Sunday, November 30, 2008


It's the first Sunday of Advent which traditionally means we are awaiting the birth of Christ. I pull out the advent calendars for the kids, and this year there are three. I couldn't resist and bought a string of tiny, knitted stockings. In each stocking is a felt puppet, animals and angels, a Christmas tree, some elves. It was made by craftswomen in South America and I hung it on the bookcase tonight as a surprise for the kids tomorrow morning. The old calendar is a felt globe with 24 pockets and inside of each pocket is a little felt person dressed in the traditional garb of his or her country. At the top it says, "PEACE." The other is an old Starbucks cardboard box shaped like a Christmas tree. There are 24 tiny little boxes that you pull out and turn around. Eventually, you have a winter wonderland scene, and I put a little chocolate into each box. The boys and Sophie each have a turn taking out a chocolate and hanging a felt person on the globe. They always argue over who gets to start and who gets to finish, but the main thing is that they are waiting for Christmas.

I went to church this morning by myself. That was after I had pulled a quick u-turn in the middle of my street and screeched back up to my house. "Get out," I said to Henry and Oliver, "get out of the car and go inside." I won't go into the details but it was partly their incessant complaining and partly my own short temper. But they were suitably silenced when I "kicked them out" (what Oliver said, later) of the car. They looked back as I pulled away and while I didn't feel exactly good, I felt triumphant. I suddenly remembered my own mother and her periods of aggrievement when she'd lash out how no one appreciated her, how she just thought only of us, etc. etc. I remember feeling annoyed with her and guilty, too. Because she was right. We didn't think about her feelings nearly enough. And I wonder whether any children really do.

But, I raced off to church alone in my car feeling pissed off and strangely free. The priest was uncharacteristically inspirational and spoke about advent and waiting. When he said that waiting was a unique and peculiar human condition, I didn't think much of it. But then he mentioned a boy in our parish who had a terrible accident while skateboarding on Thanksgiving Day. He has a severe brain injury and his parents are basically waiting for his brain to stop swelling, for him to wake up from a medically-induced coma, for him to show what he can still do, still remember. I felt, for a moment, those parents' terror. The terror of waiting. I thought of the near-constant waiting that I do. That Michael, the boys and I do. With Sophie. Waiting for her seizure to stop. Waiting for her clusters of seizures to stop. Waiting for her seizure disorder to stop. Waiting and wondering, will it ever stop? I sat in the pew, a mother alone and wiped tears from my face. I sat and cried for the parents, for the boy, for me and my husband, for my boys and for Sophie. For all of us, waiting.

When I got home I pretended to still be a little bit mad, but the boys were sorry and Henry asked whether we could put it behind us. Then they ran around outside, playing with some marbles and sticks. They were waiting for the day to be over, because I had promised them they could go with Sophie and me to a birthday party at Chuckie Cheez. Now that's a post worthy of its own, but we went to the party. On the way home, Henry said, "I wish I were a grown-up right now and going to college, Mom."
I said, "Henry, then you wouldn't be a kid anymore and all your kid days would be finished." He thought about that for a second, at the most, and said, "Oh, then I guess I just want to wait."


  1. thanks for this post, since we did not make it to mass yesterday! We were at Disneyland for Nicks bday..WAITING on lots of lines....

  2. Thank you for your words on Advent. My work schedule right now makes it very hard for me to go to church. I miss singing "O Come O Come Emmanuel" and hearing of John the Baptist, "the voice crying out in the wilderness."

    This is another of your brutally honest posts--admitting your anger at your sons, but ending in a catharsis.

  3. "O Come O Come Emmanuel" is maybe the most hauntingly beautiful and sad Christmas songs there are.

    I don't know much about it, but my husband who was raised in the Lutheran church says that only certain songs are to be sung during advent (the sad haunting ones) and the joyous and jubilant songs are sung on Christmas morning.

    Your insights and transparency really bless me. Thank you.

  4. Steve, I always try to go to some kind of sacred music concert at Christmas time -- it helps me to think of the holiday as sacred.

    Kimmie, thanks for your kind words. And I, too, love O Come Emmanuel -- the small, tiny soprano at the beginning sends chills down the spine and there's nothing like the phrase "and ransom captive Israel"

  5. I love this post, and not just because we have our own Sunday morning frustration-induced scream-fest ritual that precedes church. I've just picked up and started a book for Lenten study that's also used a lot at Advent called Seven Spiritual Gifts of Waiting by Holly W. Whitcomb. The seven gifts are: patience, loss of control, living in the present, compassion, gratitude, humility, trust in God.



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