Friday, December 23, 2016

Have Yourself A Poopy Little Christmas: Finding Light In A Time Of Darkness

If love means never having to say "I'm sorry," then loving two little boys means never having to say "I'm sorry, this bathroom is just too clean for words!" Oh, there are plenty of words to describe the typical state of a bathroom in our house, but most of them are not fit to print.

I can't even identify some of the things I've found in the kids' bathroom, because quite frankly I don't want to get close enough to try. Let's be honest: boys are a symphony of gross, and the bathroom is their masterpiece concerto of yuck. And I don't want to completely let my little princess off the hook, since her bedroom could easily be featured on an episode of Elementary School Hoarders. Given that anatomy is on her side, she does generally manage to keep the toilet seat clean, although actually flushing the device is apparently frowned upon in her kingdom.

That goes for all the kids in the house; that's because right now we are three kids deep in one of the poopiest phases of parenting. Everyone is out of diapers, but now they're gripped with a fascination with all things excrement-related. Bathroom humor is the only kind of humor in our house. When they do Mad Libs, I can be relatively certain that the choice of nouns and verbs will fall into just two categories: bodily functions or the parts that produce them. My daughter, if given the opportunity to play with my phone, will bypass all the sweet, smiley faced emojis and head right for the picture of the toilet or the brown lump of poop. And the first time we traveled to Mackinac Island, Michigan's storied getaway where cars are not allowed and horse drawn carriages are a main mode of transportation, the bulk of the 4-hour trip north was devoted to the topic of horse poop. Do they just poop in the ROAD? Who cleans it up? Where do they put it? What happens to it after that?

So it should come as no surprise, given their obsession, that one of my children would find a way to bring poop into the picture of one of the most holy, divine moments in all of religion: the birth of Christ.

It was shortly after Thanksgiving and my youngest was setting up the nativity scene by the fireplace while I worked on the tree in the other room with his siblings.

"Mom, what's a manger?" he called out.

I peeked in to see him tossing the plastic manger in the air (we purchased a kid-friendly set after the unfortunate year where several donkeys were decapitated during a Bethlehem brawl).

"'s that thing in your know, the place where Mary laid baby Jesus after he was born?"

"But what IS it when He's not in it? Is it a bed...for a sheep?" he wondered, his chunky kindergarten fingers not finding success at shoving a plastic animal into the manger.

"Well, not exactly," I replied. "I think it's more like a food trough- the place where the animals ate. Remember how there was no room for Mary and Joseph inside? They had to stay out with the animals. Then Jesus was born, and Mary wrapped him up and put him in there.

He considered this thoughtfully for a second and then his face lit up with excitement.

"So all these animals were there?" he gestured to the plastic menagerie.



Clearly, the poop train had left the station. He became so engrossed in his recollection of barnyard poop (and reenacting it with the nativity scene animals) that he forgot he had even asked the question, so I took it upon myself to walk away and not have to deal with another poopy conversation. But his question stayed with me, and not just because I had to scrub the toilets that afternoon.

Though it's my most favorite time of year, I'd been having a hard time getting in the Christmas spirit. Despite the holiday lights all around, things just hadn't seemed very bright. Between the never-ending political drama in our country, the unthinkable atrocities unfolding in Syria, the bombing of churches in my family's homeland, the suffering of loved ones, and my own chronic pain from an injury that just won't heal, light had been in short supply.

Maybe that's why I started wondering- WAS there poop when Jesus was born?

I guess there probably was, both literally and figuratively. In our minds, in images, and in the songs we sing this time of year, the birth of Christ is such a gentle, magical time. We think of Christmas as a time of light, which of course it was (and is), but we often forget to mention that Jesus was born in the middle of a time of great darkness. The people of God were under oppressive rule. The nation of Israel was fracturing. Riots were common. Persecution was the way of life. 9 months pregnant, Mary and Joseph made an arduous, 100-mile journey by DONKEY over hills and streams, only to deliver the baby outdoors, without family or hospitality. These were very dark times, or as my kids my say, poopy. And that's not even talking about the animals.

I am no biblical scholar, but I do have to believe that was no accident. There's a reason the Son of God didn't arrive on a calm, clear day, with Mary and Joseph comfortably registered at the Labor and Delivery unit of their local hospital, birth plan in hand, with a crowd of family and friends in the waiting room as lavender essential oils were diffused into the birthing suite.

No, He was born into a world that I can't help but think was very similar to the one we're living in today: a broken, dark, and poopy one.

And that's where I guess this year I find the meaning of Christmas: in the poop. Christmas is about waiting for God to break forth into our world, despite the poop. It's waiting for the reassurance that hope is alive, that peace will prevail, that joy will be found, and that love will always win. It's the belief that nothing we can do as humans is so dark- not even the poopy condition in which we've left the world- that it can separate us from that light, and I've never found that thought more comforting than today.

Our world is a tough place to live in, but the Christmas story reminds us that just as hope, peace, joy and love started with an innocent child born in a humble manger surrounded (I surmise) by poop, it also starts at home in our poopy lives every single day. Christmas starts here. Christmas starts with us. It starts with cleaning up the poop.

Later that day, I found my sweet five-year-old, put him on my lap and asked him, "Buddy, do you remember earlier when you asked if there was poop when Jesus was born?"

After the requisite 10 minutes of laughing because MOM SAID POOP, he settled down. "Yeah..."

"Well, I wasn't there, and there's nothing written about that in the Bible, but I think we can guess there was. Like you said, there were all these animals, and animals poop. But that's not all. There were a lot of people behaving in a pretty poopy way back then. The world was dark and scary. And God wasn't afraid of any of that. Not the poop or the dark. He still isn't. He sent us light. That's a big part of Christmas- we need to look at all the ways we are poopy- not just in the bathroom, but in the way we talk, behave, and most of all, treat other people. We need to look for God, because he's here. We need to look for him in each other, in strangers, in people we can help. We need to look for that light, and we need to BE that light. And we REALLY need to clean up the poop in our lives."

I wanted to tell him so much more. I wanted to tell him how guilty I feel when I look around at all the poop that surrounds us- the politics, the pain, the suffering-  and realize how lucky I am that the majority of the excrement in my life is confined to the bathroom.

I wanted to tell him how every mother, of every creed and every color, in every part of the world, has seen the great light that's been passed down through history with the first glance into in her child's eyes.

How sometimes my heart simultaneously aches with equal parts joy and guilt when I think about how whole our life is in the midst of our very broken world.

I wanted to tell him all of that, but it seemed a bit heavy for a 5-year-old, so instead I just kissed the top of his curly head, held him a bit too long until he squirmed out of my arms, and told him to go clean the bathroom.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Angel: Seeing The World Through A Child's Eyes

Holiday celebrations are some of the best parts of living in a small town, and my town does not disappoint. As Christmas approaches, our Main Street. is decked out in wreaths and ribbons, with beautiful storefront window displays glittering and gleaming in the soft white lights.

Early in the season, the entire downtown closes to traffic for an evening to make room for Santa's sleigh, where, after several hours of music and merry-making, the crowd gathers for a countdown at the end of which Santa magically turns on the Christmas lights that surround downtown's centerpiece, the Millpond (we won't dwell on that one year we counted down like six times but the lights still wouldn't go on- even Santa has technical difficulties). It's a pretty big deal around here.

Many of the homes leading into downtown take their celebrations just as seriously. There's the house with the nearly 50-foot pine tree that is adorned from top to bottom with ornaments the size of watermelons. Smiling snowmen on every corner. Enough reindeer to pull a dozen sleighs. And my favorite- a giant lighted angel which stands in front of a quaint, brick gingerbread-style home on Main St. I look forward to seeing its warm glow every year, and then I forget about it until the next. Christmas angels aren't there when it's not Christmas, right?

Unless they are and you just don't see them.

Fortunately, someone in my world does.

I think it began around sometime around February or March. We'd be driving through downtown and all of a sudden, my then 6-year-old daughter would nearly leap out of her booster seat with excitement.

"Mama- there's the most beautiful angel standing there, and she's holding a present in her hands! What do you think is in it? Do you think it's for me?" She'd breathlessly blurt out as we navigated the roundabout in the middle of town.

"Mmm hmm...," I'm sure I muttered distractedly, the first few times, glancing up about 2 blocks after the fact, which is typically the time it takes a verbal message to trudge through the muck of my overloaded brain, and to trigger some sort of a response. Of course by then, I saw nothing.

But she wouldn't stop. Whether it was on the way to ballet, coming home from the grocery store, or heading to a friend's house, she saw an angel. I saw nothing but places to go, errands to run, and time ticking away on the clock.

Though she only mentioned the angel when the two of us were alone together in the car, on those rare occasions I was a passenger, I'd try to remind myself to look for it. Unfortunately, by the time we got close to downtown, my attention had been pulled away by a beep or a buzz or a tweet or a tap or a swipe. But never an angel.

Finally one day, I remembered. As we made our way downtown on the way to dance class, I told her to tell me when we were getting close to the angel. I slowed waaayyy down until I heard her gleefully  squeal: "There she is!"

Sure enough, she was right- there stood the frame of the giant lighted angel I so look forward to seeing each Christmas. I'll be honest- in the light of day, she looked a little shabby- just a twisted shell of metal and wires on a soggy, bare lawn.

"Oh, you mean the Christmas angel!" I said. "I didn't see her because the lights aren't on this time of year."

"She's not just a Christmas angel, mama- she's there all the time," she insisted. "It doesn't matter if the lights are on. She's an angel- she's always shining. I see her all the time. You just didn't LOOK for her. "


And just like that, my thought process sped through the roundabout and took a hard right turn into the oh-so-familiar parking lot of Mommy Guilt. Between work, activities, obligations, and the pressure of getting everyone from Point A to B (and points C-Z), what else had I been missing?

But then I realized- maybe we're not meant to see it all alone. Sure, my little girl sees things where I don't- she looks at a puddle and sees nothing but joy. I see a stealth mess that's looking to attach itself to a host so it can spread entirely new messes throughout the house. She sees cotton candy dinosaurs on a cloudy day, while I mourn the absence of the sun. And she sees angels shining even when the lights aren't on.

But I know it works both ways- it's my job to see things that she can't yet understand. To shield her as best I can from harmful germs and harmful strangers, bumps on her leg and bumps in the night. To guard her heart and raise her to see the world with both wisdom and joy.

Light and dark.

Angels and demons.

Between the two of us, I think it will work out just fine.

She'll be my angel and I'll be hers.