I didn’t mean to take a month off blogging, but it happened in spite of me. A number of posts, mentally composed while loading the dishwasher or folding socks, have drifted beyond my grasp and vanished. My camera cord became temperamental and a backlog of pictures is still waiting for it to have a good day. I finally arrive, exhausted, at the evening and promptly discard my day-long plans to write or sew or do anything productive in favor of popcorn and a show on hulu. I ponder things, as the days go by, and I try to file them away with the sweet moments and adorable sayings that I want to commemorate later–but dinner and dishes and messes and homework and grocery lists and head colds and bedtime songs and laundry (always more laundry) intervene. And it’s February, and Christmas seems long ago, but there are things I want to remember.

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The candlelit awe of Christmas on my little boys’ faces.

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All three children were in the Christmas program at my parents’ church. E is in the front in the printed dress; the boys are behind her on either side. They held their stars very high indeed.

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I feared that E might put out an unsuspecting eye with hers–but all was well.

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Christmas morning: Santa brought the replacement harmonica that this little girl had been eagerly awaiting. The mysteriously lost one had been supposedly red but looked pink; this one arrived in the mail a few weeks before Christmas and was decidedly red. Santa’s helpers had to do some reconnaissance work to convince E that he might, in fact, bring her a red one–and that that might be a good thing. This helper was nervous, but when the day arrived she snatched it out of her stocking with glee. Phew.

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This year we introduced the concept of siblings choosing gifts for each other. Each child made a separate trip to Target with Mama and picked out two gifts. My favorite part of Christmas may have been watching their joy as they presented what they had chosen. Here B is demonstrating the marvels of the truck he bought for C. Luckily, C had somehow managed to choose a very similar gift for B.

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This is the face of a girl who has just received her first My Little Pony from one of her beloved big brothers.

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Every Christmas we give each child a special book. Choosing them, and writing the dedications, is one of the highlights of my year. This time E received Blueberries for Sal. She pores over it.

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The boys’ great request this year: a metra train. I was nervous about the feasibility of this, until I found some wooden ones, compatible with their track sets, online. Oma and Opa bought them for Christmas, and the boys’ lives were complete.

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A happy Christmas face, with a bow on top.

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E’s toy birthday cake: she serves us slices on a daily basis.

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Taking the new trains for a spin.

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B got a bowling set; E invented a new grip on the ball.

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It was a good Christmas, quiet and slow, with the moderated expectations I tell myself are just for now, for this stage of life, this year. We caught up on our advent calendar and Jesse tree every few days, and our crafting was simple in the extreme: I think it consisted solely of drawing and coloring some Christmas trees together, and making cut-out cookies with Oma. And we introduced a new tradition: we sat in the glow of the tree and read The Advent Book together every night, and were delighted with it. Small fingers took turns opening the doors each night, and by Christmas small voices could recite large sections of the Christmas story from memory. I hope I never forget the sound of my three-year-old exclaiming, “Gwory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace to men…”IMG_9011What? You don’t decorate your house with matchbox cars?

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It was a hard Christmas, too, and I wonder if, for me, this season will now always be traced with sorrow and fear. Last year I wrote about wondering if the white horse of hope would come for me again at Christmas; this year I still waited, and still wondered.

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I thought often of the words of the old, haunting hymn, describing Jesus’ coming “Amid the cold of winter, / When half spent was the night.” The darkness had been long for the people who waited still to hear from God. And it was not all past: there came a flash of light and hope and God with us, but there would be darkness and silence again, and through it they would be asked to hold fast to the promise that had been given and only partially fulfilled. The night was only half spent, although they did not know it at the time.

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My brother’s picture on our Christmas tree: a piece of him with us each year.

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I don’t know how much night remains, for the vast agonies of the world or for the individual hurts of people like me. As Anna said compassionately on Downton Abbey, “All God’s creatures have their own troubles.”  We wait, not knowing.

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I didn’t feel much like decorating for Christmas–but I duly put everything up on the first of December, and took it down on the first of January. And I was glad I did. Maybe it’s even more important, when the night seems long, to string up small electric lights and lift treasured old ornaments out of cotton batting, to place them again in the spot that seems best and watch them reflect your children’s shining eyes.

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My dad and his parents; my boys; between them, one of my favorite decorations, which my Grandma gave me when I was a very little girl.

IMG_9038I sang Christmas songs to my children, and E lifted up her little voice with me every night, warbling along to her favorites.

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I let them decorate the tree a little more this year (with the unbreakable ornaments). I am trying to let go. They took their work very seriously indeed. After they were in bed I added the breakables, out of reach, and slightly edited a few of their more eclectic placements. IMG_9042

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The German greeting means “Happy Festival” and I believe we had that. There was football (Thanks, Grandad!):
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And there was feasting:

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Daddy had a week off work, and we enjoyed it. There was lego-building, and subsequent dramatic truck crashes, such as never occur to Mama:IMG_9063

There was reading by the Christmas tree:

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With pigtails, no less.

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There were elaborate ramps for new cars (engineered to end with the biggest possible crash, I’m sure):

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There were energetic living-room gymnastics:

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And serious matches of Memory:IMG_9108

And, thanks to a new book from Nana on how to draw their adored trains and trucks, a great deal of drawing.

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The hymn goes on to describe what the rose sprung from Jesse’s stem will do:

“Dispel with glorious splendor

The darkness everywhere;

True man, yet very God,

From sin and death now save us,

And bear our every load.”

Interestingly, the German is less dramatic: instead of “glorious splendor” it simply has “clear light.” I find this comforting. Glorious splendor seems daunting and unreachable, but a clear light, though far off, might be something I could learn to hope for. I don’t see how he bears our every load, but I do see that in the midst of the load there are points of light, blurred as through tree branches, and there are treasured loves, in pigtails and pajamas, playing card games and drawing pictures and reading books. I don’t know how much of the night is spent, but I am glad for Christmas lights.

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