December 4, 2009

It’s All Good / Patti Lamb

Christmas is, at its very heart, the celebration of one family

Patti LambShopping, wrapping and baking. All of these tasks together, on the same day, cannot be more difficult than having the children’s picture taken for our family Christmas card.

Getting our 5-year-old son and his 2-year-old sister to simultaneously: (1) sit next to each other; (2) look at, or in the direction of, the camera; and (3) smile seemed an impossible task again this year.

During our photo shoot, I had to physically restrain my 2-year-old from wailing on my 5-year-old. And vice versa.

In hindsight, I suppose the empty wrapped gift boxes originally suggested as props weren’t such a good idea. They incited hair pulling, pinching and tears. I’ve heard of sibling rivalry, but this was ridiculous.

I envisioned an appropriate photo caption for a shot of the kids swatting at each other: “Peace on Earth [just not at our house].”

Through gritted teeth, I told the children sternly, “We are a family, like it or not. Now smile.

“Act as though you like each other, or can at least tolerate one another, for one still frame,” I said.

I launched into a diatribe about how, one day, they would grow up and need each other.

My husband recited a line from a movie. “Save your breath for cooling your porridge,” he said.

It’s not always easy to recognize the blessing that family is while raising young children. Somewhere between potty training, doing laundry and breaking up fights between the kids, I forget to see the beauty of it all. But the older I get, the more I realize it.

What I’d like to tell my kids one day when they are old enough to understand is this:

I’m learning that family sticks with you no matter what, even when you make dumb mistakes, get sick, run out of money or lose your temper. Family members are used to seeing you in your pajamas. They’ve seen you fall off your bike, lose your teeth and feed your meatloaf to the dog. They know you.

I’m not sure when the magical transformation happens and “family” becomes “friends.” I suppose it comes with age and experience. There’s just something about being part of the same fold, no matter how many years linger between birth dates.

Family is the first thing people ask about when something bad happens. When informed about a death or a job loss, people say, “I’m so sorry to hear that. Does she have family here?”

“Other things may change us, but we start and end with the family.” I love that quotation by Anthony Brandt.

If your family is nuttier than a fruitcake, then you’re doing just about as well as the rest of humankind. It’s not perfect, and it’s not always pretty. But whether it’s the one you are born into or the one circumstances create, family is something to be regarded with reverence.

It’s easy to lose sight of that in the daily grind. Over the course of time, family members might unintentionally impose obligations on us, but they also shower us with unexpected blessings.

My eyes wander over to the Nativity scene. I see a manger in a stable, and I’m reminded of why we gather for a picture in the first place. It’s all because of a family—the Holy Family.

Christmas is, at its very heart, the celebration of one family of humble origins and the glorious difference that family made in this world.

(Patti Lamb, a member of St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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