Oh, the noise! Oh, the noise! Noise! Noise! Noise! That’s one thing he hated! The NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!
Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch Who Stole Christmas
Mr. Grinch, you and me both.
It may very well be the most wonderful time of the year, but it’s also the nosiest. All is not calm, no matter how much I hoped it would be. All is not quiet; there’s so much busyness, even though I’m militant about keeping organized and say no to multiple holiday events. Nor do I have unrealistic expectations. My house does not look like a Winter Wonderland, and don’t let the Christmas card fool you: Digital cameras allow parents to catch that one nanosecond when their children are cherubic pictures of perfection cloaked in hand-pressed red velvet (and, if you don’t get lucky, there’s always Photoshop).
But no matter how hard I try, I always have trouble finding peace during Advent. Since my entry into motherhood, Lent is an easier liturgical season for me. There’s something comforting about its starkness. There are temptations to be sure during the 40 days of Lent, but there aren’t nearly as many distractions. The weeks leading up to Christmas, on the other hand, are noisy, flashy.
I’m really not a Scrooge. I love my children’s effusions of joy, the magic of the season, and the sparkling lights. In fact, ever since we were newlyweds, my husband and I enjoy scouting out the local neighborhoods to find and admire the house with the most over-the-top decorations.
There’s nothing wrong with the festooning. All the Christmas extravagance is a good reminder that when Jesus was born, angels sang, trumpets blared, and that all the “noise” of the season is a way to “repeat the sounding joy” for the birth of our Savior.
But lately it’s been getting to me — not the joy, but the clamorous Christmas soundtrack that candy-cane-fueled children provide. (Please, postal workers, nice lady at the grocery store, Salvation Army bell ringer, and everybody else on the planet: No more candy for the kids, okay?)
Everywhere I turn there are children smacking lips while licking fingers sticky with frosting. There are children ringing bells and singing and giggling and squabbling. There are theatrical meltdowns. There are so many questions: “How many more days until Christmas?” “Can I have one more cookie? Please? Please!” “Why?” “Why?” and “Why?” again.
Sometimes I welcome the queries and the tender requests. It’s easy to pause for a child who wants to curl up on your lap for another story. It’s not so easy to silence the din of whining or screaming over who gets to open the window of the Advent calendar for that day.
As a matter of survival, I look for small pockets of quiet to fold myself into every day. I creep away when I think my girls are engrossed with their playthings, but their Mommy radar is sensitive, their Mom Positioning System very accurate. And it’s not long before they find me.
So I make a goal to wake up early. But they wake up earlier. The next morning comes. I nurse the baby and savor the darkness and the stillness of my cathedraled calm. I’m tired, but I decide to wake up once the baby falls limp against me while the rest of the world is asleep. I’m tired, but I know waking up before the sky is filled with the pink glow of dawn will fill me more than an hour or two of fragmented sleep will. I sneak downstairs. Only minutes later, they arise, too, and it isn’t a pitter patter of soft feet that finds me but thunderous stomps down the stairs.
I greet them — the little, chirping morning larks — and serve them breakfast. Then I hand them a rainbow of crayons and a stack of coloring books, and I plan my escape.
While their hands are occupied, I steal away to my secret hiding place: the bathroom. I cannot count the number of times I have locked the door and sat on the toilet lid to pray or to write or to read books with titles like When Your Child Drives You Crazy.
On this day, my cloistered peace is interrupted when one child pounds on the door and says, “Mommy, are you finished yet? Sally did something bad” (names have been changed to protect the guilty). I emerge and moments later find the writing on the wall — only it’s more like scribbling, in a toddler’s hand.
It won’t come off. She already tried to color over the black slashes with a white crayon (pretty clever, I must say). She’s contrite. “I sowwy,” she says. Then, “It won’t happen again.”
My child is forgiven, and whatever I had been doing in the bathroom forgotten. I’m back in the trenches, and my children are asking if they can make another Christmas card for their grandparents.
Later, when it’s our daily quiet time and my toddler is crying because she can’t find her lovey and an older child asks me if I’m going to the bathroom again (I think she’s on to me), I’m reminded that, just as the apostles would run to find Jesus when He sought solitude, my children will find me. They will wake me, as the apostles awoke Jesus, when a storm begins to brew.
I’ll never stop trying to find the quiet — especially during Advent, when we’re supposed to see past the holiday hoopla, the mass commercialism, the sing-song-y, overly synthesized Simply-Having-a-Wonderful-Christmastime kind of vapid lyrics, the chronic case of the “gimmes” that begins to plague children before the Thanksgiving leftovers are consumed . . . and find Christ, hidden and quiet, lying in a rough manger and tucked away in the dusty corners of my heart.
Christ is calm. He is quiet. But sometimes I have to find Him in all the commotion. The angel’s proclamation, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace,” wasn’t referring to peace among men — or peace in your household and with your children — but peace with God.
Silence is golden; it’s also scarce when you’re a busy mom, even more so during the Advent season. But God is not in limited supply. He doesn’t need silence to work in our lives. He is everywhere, and He is sufficient. All He needs, more than a perfect contemplative silence (as nice as that would be), is our awareness. The awareness that His peace is within me, and I don’t have to escape to the bathroom to find it.