Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Best of 2014 (or something like that)

So I most definitely shouldn't be doing a "Best of 2014" post when I've only been blogging for three months.  But it's my blog.  And I want to.  (Also, it makes me seem way more popular than I am.)

So here it is!

The most popular post of 2014 (aka the past three months)...


I tried to be a Pinterest mom.


I planned a Ninjago-themed birthday party for my soon-to-be six-year-old son and seven of his squirmy kindergarten classmates.

It started as healthy browsing and ended in a pinning frenzy.  I chose the activities and foods that seemed fun, cute, and doable for a non-crafty, average-cooking mom.  I laid out my party plans and created a checklist of all the pre-party to-do's... so I wouldn't go too crazy the day of.

I kept telling myself in the week leading up to the party that I actually enjoyed this.  That I was happy to plan a party my son would enjoy.  One that he could be proud of when we didn't necessarily want to spend the money on the playhouse/soccer/swimming parties we frequented throughout the year.

But then the morning of the party arrived and I became slightly to very homicidal.  I won't go into details.  Let's just say, for the sake of my marriage, I don't plan Pinterest parties anymore.

And yet I truly believe there are some moms who do enjoy planning cute, intricate, matching birthday parties for their little ones.  Just like I know there are moms who actually like doing crafts and cooking with their kids.

Just because I'm not one of them doesn't mean they don't exist.

I get tired of reading articles and hearing people talk about these "Pinterest moms."  Like somehow their very existence threatens our own motherhood.

For the one week I imagined myself as a Pinterest mom, I didn't once think, I can't wait to post these pictures to Facebook and make all those non-Pinterest mamas feel small, small, small.

I mean, I did post pictures to Facebook.  I was proud of my work.  And after the near-sacrifice of my marriage, you can bet I needed to display some proof that it was worth it (right Joel?).

But I didn't do it to make anyone else feel less than.

I think as moms (and dads) that sometimes we can take each other's parenting successes personally.

I know because I'm guilty of it too.

When Aiden was in his first year of preschool a friend sent me a link to another mom's blog.  It was cute and crafty and by the time I read two posts I felt like I was three years behind in mother/child crafty bonding, and I started to panic a little.

So much so that the very next day I kept him home from preschool.  I saw that the crafty mom had made a tower of marshmallows and uncooked spaghetti with her kids.  That seemed like something I could do, so I raided our US stash for marshmallows, spread them across the table with a big smile on of my face, and instructed my kids to build.

But mostly they just wanted to eat marshmallows and every attempt at building ended in my saying something along the lines of "oh my gosh, did you really just break another one" or "you're not finished until it looks like something!"

My kids ended up eating marshmallows on the couch, watching Spiderman.  I felt defeated.

But here's the thing.  I have this good friend here who loves to craft with her kids.  But guess what?  She loves to craft by herself too!  (Is it called crafting?  See, that's how little I know about it.)

It's not that I don't enjoy doing things with my kids.  It's that I was trying to force something that none of us were interested in.

So now I try to look for the intersection of our interests.  It's easy for Joel.  The boys love Star Wars and video games and bike rides.  But I have to be a little more creative.

For example, Finny and I both love food.  I don't have a lot of patience for kids cooking in the kitchen, but if I prep enough and have no time frame, I can let him cook with me.  More so, though, we love eating together.  That one I can handle.

Aiden's a bit harder for me, as he seems to possess boundless energy and I definitely don't.  But we both love to read.  So that's something.

Benjamin loves everything right now, so that's easy.

We all have our things.  My things with my kids aren't exciting or pretty enough to post to Facebook most of the time.  But if they were, I would proudly put it out there for all the world to see.  And why not?

I believe there's a way to appreciate other moms, and the moments that make them feel good, without feeling bad ourselves.

It's easy to relate to someone being honest about how hard it is.  But what about someone who's just being honest about how good it is.  Because there's both.  There's always both.  And just because someone is having a good mom moment, doesn't mean that we should have a bad one.

So Pinterest mamas of the world... we're behind you!  We understand that you can put hours and hours of work into a party just to see the joy on your child's face.  That you can craft and cook with your kids because you actually, truly enjoy it.

And those of us who don't, we have our moments too.  Snuggling on the couch for movie night, reading a favorite book, taking a child on a coffee/treat date (my favorite, of course).

Even if I don't enjoy one moment all day long, it doesn't make your moment any less valuable.  So keep showing us your moments.  The good and the bad.  And we'll keep showing you ours.

I may not plan Pinterest parties anymore, but I support those who do.

Plan on, mamas.  Plan on.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Oh good, another boy

I love raising boys.

Really.  I do.

I love the sounds and the energy.  I love that sibling resentment almost always escalates to physicality, where any bitterness is put to rest.  Until the next fight, at least.

I find boy number three comforting and familiar.  I'm not shocked by much anymore.  He must climb.  He just must.  And I get that now.  He hits and pushes and kicks and then follows it all with a hug and a kiss, as if such actions are obviously compatible.  There are things that happen in his diaper that don't, anymore, cause my jaw to drop as I scream for my husband.

Boy things are normal to me.  

I don't get upset when the toilet seat is left up.  I'm just happy for a dry surface on which to rest.  

I'm calloused to the faint stench of urine emanating from their room, no matter how often I wash their bedding (which, admittedly, isn't very often) and despite the fact that they haven't wet their beds for years.  Literally.  Years.

Joel couldn't attend our gender-determining ultrasound with Benjamin.  So I asked the doctor to write it down and place it in a sealed envelope.  So we could open it together.

Later that day we all huddled in Joel's classroom.  It was unceremonious, for sure, but we couldn't wait.  

So we tore it open and both of our faces fell.  But we forced smiles and said, Oh good, another boy.

We already had two, and they were so opposite of each other, we couldn't figure out how a third could be exciting at all.  He would be just like the one or just like the other.  There was no third option, in our minds.

But it turns out Benjamin was his own option.  And oftentimes we look at him at night (when he's good and asleep) and say, out loud, How did we get so lucky?

Now our house is loud and messy and full of non-stop, full-throttle action.

I adore it.  If not always in the moment, at least the memory of the moment.

I love when they laugh at "boy things" that mom can't possibly understand.  I love being the lap they want to snuggle on in those few and far between moments of calm.  I love the once or twice a year when I put on a dress and they follow me through the house, telling me how nice I look an awkward number of times.

They also drive me completely crazy.  Sometimes I want life to be still and calm and they just will not allow it.  Unless they're sleeping.

And I wasn't always so excited about the world of boys.

When we pulled that small slip of paper from its envelope, I'll admit, I was disappointed.  But it wasn't the first time.

I pictured motherhood as a very calm and beautiful thing.  I thought there would be a whole lot of snuggles and kisses, and fun that was 100% fun, and not also frustrating and exhausting.

But Aiden from his earliest moments always wanted to go.  He couldn't be held down if you tried.  He woke at 5, and as I would cry in frustration, my husband would tell me, "He's just excited for the day."

He was excited for the day.  And now, nearly seven years later, he still is.  He'll ask us, at times, to wake him up early, just to play before his brothers awake.  He's passionate and enthusiastic and happy and kind... all of the things people told me he'd one day be, when I thought I couldn't handle another day of his relentless energy.

It took me a while.  To overcome the disappointment.  To reconcile my picture of the perfect child with this one I was given.

But I did.  Eventually.  And now, when I see my first baby in my third, as he pours raisins over the carpet and runs circles around the kitchen table, I realize I've finally embraced these things.  These boys who've invaded my life.

I love that as I gaze out the window, one boy is bouncing on a snow-covered tree limb, the other throwing a bat from the ground into its branches.  My boys, playing in the snow.

It's not how I imagined life with kids.  But it's the best life.

One girl in a house full of boys.

And I'm the lucky one.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Merry (days after) Christmas

We made it!

We survived Christmas!

Pat yourselves on the back.  Give your loved ones a hug.  Or do like us for the past 24 hours, and watch your household fall apart around you while your five and six-year-olds prepare their own meals and your toddler covers the house in the washable markers you had to give him for Christmas because you forgot that he would also need presents this year... and do it all from the comfort of your soft, lovely, wonderful couch.

And when your small children start in with their requests, rudely ignoring the fact that you were busy doing all the hard work that they chalk up to "magic" (the same way my husband believes the dishes get cleaned every time he cooks and his clothes transport from the bathroom floor to the washing machine), point them in the direction of their new toys or TV shows that are not in any way related to Christmas or, better yet, bundle them up and push them into the yard, where you can see, but definitely not hear them.

If all else fails, do what is required of you, but sneak one to five Christmas cookies while you're doing it.  And get yourself a bottle of wine to polish off meal number five of turkey leftovers (which, fyi, is absolute best in pizza form).

Relax and enjoy the next 11 months, when it will start all over again.  (Or 11 months and three weeks if you're a procrastinator like me.)

Merry days after Christmas everyone!

And yes, I realize I probably could have cooked their lunch instead of taking pictures.  But really, where's the fun in that?

Saturday, December 20, 2014

What I didn't know

I thought I knew pain.  Before.  But I didn't.

Sure, I knew what it felt like to enter a classroom full of kids, all alone, terrified.  I remember how lonely I felt, and how shy.  I remember coming home every day, laying my six-year-old head on the kitchen table, and crying.

My heart was hurt.  But it wasn't broken.

If I had looked at my mom, really looked at her, as she rubbed my back and told me it would be okay, I would have seen a broken heart.

I understood rejection.  I felt the hurt of reaching for my dreams, only to see them crushed before me.  The lead role or the solo swiped out from under me.  I remember falling on my bed, sobbing.  I saved my tears for home, where I felt safe.

My heart was hurt.  But it wasn't broken.

If I had looked at my mom, really looked at her, as she rubbed my back and told me it would be okay, I would have seen a broken heart.

I felt crushed with disappointment when the doctor told me this was it.  I would have to be induced.  Today.  I called my mom and dad as I packed my bags.  I could barely get out the words through my tears.

My heart was hurt.  But it wasn't broken.

This time an ocean stood between us.  So she couldn't rub my back, only tell me it would be okay.  But if I listened, really listened, I would have heard a heart breaking.

I didn't know.  Before.  But now I do.

I know that watching your child hurt is the worst pain.  Because they eventually fall asleep, after the tears, but we're up.  For hours and hours.  Thinking and hurting.  Feeling the pain for them as they slumber peacefully.  Frequenting their bedside, wishing and praying and longing to take it away.

I think it's different for dads.  They care and they love, so much.  But Joel is able to see past the pain.  To know that, particularly with young kids, circumstances can change fast.  And next week, or even tomorrow, they'll be just fine.

I know that, but I can't seem to feel it.  What I feel is my child playing alone at recess, or crying as he walks into the cafeteria.  I can't feel that it will soon be over.  I can only feel the moment.  And as I watch them sleep, and eat, and even laugh, I realize I feel it even more so.  That, in some ways, it's even worse for me than it is for them.

And I remember now.  The tears sparkling in my mom's eyes, behind her reassuring smile.  And I wonder how she stayed so strong.

I wasn't grateful then.  But I am now.  I'm grateful for someone walking through life with me.  Feeling my pain and my joy.  Even if I didn't always notice.

So happy birthday to my beautiful, loving Mom.  Thank you for never caring if I noticed.

But just so you know.  I do now.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Failing Christmas

Christmas nearly always leaves me feeling like a failure.

Literally.  When the day is done and the wrapping paper all thrown out and the dishes drying in the rack, I feel defeated.  Like Christmas beat me.  Again.

And usually it's because of this.

No matter how I try and I plan and I hope, I'm left feeling that Christmas wasn't about what it was supposed to be about.  And that it was about all it shouldn't be about.  And somehow the weight of that lands squarely on my shoulders.

And I go to bed feeling heavy.  Waiting for next year.  Looking for a redo.

We've gone back and forth with the Santa thing.  Sometimes I think getting rid of him would solve my problem.  I certainly understand why people do.  But the Christmases of my childhood were magical.  And Santa was a big part of that.  So now, I can't seem to let him go.

It's not something I admit often, but I believed in Santa until I was almost 12.  12 years old.  That's middle school, people.

I mean, my parents were pretty convincing.  Honestly, in my 31 years I have never heard them admit that Santa's not real.  When I would ask if it was true, what the kids were saying at school, they would ask, in turn, what did I think?  I think he's real, I'd reply with wide eyes.  And as long as that was good enough for me, that was good enough for them.

Plus, I know I saw Santa and his reindeer, flying through the sky, one Christmas Eve.  I was staring out my sister's window, fighting to keep my heavy eyelids open.  She missed it.  But I saw it.  I was sure of it.  And my parents weren't surprised at all.  They acted as though it was inevitable.  That, of course, I saw him.  What did I think, they were making all of this up?

I was certainly disappointed when I found out.  I was most mad at my sister, who apparently knew years and years before I did, but pretended to believe every Christmas anyhow.  Just to let the magic live on for me.  (Turns out I was a pretty lucky girl.)

But I didn't feel duped by my parents.  I didn't feel lied to, or betrayed.

And looking back, I wonder if it didn't help my faith.  To believe, if only for a time, in the unseen.

Even so, I can't help, as a mom myself, feeling this huge pressure every Christmas.

While clearly there's a lot of pressure surrounding Christmas in general, I think there's added pressure in Christian parent circles.  To make Christmas day the very pinnacle of our family's spirituality.  With the proper Advent build-up and a Christmas day where the little baby Jesus is held up before anything else.  Where our kids finally see and believe and appreciate all that God did for us in sending His Son to earth.  To be with us.

It's true.  For sure.  That Jesus is the best gift of Christmas.  That He is what it's all about.

But this year I'm cutting myself a break.  This year I'm not going to fight the presents and the cookies and the twinkling Christmas lights.  This year, I'm letting go.

I've decided this year to stop making my children appreciate the meaning of Christmas.  And instead, to appreciate it myself.  I've decided to stop making my children give.  And instead, to give myself.  I've decided to stop making them notice.  And instead, to notice myself.

If they see all that, great!  Even better.

But if they don't.  It's okay.  There are more days to think about Jesus and God and faith than just Christmas day.  If He's not the most important part of their day this year, that's okay.

I used to think that my most life-changing moments as a Christian would always happen at church or on important holidays or at Christian music festivals and conferences.  And they used to.  Absolutely.

But then I had kids.  And now, the most powerful moments of my faith, thus far, have been random, average, everyday conversations with my kids.

Not surrounding any holiday or special event.  Often they happen in the car.  Or at bed time.

My kids will ask about heaven or Jesus or kids who don't have moms and dads.  And as we talk, as I tell them about stories from the bible, about God's promises, about my own thoughts, I realize, with absolute certainty, Holy crap, I really believe this stuff.

I really believe it and it is so stinking beautiful that I almost always cry.  Quietly.  Or at least tear up a bit.

And my kids will eventually turn the conversation to which kind of performance tip they'll use for their next Bey Blade battle.  But the words we spoke won't leave me for some time.  The bursting feeling in my heart will stay.  And will change me.

There's a common thread in these conversations, though.  They're not forced.  There's no pressure.  No obvious importance.

They just happen and they're moving and gorgeous.  And they rarely, if ever, occur on specific Christian holidays.  They're nearly always on an everyday.

So this Christmas we'll tell the story of Jesus' birth and we'll open presents, and we'll check to make sure Santa ate all of his cookies and drank all of his milk.

And I'll let myself off the hook.  I'll know that there are 364 more days this year to talk about and appreciate and love Jesus.  That, although this is an obvious day for it, it's not the only one.

This year I'll say a prayer of thankfulness before bed, on Christmas night.  For my family, my children, for Christmas.  I'll pray for the people who aren't as lucky as I am.  Who are feeling like failures this Christmas because they couldn't get their children any Christmas gifts, instead of fretting that they got too many.

I'll thank God for sending His Son and sit back with a quiet smile as the day unfolds however it unfolds.

This Christmas, I'm not going to force it.  I'm going to let it happen.  I'm going to know, in my heart, what it's all about.  And I'm going to let that be enough.

(And also, I'm going to write it down here, because there's a good chance I'm going to forget!)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The magic

My mom and dad are here!

I love having them, but I'm not too nice in the days leading to their arrival.  I'm putting all my energy into cleaning and organizing and pretending that I didn't spend any time cleaning and organizing.  That it's just the natural state of my house.  Which it definitely is, Mom.

So I don't have much energy or time for choosing my words carefully.  Or talking in general.  Or feeding my children, for that matter.

But then they come and magical things happen.

For one, there are four more legs to run after Benjamin.  And let's face it, we can use all the legs we can get with that one.

I don't have to fight the mountains of dishes perched precariously upon the drying rack to find the peeler.  It's always washed, dried, and in it's place.  Which, I guess, is the drawer?

My kids don't need to hide favorite clothing items under their pillows anymore.  They can let them fall, instead, into the greedy hands of the hamper, where they'll be cleaned and returned in less than a month.

And I get to cook in peace.  Without a plus-sized baby in my arms and the big ones drop-kicking each other in the living room.

At one point I literally watched our dinner boil.  Just watched it boil.  And waited for the next step.  The magic had already done my dishes and for a few minutes I actually did nothing.  It makes me tear up a bit just thinking about it.

I love them for more than the magic.  Of course.  But the magic is nice too.

The magic even allowed me to do this.

Get it?

Granted, I only picked these because the internet made them look super easy.  The internet lied, of course.  But it turns out I'm kind of Super Mom when I don't also have to watch my kids, so it was no big thing.

We're so lucky.  Really.  We don't get to see our families enough.

But when we do, it's magic.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Me and my dad

One of my earliest memories of my dad was at a small skating pond, near our old home in Illinois.  He was telling me we were moving, and I listened intently.  I was five at the time.

When I tell him this now he looks at me strangely, and kind of says, Oh yeah?  Maybe...

He's too kind to tell me there was no ice skating pond by our house.  And even if there was, we didn't move until summer, as far as I can recall.  So why was the pond still frozen?

But I'm going to keep it anyhow.  It felt like a nice, tender moment.  Just him and I.  At the ice skating pond that probably didn't exist.

I remember one time my dad rolling off our couch while we watched TV.  My head snapped up in concern, but he just slid a pillow under his arm and stared straight ahead.  As though nothing had happened.

He was trying to make us laugh.  As he often did.  And he succeeded.  As he often did.

In middle and high school my dad braved every single band concert, every choir performance, every musical where I only appeared for one scene and you couldn't even pick me out from the other green leotards and red flowered heads dancing across the stage.

He was extremely brave.  And loved us very much to do so.

But his place was as our coach.  It didn't matter what the sport, really.  He was always our coach.

Through first grade soccer when we picked flowers and chased mice and spun cartwheels down the field.  Through softball teams so good we won trophies and so bad we literally didn't win anything.

As an athlete himself, I think he was always quietly amused coaching us girls.  Every time we struck out or dropped a ball or threw over the first baseman's head we'd call across the diamond, "I"m sorry!"

"Don't say sorry," he'd repeat, over and over.  "Say you'll try better next time."

We made t-shirts that proudly proclaimed "We're not sorry!" and made it our team chant.

I think we missed the point.

My absolute favorite memory from those softball days, though, were the car rides home.  The further away the better.  We'd talk some.  But mostly Dad let me not talk.  Instead we'd listen to Air Supply on cassette tape and I'd rewind his favorite song over and over again.  Just to let him know I liked it too.

I know my dad worked.  And he worked hard.  But he never missed anything.  In my mind, at least, he was always there.  My sister and I were never less than first priority.  We took advantage of that.  Definitely.  But we were able to.  And I imagine that was the real gift.

My dad's not one to cry.  I suppose we can both be a bit guarded with our emotions at times.

So I didn't see him shed a tear on my wedding day, but he didn't need to.  I knew how he felt.  When he walked me down the aisle and kissed me and moved slowly to his seat.  A repeat of my sister's wedding day, three years earlier.  I know he was happy, for us both, but I also know it was so, so hard.

I know because it was hard for me too.  To let go.  To let another man take care of me when my dad did it so very well.

But just as he quietly and gracefully let go when I left for college, and again when we left for Budapest, he let go then.

He let me go into my own family.  My own life.  Knowing it would never be the same.  But knowing, as well, it would never be forgotten.

But somehow, when I watch my dad play with the boys, when I watch them smile and laugh at their silly Gramps, it's even better.

Because my kids get him too.  They get his humor and his sincerity and his various baseball tips.  And I get to relive my childhood a bit.  But this time I get to watch.  And realize just how lucky I was.  Just how lucky I am.

So happy birthday to my kind, funny, loving, handsome dad.  Just wanted to let you know that I didn't always understand.  But I do now.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

In case your Christmas isn't vomit-free

It was a week before Christmas and we were on our way to Ikea.

I expected the normal Ikea happenings. Marital discord, meltdowns in the candle section, checkout line promises that "we will never come here again."

But I never expected this.

Five minutes from our destination I heard something. It started as a low growl, but the sound turned quickly and undeniably wet. My head whipped around just in time to watch a cascade of vomit cover Finn's jacket, pants and carseat, landing with finality on the floor.

"Joel, he's throwing up!" I yelled in a panic, followed quickly with a forced calm, "It's okay buddy, not a big deal, just relax."

So with Aiden crying in the back over the smell, Joel driving with his head out the window, and Benjamin sleeping through it all we made our way to the closest gas station.

I hopped out and stripped Finn down to his underwear, his only un-soaked article of clothing. Pulling out the baby wipes I cleaned the mess as well as I could, wrapped him in the baby's blanket, and insisted we go "back home right now."

Unfortunately, the four lane road where this incident occurred forced us to continue on our previous path towards the Ikea, where we planned to turn around and drive our sick, cold child home.

Ikea was finally in our sights, and we searched for a place to turn around. Just as we approached the ramp to the parking garage I heard another sound, this time from the way back. I turned in time to catch the full, explosive event, this time covering Aiden in a pool of vomit.

"Aiden's throwing up," I yelled. "Pull in here now!"

The car shot quickly down the ramp, under the moving arm and into a far corner of the Ikea parking garage.

One look at Joel's queasy face and I knew I was alone on this one. I told him to take the baby and go get the piece of furniture we originally set out for. I knew it would take some time to clean up and I wasn't about to make the hour trek back home with nothing to show for it.

Unfortunately Aiden's explosion soaked him through, and in the end he was left butt naked in his cold car seat. After just getting him wrapped in my coat and settled down Finn was at it again, and then again.

Finally it seemed as though the storm had passed. The boys sat huddled quietly in their car seats and Joel returned to the car with a deliriously happy baby and a quick and easy purchase (an Ikea Christmas miracle).

We loaded the car, tied the throw-up covered clothes tightly in bags, buckled up and breathed a sigh of relief to be headed home.

Joel turned the key and the engine ground and screeched, but wouldn't turn over. He switched the key back off and looked at me.

"No," was all I could say.

This wasn't happening. Certainly it would start next time.

He turned the key again, longer this time. Nothing.

I thought about a friend from our church in a similar situation. In her car on the side of the road, three kids in the back, car not starting. She took the time to pray with her kids for the car to start and the next time her husband tried the engine began purring, took them all the way back home.

So I prayed. I prayed hard. I prayed by myself, with the kids, I think it's safe to say I begged for that darn car to start.

Joel turned the key again.

Nothing. In fact, it seemed to be getting worse.

"I need to get someone to jump us," Joel said, and went to the back for the cables.

Easy enough in the US where he could easily approach a fellow customer and ask for help jumping our car. But at a point in break where his shaggy beard and wild hair had him looking less-than-respectable, approaching unsuspecting shoppers with long, metal cables (as we didn't know how to say "jump our car"), and without a wife and kids in view, he may not have appeared the type people are generally eager to help.

But he finally he found a woman willing to drive her car over to ours. He hooked up the cables and I kept on praying. He got back in, turned the key.... turned it, turned it, turned it, and.... nothing.

After a few more unsuccessful tries we thanked the lady for her help and watched sadly as she drove her wonderfully working car right out of the parking garage.

At this point I was starting to get nervous. An hour away from home, two naked children, a crying baby and a car full of stuff that just wouldn't start. I felt homesick for our two sets of parents, who would have driven hours and done anything to rescue us, I felt angry that God wasn't answering my prayers, I felt abandoned and alone.

Joel and I both are particularly bad at asking for help. We don't want to inconvenience people and generally tend towards taking care of ourselves. But desperate times call for desperate measures so we swallowed our pride and called our friends for help.

They heard our situation and immediately offered to come get us, a huge relief as a taxi ride with two butt-naked, sick children and a baby sounded like a nightmare of its own.

But as we had wandered so far from home we knew we were in for a wait. So I wrapped the children tighter and shivered in my seat as Joel attempted to explain our situation to the Ikea customer service representatives, as it appeared our car would be trapped in their garage for the night.

At this point all three boys were tired and cold, and Aiden was getting scared. Although we assured him help was on the way he still insisted that he was "going to die" (not sure where he gets his flair for the dramatic).

I decided some Christmas songs were in order, and the boys quickly agreed, although refusing to sing themselves. So I started with the classic Jingle Bells, but I only know one verse so it got old fast. The next song to pop in my head was Silent Night, so with the boys staring passively out the window I started to sing. "Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright..."

I listened to the words I was singing, and at first I felt angry. Why couldn't I have a silent, peaceful night. Why couldn't I be in our warm house, snuggled up in our pajamas, watching a Christmas movie by the twinkling tree. Why would God answer my friends' prayers, but not mine.

Then it clicked, and I realized that the birth of Jesus I sang about, that silent, holy night, wasn't the event I always pictured. The warm, soft glow of the manger scene, the baby Jesus in a bed of silky hay, Mary in a spotless, white dress kneeling beside her tiny, sleeping child.

I have been blessed to deliver three healthy babies with no major complications... but I also endured the absolute most difficult, painful, and trying hours of my life thus far doing so.

I remember playing the virgin Mary as a second grader in our church's nativity play. I was so incredibly happy when they pulled my name from that hat, and I practiced for weeks knocking calmly on the door of each inn, asking if there was any room for us, that I was going to have a baby.

Three children later I like to imagine what that was really like. I could barely handle the pain of labor in the quiet and calm of my hospital room, with doctors and nurses roaming the halls and constantly checking on me. What must it have been like to wander through the dark, pausing only to catch her breath, or to push through another excruciating contraction, and to hear time and time again, "I'm sorry, you can't come in here, we're all full."

I wonder if she felt abandoned. Or angry. I wonder if she thought, "how could this get any worse?"

And finally they landed in a manger, after what I imagine was Joseph begging for some place, any place, for his wife to have her baby. Perhaps she could feel he was coming soon.

So Mary sets about delivering a baby in a barn, which I am fairly certain looked little like the nativity scenes adorning our mantles. The place was crawling with animals and the sounds and smells that accompany those animals. I can't imagine any place comfortable and clean enough to push out a small child.

But she did. And for a moment, I'm sure, there was peace. Relief and wonder and peace. Something like I felt after each birth, only magnified at the sight of this miracle baby.

I somehow doubt that Mary had room service bringing her a warm meal immediately after all her hard work. Or even a nice, hot shower and something soft to lay on. But still, I imagine there was joy and peace. In the middle of a barn. On a night where everything went wrong.

I thought in that cold, stinky car about how I picture Christmas. A tree adorned with colorful ornaments, lit with sparkling lights. Hot chocolate and freshly baked cookies. Snuggling on the couch watching one of millions of Christmas movies. Piles of presents and overflowing stockings.

It stands in such stark contrast to the thing we celebrate at Christmas time... that crazy night when Jesus was born. A night where it must have seemed that everything went wrong.  That God, somehow, didn't answer Mary's desperate prayers.

Eventually the boys fell asleep and Joel returned. Our friend arrived, towed our car out of the garage, and drove us the rest of the way home, blasting the heat and buying the boys soda to settle their stomachs. Other friends helped us figure out the best way to get our car back and fixed the next morning and lent us a car to use while we waited.

We were taken care of.  For sure.  Not in the way I wanted to be taken care of.  Not in the way that was easiest for me.  But at the end of the night we were warm and safe and together.

And somehow the lights and presents that scream for my Christmas-time attention dimmed a bit in that cold, vomit-covered car.  

And the real thing, that very real night when Jesus was born, started to shine.