The 10 year-old is adamant that the house must be decorated for Christmas by December 1st. She’s developed some strong holiday convictions this year, like no Christmas music before Thanksgiving (I delighted to call her out when I heard her singing “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of The Year” the day before Thanksgiving). But this decoration deadline is about more than simple holiday timing. It’s about the elf.
The bloody elf.
The decorations have to be up by Saturday because that’s when the elf comes. But it’s all still down in storage and today is Thursday. She has two hours of cheer practice tonight, and tomorrow night we’re going to a production of “A Christmas Carol.” It’s not going to happen.
I tried to get creative with the timing. “Oh, it’s not December 1st when the elf arrives. It’s the first Sunday of Advent. So we can do the decorating on Saturday.”
Not persuaded even a little, she says, “No, the elf is always here by December 1st” (I honestly don’t know where she’s getting this. I’m pretty sure we’ve been later than that in decorating during the elf era before).
I parlay: “That’s because the first Sunday of Advent is usually the Sunday after Thanksgiving. It’s later this year.”
She doesn’t miss a beat in her takedown. “The elf is an atheist.”
So much of parenting is managing disappointment.
Some of the people you work with care a lot more about elements of your work than you do. You care enough about these elements to think them over, to keep an eye on them and to have a kind of internal backup plan should they require action. But they care enough to bring them front and center right now and insist on immediate action.
Thank God for those people.
Working with people, rather than alone, means that you don’t have to care deeply about everything. There are other people to carry the weight.
This also means that the people we’re working with really need us to speak up about the things we really care about.
The WiFi has been out here since yesterday afternoon. Read a book, yes. Remember that we all got along without uninterrupted wireless internet before. Light candles and tell tales of the old days.
The internet is a powerful utility in our everyday lives, and when any utility goes down the disruption is real. We used to do without electricity, natural gas, and running water too, but we don’t romanticize their outages. You might freeze without one of those in the winter, I know, and yet I know lots of people who literally can’t do their jobs without internet access at home.
We’re dependent on the connection of WiFi. Don’t feel bad about it.
Daughter asked me to set her alarm thirty minutes earlier than usual.
“So I can sleep in.”
“When the alarm goes off, I can shut it off and know I have 30 more minutes to sleep.”
“But wouldn’t you rather just sleep those 30 minutes without being woken up?”
“No. I like the feeling of knowing I can go back to sleep.”
Whatever it takes, I guess.
A spouse who loves me.
A daughter who delights me.
Parents who encourage me.
A family of aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins, who remember me.
Work that challenges me.
Work that pays me enough to live and eat.
Friends who laugh with me.
Colleagues who inspire me.
A church that nurtures me.
God who saves me.
Maybe that scoldy little sentence we all learned as children can serve us as adults, albeit in a different way. As children, not saying anything at all when we didn’t have anything nice to say was for the benefit of our peers; Kevin and Rhonda don’t need to hear your opinion of them unless it’s complimentary. That will hurt their feelings. But Kevin and Rhonda are grown ups now–indulging your negativity about them is hurting you as much as you mean it to damage them.
There’s no prize for the best take down. Not in real life. Forget personal attacks: even summing up the bad news of the day with clarity isn’t as useful as it feels. There is so much to feel negative about, I know. But does talking about it all the time really help?
Maybe today I’ll keep my negative opinions to myself, just to see what happens.
A small black speck caught the corner of my eye just before I hit the first step. It was hovering in midair, and my mind registered it first as a fly. It wasn’t moving, though, so my head involuntarily turned to see it fully and, in less than a second, recognized its arachnid shape and posture dangling on the end of a silken line attached to the ceiling above.
It hung right at head height for my daughter beside me. One more step and she would have it in her hair. My right arm shot from my side and the hand closed around the spider, as, in one fluid motion, I pivoted lift and slammed my capture open-palmed into the hallway carpet.
My daughter looked at me annoyed. “Dad, what are you doing?” she asks with a roll of the eyes.
I choose not to tell her that I’ve just literally saved her life.
It comes at you while you’re building a spreadsheet or crossing items off your to do list or emptying your email inbox, this reminder of the irreducibly human drama around and under everyone we care about.
You look up from your desk and immediately doubt that these are the tasks that should occupy your attention. Can you not join a protest? Or stand beside a hospital bed?
So much of what our people endure escapes our attention. Could we take it if it didn’t?
The person next to me at our co-worker’s baby shower congratulated me on my quickness with a clever remark. The father-to-be has asked if there was something inside the tartan baby booties we’d picked up for them on our Scotland vacation last summer, noting how heavy they felt, and I’d answered, “Yes. Haggis.”
It feels good to make a room laugh. Everybody knows that.
But you can spend valuable energy in group looking for an opening for your next quip, energy that might better be used to listen, to reflect, to connect on a level deeper than wit.
Here’s something I used to roll my eyes at is books and discussions about church participation in America: all the people who show up when they start having kids.
Lots of sociology of religion texts described this phenomenon when I was in seminary, and I always looked down on it as a less-than kind of motivation for coming to church. I maintained a kind of Pelagian disdain for those who couldn’t be bothered with church in college and young adulthood (after spending lots of time in Sunday School and youth group) but who suddenly discovered a yearning for God and a religious community once they became parents.
That was dumb. It signified the projection of my own religious experience as the norm everyone else should follow. I was young.
People who come back around to church when the kids are born are taking a massive step. Though they often present as nominally involved and are busy with lots and lots of competing commitments, what with full-time careers and ever-growing schedules of kids’ activities, their search for meaning and connection–for God–is as authentic as the sighing pleading of the 20 year-old in the pew next to them. It feels critically important to make good use of their time and energy. Get to the heart of the matter. Don’t fool around.