A late post…I will keep this prompt going until Dec 22…I think it’s a good one and I have a few posts to say something about this one.
3. Process is more important than outcome.
When the outcome drives the process we will only ever go to where we’ve already been. If process drives outcome we may not know where we’re going, but we will know we want to be there.
-Bruce Mau, Incomplete Manifesto
It’s the journey and not the destination that is important. These are familiar words that we’ve all heard before. Intellectually, I get it. Enjoy the ride. Stop and celebrate the moment and where you are and not focus on where you’re supposed to be and where you’re meaning to get to. In practice, however, I seem to come up short. I am all about the outcome, the achievement of the goal set out, finding the treasure.
I am reminded of my simple manifesto that I created in 2008 for each and every holiday season: I will enjoy the season.
In 2009, I brought this manifesto out and had it framed during our first holiday with 5 children. No matter what happens – illness, over-scheduling, last minute shopping with littles, unhealthy indulgences with subsequent guilt sessions, and family conflicts – I was determined to ENJOY THE SEASON. I was determined to focus on the little moments of peace, joy, and love with our new family of 7.
Fast forward five years and I am still clinging to that mantra.
In my journal, I wrote down my intentions for each child this season. What did I want them to grasp? What would make it easier for me to do this season that would actually allow myself to enjoy its true spirit? I wrote down that I wanted to do acts of service, love, and generosity. I wanted to take every moment that presented itself to me as an opportunity to bring more light into the world. And at the end of it all, I just wanted to be with my family and celebrate what we have right now. This has been the most difficult this season – managing to enjoy the season with all of us under the same roof for more than a few hours at a time.
On December 1, we bought our Christmas tree. It was our family advent activity of the day. Our advent calendar has an activity to do each day but the catch is that we have to do it together. All 7 of us. The easy part was buying the tree. I looked at our calendar and Dec 1 or Dec 12 were the only days that we would be able to go out and pick a tree together. At 8:00pm, way past bedtime for a couple of them, after fulfilling commitments to extracurricular activities, we went to buy the tree:
The kids are looking a little tired and cold. The tree was picked by the ones who cared about height and needles that didn’t shed and the others wandered around and warmed up by the barrel fire. A few went out to investigate the mystery caravan of coach buses that had just arrived at this outdoor facility. Out of these buses jumped out dozens and dozens of people in spandex – mostly neon spandex. While I inspected our new temporary member of our family, an 8-foot Fraser fir, and as Ever-Patient went inside to pay for it, the kids stared in awe at the throngs of what seemed like energizer bunnies bounding off the buses.
I finally came out to see the tail end of this odd sight only to have the kids tell me that in fact they saw my cousin, their uncle, come out one of the buses. I’m sure it was a surprise for both parties. (I later learned that it was a running club that Nike had brought to this facility for a surprise run.) One of those “I didn’t expect that one” nights. That seemed to perk them up. They wanted to trim the tree that night with this new-found enthusiasm inspired by the “run-in” with my cousin. Unfortunately, we didn’t do it that night because the tree needed to open up a bit and get used to its new home. Little did I know that it would be almost two weeks before we would get around to decorating that poor tree.
As of December 11, this is how our tree looked:
Some really felt the tree was too naked and started to add ornaments of their own and recent gifts received from friends. I couldn’t schedule in our tree trimming and general house decoration in our calendar. It is quite the ritual that takes a whole night – the decorating of our home, beginning with the tree. There is merry-making all around – dancing to Christmas carols, reminiscing over each ornament, cookies in the oven, Ever-Patient and I “discussing” the position of the lights in the tree. The older kids now take the reins of how the decor should look all over the house and fuss over the details while I sit on the sofa curled in my quilt trying to take snapshots of these memories in my head. Weeknights and weekends between Dec 1 and Dec 12 had at least one of us missing.
I had an intention this month not to over-schedule my family so that we could do these amazing advent calendar activities again this year. I had forgotten that as my children get older they have their own schedules and their own commitments that are important to them. We have a family online calendar that my husband, my oldest daughter, and I have access to – it is a mess of colours: me, him, her, family, individual kids. We add and delete things. We text back and forth whether someone “has” to be at an event because something else has come up. We scramble to fit in baking our favourite cookies, reading our favourite stories all together, and trimming the tree. We are struggling to find a day that we can all go skating together.
It has been a season of negotiation. If we can’t do this together, can we skip it? None of them want to skip any of our traditions but they also don’t want to give up any work commitments, tournaments, classes, outings, volunteer opportunities, and things that they have on the go that are important to them.
I remember cuddling them all on the couch to read Christmas stories every night by candlelight. I remember the endless crafts where I had to manage littles with white glue and glitter – everyone by my side all the time. Now #5 doesn’t even want to participate in a craft that I set-up unless his sisters are doing it too. The big sisters don’t want to do a craft because they have their own projects to finish – gifts for people they love.
So this is how I am enjoying this season today: I am holding them close even when they are rushing out the door. I am sneaking into their bedrooms at night and whispering advent verses that we didn’t get to say together in the morning. I am taking every moment we have together and savouring it like it is the last bite of the most perfect meal. I am helping them bake 5 different favourite cookies whenever they want. I am playing Christmas carols to wake them up and dancing with whoever will dance with me before bed. I am open to the unexpected moments that bring us joy like seeing my cousin amidst a sea of spandex. I am grateful for trimming the tree, singing songs, decorating the house, and baking cookies even if it just happened last night right before #1 had to rush out of the house:
I am embracing changing traditions and trying very hard not to focus on the outcome because I know that things aren’t going to go the way I planned. Have they ever? The children have their own ideas, their own agendas for the holidays. They are absolutely fierce about maintaining certain traditions and sad when they miss them because of commitments that they choose to honour. I am accepting my new role, transitioning from holiday activity director to holiday schedule coordinator and 24/7 time management support person. It’s a new role that I am growing into that involves a lot of letting go and not being in control.
There are a few things that I maintain we have to do as a family: lighting the advent candle on Sunday and reading their advent calendar activity/love notes together. Those are non-negotiable. We sit at the dining room table and do that together. I will not let that go and I think that they find safety in the fact that I will never let that go.
Is this what Ever-Patient and I have prepared for all this time? All these traditions that we created and adhered to in the early years even when we were exhausted from being up all night with a baby or a sick child, even when we didn’t have any clue of what we were committing to with these traditions like the rastafarian ornament from Jamaica that the kids are strangely attached to. I am pretty ready to give him away but they insist on taking turns putting him up and it has somehow become an annual tradition. They will all probably fight over him when it’s time to leave the nest instead of my handmade ones, much to my chagrin.
This is part of it all – the process of growing, changing – and how we can deal with the turmoil of transition. We’ve unexpectedly established our very own holiday identity. Though the details may change a little, I see now that the theme will remain the same: togetherness. I am not sure how our activities will change over the next few years and what togetherness will look like but I do know that we will all cling to these rituals and memories even when we’re all far apart.
Are you enjoying the season? The process of preparing?