And looking back on it, if I had to say one phrase that captured the whole month, it was this: my kids are getting older.
There were less meltdowns, less greediness, less drama, more flexibility, more ability to roll with the punches, more understanding of what the season was about. It was heavenly.
The biggest miracle of all occurred when we asked the kids if we could go back to church at 9:15pm after attending the 4pm service on Christmas Eve and watch Michaela play in her bell choir and maybe stay for the later service. The service Dan and I went to for years on Christmas Eve and loved until we had children. At first, we got flat-out refusals. It's too much church, they said. It's too late, they said. But then, after the 4pm service, while we were enjoying a lovely dinner at my mom's house, Jenna, elected children's spokesman, marched up to us and stated: "We've talked about it and it's okay for us to go to church at 9:15." And we went. And stayed. And enjoyed every single second of it. And I realized, Wow. My kids are getting older.
So here's a quick rundown of the events leading up to and including Christmas.
1. Sunday School Pageant:
Alec was a sheep, Jenna was an angel and Michaela was a reader. They all did a great job. Alec, who was a sheep last year as well, kept telling Dan and I, "I am so excited to finally be a sheep!" and dismissed all of our gentle reminders that he was sheep last year. We did have a small victory when he wore both the sheep ears and mittens, contrary to last year, when he refused.
My angel Jenna (right in the middle)
I realized wistfully that this was our last year with all three kids in the pageant... Michaela has aged out. My kids are getting older.
2. Live Nativity: Michaela was an angel and Alec did not freak out wanting to touch the live donkey but being scared of the live donkey. He just pet the donkey and then we went and had hot cocoa and cookies inside the church. The pic below has Michaela as the first angel on the far left.
Jenna and a few of her friends before the Live Nativity starts
Better view of the angels.
3. Ugly Sweater Day at School: Michaela participated in and Ugly Sweater Day, and told me about it on the way to her winter concert. The night before the Ugly Sweater Day. So after the concert, Michaela, Jenna (she cannot STAND being left out of trips to the store for stuff like this) and I trudged to Walmart where I dropped $20 on a Christmas sweater that frankly I didn't find really particularly ugly. I told her get an XL so she can use it all through High School. Here she is with some of her friends at school.
4. Advent Services: We attended the Advent services at church on Wednesday night, and I think they are the best antidote for losing sight of the reason for Christmas. Plus they feed my family dinner. The first service is the decorating of the sanctuary with wreaths and banners and the Christmas tree. We were sitting in one of the front rows and suddenly Alec, who is usually pretty restless during church, bolts out of the pew. I start looking around to see where he is going and can't find him. Just when I start to panic a smidge, I look to my left and see this:
It was Alec, climbing a ladder with Jessy, Michaela's confirmation teacher and our friend, to hang up a wreath.
Jessy said they got pretty high before Alec started to panic a bit. I was stunned. I asked Alec how it all happened and Alec was not able to nor interested in telling me a linear story of how he ended up on that ladder. But it made for a great couple of pics and a nice reminder for me to not underestimate my kids.
5. Christmas Selfies: Because everyone takes selfies. And I have an eighth grader, so I'm still in them. I'm sure by high school I'll be banned from being in them. But really... my kids are getting older. In a related note, Michaela has started taking goofy videos of me singing along to the car radio and sends them to her friends. Not sure if I'm amused or annoyed by this.
6. The Red Christmas Shoes: So a week or two before Christmas, I bought these absolutely ridiculous red Christmas shoes that were on sale. I couldn't resist them.
I brought them home and showed Michaela. She coveted them and immediately put them on. (We wear the same shoes size.)
She loved them so much that she shouted, "Wait! I have to try them on with my Christmas dress! YOU HAVE TO LET ME WEAR THEM ON CHRISTMAS!!!"
Now, I admit that she looked fantastic in them- way better than I was going to look wearing them. But really... heels like that on a 13 year old? In church? A LUTHERAN church? I told her we'd be ex-communicated. It was a no-go. My kids are getting older... but they ain't THAT old.
7. Disney On Ice: I took the girls with our Girl Scout troop to see Disney on Ice. It was a blast.
Mid-show shot of Michaela and Jenna wearing their $15 foam Olaf hats that came with approximately $.70 of cotton candy. I told Dan, "Don't ask."
The show itself was fantastic and feared a very lengthy reenactment of Frozen. When Olaf skated out, the whole arena erupted. It had fire, fireworks, great stunts, Disney music and characters. What more could you ask for?
8. The Display: So a couple from our church invites us to their house each Halloween and Christmas to see their extensive collection of Dept. 56 house, buildings, figures, etc that they set up. They have I think over 200 sets all lit and perfectly arranged to look like little villages. It is stunning.
Alec had a homework assignment in November to write about a family holiday tradition, and he chose to write about going to see the display. (And while I admit it is impressive, a teeny part of me was sad that he did't pick one of the dozens of traditions that we do within our immediate family. Sometimes kids are amazingly humbling.) I tried to encourage him to describe some context of what this whole setup was, since Alec kept insisting on just calling it "The Display"... no description of what or where it was, just that we go see The Display. I ended up emailing the teacher a few pictures to help her understand what the heck he was talking about. Here are some pictures we took while oohing and ahhhing:
Looking for the tiny mice figures hidden in the display.
8. Cookie Baking: We baked a LOT of cookies this year. I felt the need to increase our current traditional cookie choices (chocolate chip and gingersnap) to a few more options. We made chocolate crinkle cookies, white snowball cookies, raspberry white chocolate chip, cranberry white chocolate chip and of course, I made chocolate fudge with my mom. Out of all the new ones, the raspberry white chocolate chip was the best-received.
9. Candy Sleds: I made candy sleds that I saw on Pinterest. While the kids I gave them to (my own and my three nieces downstate) didn't seem too excited about them, I posted this picture on Facebook and got lots of nice comments. And sometimes that's all a Mommy needs- a little peer recognition. :)
10. The BIG Day: And then, finally, it was Christmas Eve.
We did our usual crazy getting ready routine. The girls and I treated ourselves to mani/pedis at 11am on Christmas Eve, then came home, ate lunch and started getting ready. We were able to get Alec to take a shower, which is a change from previous years as evidenced by his awful bed head hair the last few years. That in itself was a miracle. I did the girls hair and styled them. (Side note: Not to project a PollyAnna view of how that all went down, there may have been an angry 13 year old who yelled, "This is so stressful! I hate this! This is ridiculous!" to which her mother may have replied with a touch of an edge to her voice, "Fine! Next year you can pick out a dress from Walmart and throw it on and get yourself ready!" But then everyone calmed down and regrouped.)
This was the best shot I got of all three of them:
Michaela wore a pretty little black sleeveless dress with a shrug. And no red shoes.
We got a beautiful dress online for Jenna and had the rare joy of it being nicer in person than we thought it was.
And here's the main man Alec John, trying out a new pose: Winking Ladies' Man.
He cracks me up. And is getting older.
And of course a little pre-Christmas Selfie action on the part of Michaela:
At the 4pm church service, Jenna and Michaela were in a small skit during the sermon, playing sisters who asked for more and more outrageous gifts (culminating in a unicorn for Jenna and a new car for Michaela) and then receiving a gift and fighting over it. They did a great job, and there was absolutely no type casting involved. Haha.
Church was beautiful, as always, and Michaela snuck up into the choir loft to take this great picture of the candlelight.
Jenna and Alec sang with the kids' choir. Love seeing all the kids in their red, black and white Christmas outfits.
Children are never as beautiful as when lit by candlelight. I grabbed a bunch of a pictures while they were holding their candles, since I can be less vigilant about them burning the church down.
My kids are getting older.
After the 4:00pm service...
We went over to my mom's for dinner after church and then returned to the 9:15pm service to watch Michaela play bells.
What does one do when one is forced to attend two church services in one night? Spell out one's brother's name in pretzels, of course. Kudos to Michaela for making this artwork happen.
Then we (finally) got home and opened a gift... Christmas pajamas for Jenna and Alec (which Alec promptly declared TOO TIGHT! and took off) an iTunes gift card for Michaela, and a Lego ornament for Alec (to avoid a meltdown because pajamas aren't really presents).
Post-pajama opening, pre-'Twas the Night Before Christmas Reading, the girls relaxed and goofed around.
No one can keep their feet out of those shoes!
The yearly reading. I love how they all snuggle in.
I think it's Dan's favorite 10 minutes of the year.
Santa came and even the pile of presents was smaller. My kids are getting older.
Time to open gifts! Notable presents included three big Lego sets and a chef's dress costume for Alec.
A new coat for Michaela, along with an instant camera, some perfume, and a Vera Bradley duffel bag.
And of course who tries on the chef clothes first (for ages 3-6)?
We got ourselves put together and went down to Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Michele's house and had a great day with our cousins and family.
A few days later we got together with some of my family and re-created a 9 year old picture we took in December 2005. Everyone did their best to mimic the face they had on in 2005, so that's why Jenna looks miserable.
And here we all are with our best post-2005 addition: Alec!
My kids are getting older.
But what a great Christmas it was! More predictable, less melt-down-y, more enjoyable.
God blessed us this season for sure.