next week is apple picking and then some baking and following that is a visit to the pumpkin farm.
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For the rest of the week….
Joseph will be home with the girls and I will be at NFP teacher certification. There is still much to do around here and we both still have work to be done. They will be long, stressful days. Joseph really felt like this was something I should do, so we will find a way. Still, a family date needs to be set for the next week.