Christmas at the Oakes House

I have had so much on my heart lately - so many things I would love to sit on the couch with my nearest and dearest girlfriends and just lay out there... that I haven't had the ability to sit down and write about them at all. Like the mound of dirty clothes in my laundry room... it gets so big you would rather put it off than make a clumsy start, only to feel like you can't make a dent in it.

Except this is more enjoyable than doing my laundry. Really, not even comparable.

This Christmas season has been.... hmm... I'd say its been hard, but good.

Will has been SO into everything about Christmas this year - finally! - and it has been both exciting and exhausting to do all the story-telling, singing, explaining, and preparing with my little buddy hopping along beside me. 

He is very, very excited for Santa. He dictated his first letter to Santa to me a few weeks ago...

The only guidance I gave him on it was the "sincerely" part. For the rest of the day, I would hear him chattering happily to himself, and the word, "sincerely" kept popping up randomly. 

I love my children, and I love being with them all day - truly. But I am not an arts and craftsy mama. Its not one of my strengths. I don't say that to sound like a "cool mom"... it is embarrassing to me to have to admit to people, I can't get my shit together with freaking toddler craft supplies. I have tried MANY times, and they always end up broken, missing, or otherwise insufficient after the first day. 

While I knew it was silly, I have sincerely (ha) struggled with insecurity about this over the last few years. I frequently felt like a failure; like a less attentive, caring mom. We never have matching holiday outfits planned ahead of time; we never have cutesy little crafty traditions; we never remember to get an advent wreath, much less a countdown calendar; we never even get a Christmas card out. 

So it came as a shock to me when, this year, I finally got something right. 

I can't take credit for it - because it really just happened. But it makes me smile every time I remember it, and I think Will and I and Jason will cherish the memory we made for a long time.

We went to see The Nutcracker at a local youth ballet here in Charlotte. 

My lovely mother in law agreed to come in town for that weekend to watch Henry and put him to sleep so we could go in the evening together, just Jason and I and Will. I had the mysterious wherewithal to have planned this weeks ahead... even getting him the illustrated book from Barnes & Noble during one of our morning outings there (they have the best train table in the city). We listened to the music and read the story all month. 

On Friday morning, the day of the ballet, I was very worried because of course the boys decided to wake up a full hour early. Looking at my clock at 6:30 that morning, knowing Will would be up til at least 10, I wasn't sure how it was all going to pan out. 

After a busy day of running some errands and cleaning the house before Alane came, [and dealing with some major whiny meltdowns, I might add]... I decided to try a Hail Mary last resort. Now, Will has not napped since April. He will very occasionally doze off in the stroller or carseat, but he has not needed nor accepted a straight up nap in months. 

I took him upstairs - Henry was still fast asleep in their bedroom - and I let him help me set up the big air mattress for Alane in our playroom. It was cold and dreary outside. I told him he needed to rest since we were going to be out very late tonight to see the Nutcracker, and he didn't have to sleep, but he did need to lay down. He snuggled into the huge air mattress, and I left him with a few books. 30 minutes later, when I went to get Henry, I opened the creaky door as slowly as possible, and there was Will, fast asleep, his little face looking more like my baby than he has in ages. 

The house was dark and the sun had set when I finally slipped up to wake him. He opened his eyes when I patted his little shoulder, and immediately he remembered what we were doing. I dressed him by lamplight in his black corduroys and red shirt, with his Sunday shoes, and we went downstairs to see his Gobby. Jason walked in from work just in time for our quick dinner, and we took a picture with Henry in front of our tree that we had gotten a few days earlier. 

To say Will was excited cannot begin to describe his state of being. It was precious. He was eager and polite and I beamed with pride all evening. He was the youngest child I saw around us, and he was better behaved than all of them. Of course :). 

We sat just two rows back from the stage.

He did keep begging for more of the Mouse King - but really, don't we all?

At intermission, we got him a sprite and some Cheetos - his first actually, haha. 

When the audience applauded after every dance solo, I looked down to my left to see my little boy  leaning forward enthusiastically and clapping as vehemently as possible. A regular patron of the arts. 

I think half of his excitement that evening was due to the fact that he was staying up so late past his bedtime, with just Jason and I. He felt very grown up.

As I sat there with him, soaking up his happiness, I had a flashback to my own childhood - but oddly, not to the Nutcracker, which I loved deeply as a little girl, and even got to see my parents act in (they played parents in the opening Christmas party scene, and I will never forget my mother's dark green velvet ball gown, and watching several dress rehearsals in the dark theater with my babysitter - I was 5)... what I unexpectedly found myself remembering was my first Midnight Mass, with my cousin Teresa, and my beloved Aunt Caroline. She was my Dad's only sister, closest sibling, and his best friend - and you all probably already have heard about her dying in 2009 in her early forties, leaving behind a hole for her friends and family (of 6 kids) that will never be filled.  

My aunt had a gift for making the smallest of things into an Event, capitalized, that you would never forget. For my first Midnight Mass, she made it this whole big exciting deal for Teresa and I. We were 6, I think; and it was the most unbelievable thing in the WORLD when she allowed us to have a tiny cup of coffee. "You have to drink this to stay awake!" she said, importantly, as she stirred in some sugar and gave us our mugs, which we drank in our Christmas dresses and made wide-eyed faces at each other at the kitchen table. 

I sat there in the theater with Will, and realized just how many memories my Aunt made for us in my childhood. She was so good at that, at making her own excitement for life contagious. 

As I watched the dancing candy canes, I realized that my aunt was probably just as bad as I am at the little cutesy, crafty details that I can never pull together. Their house was always clean, but never tidy; while she made some of my favorite memories from my childhood, they all involved adventures, not crafts; and I don't remember any Christmas cards from them growing up either - but every few years, she would write the most entertaining family Christmas letter you had ever read and make up for it. 

I realized that none of us mothers have every desirable quality or strong point... but we do each have something unique to offer our families, something they will cherish long after we are gone. In my own bewilderment that somehow I, the non-planner and procrastinator extraordinaire, was sitting in a theater with my child and making what was clearly a very special memory with him... it crossed my mind that maybe, just maybe there is hope for me that I could be following in my aunt's footsteps. 

My own mom did amazing crafts with us. She would hand-make our Halloween costumes every year - and they were without fail better than anyone else's. She would make the most amazing Advent crafts... one year, for Lent, I think? - she did a papier mache Whale for Jonah and the Whale, and even hand-sewed an unbelievable Jonah costume for one of our Ken dolls. I loved those things, and her own enjoyment of them. 

But it was my Aunt Caroline who made the most vivid memories of my childhood. It was her loud, infectious laugh, that sparkle in her eyes that told you this is a big friggin deal, her hilarious ideas that she would have out of nowhere, her endless energy to make them happen... and her fearlessness to throw routine and schedules to the wind for an adventure that awaited. She single-handedly turned Saint Nicholas' feast day into a giant prank-fest, where she dressed her whole family of 8 in all black like ninjas, complete with ski masks, and terrified friends and family by randomly dropping off a black garbage bag of candy. She did a Hall of Martyrs one year for her teenagers for All Saints Day... and got tons families to do it with them - a bloody, spooky, uber-Catholic event. She threw the most fun New Year's Eve party I still have ever had, and it was just me visiting them and my cousins. We made a delicious spread of food and stayed up til 2, playing games and having a LOTR marathon (this was 2004 ok, Orlando Bloom was so cool).

I was 20 when she passed; but I think of her so many times as a young woman and a mother. It suddenly clicks that she wasn't good about the details either - but that is part of what made her so adventurous. And we need both - the planners and the pirates. Aunt Caroline, if you're reading this, pray for me. Pray for me to have the grace to give from my heart with everything I have, and not compare myself to others so much in the process. 

Oh PS: Henry hasn't appeared in this post much, so here is his contribution to tree decorating:

Merry Christmas.