On Monday morning the kids and I created an advent garland. Sure, we were a week into Advent, and yes, it had taken me that entire week to wrap my mind around this project after reading a tutorial over at Five In Tow. All I wanted was something to help the four year old count down to the 25th so that she would no longer awaken me each morning with anticipation brimming in her voice, whispering, “and is today Christmas?”
If you glance over at the tutorial you’ll see that I simplified the simple instructions even more. Holiday paper, a red ribbon, a hole punch and a paper cutter. Easy peasy, right? So here is the finished project for you to admire, and you should admire it before I get to the point of this post.
Lovely, right? With the right lighting and a cooperative lens, we have a Pinterest worthy picture, regardless of the timeline behind.
Now that you’ve admired to your heart’s content, let me tell you how this garland came to be. First, I read a blog post. I latched onto an idea and then sat housebound for six days. There was guilt and there was inspiration, but mostly just a general song of bah-hum-bug. I wrestled with the Grinch until he returned my enthusiasm for the season; I determined within my mind to make this holiday magical for the kids no matter how much I wanted to curl in a corner with Great Expectations and not be bothered by cookies and stockings and lights. (I love Christmas. I’m just not ready for it to come…this year. We’re still in deployment recovery mode around here.)
After being car-less all week, opportunity knocked and I took off to Hobby Lobby on a Saturday night to meet a friend. Intending to buy wax for home-made candles, I instead wandered aimlessly and tried to remember…something. There was something, something…I’m always forgetting and trying to remember something these days. We passed the scrapbooking aisle and a couple of brain cells connected in my head, causing me to pick up the holiday paper pad. 50% off. Nice.
So Monday morning Frank and Bing began to croon and the kids and I set to it. It was foggy outside, cozy inside, while I cut a prototype. The children traced it on 25 sheets of holiday paper. We shared the paper cutter. We strung it up.
This is where one takes pictures and shares them on Facebook…or on their blog. This is the point where someone might think, “man. She’s always doing things with her kids. She’s such a great mom. Look at the amazing Christmas she’s creating. I wish I could be like that.”
Soft photographs can lie to our hearts. Oh, they can speak truth, too. We love them for that–they help us glimpse single moments in time and truly see pockets of beauty. But rarely do our photographs tell the whole story.
This is not a story of an easy project that resulted in a lovely little garland. Rather this is a story of daily life in all its chaotic glory. Glimpse behind the picture and this is what you see:
A mama, seated at the head of the table. Children littered all about. The mama is using the prototype to draw triangle dots on the backs of paper while her six year old helpfully draws her own triangles, missing the dots completely. Her eight year old is using the dots but forgetting the ruler, drawing the lines by wiggly hand.
Meanwhile, there is an 8 month old baby sitting in the middle of the room slowly being surrounded by the contents of every single school and art drawer within toddler reach. The mama’s two year old is supplying the baby in her time of need, giving her puzzle pieces and paintbrushes and emptying a bag of Little House in the Big Woods paper dolls on top of her head. When he is not helping her he is alternately swiping crackers from the kitchen or hitting his big sister, who, unfortunately, is also hitting him back.
Frank sings on while the mama grows more deeply immersed; she fails to notice the dog chewing on the children’s wooden blocks and reacts too rashly to the hands that keep grabbing the paper cutter in unsafe ways.
In the beginning, the mama had a firm hold. All hands were on deck and everyone had a plan. But by the middle of the project the garland has taken on a life of its own. Chaos hums in the room, tempers flare and then die out again, and the activity is entirely enjoyable when not downright frustrating.
At noon the mama’s husband walks in the door to find the floor absolutely covered with little things–papers, crayons, trains–the windows open, the dirt blowing in, the dog in the flower box, and paper scraps everywhere. Only the mother remains, doggedly hole punching. He can hear the older kids playing in the backyard with a ball.
After the project is completed, there is clean up to be done. Another hour is spent with the mama as drill sergeant or team leader, depending on the child–she’s tired and hungry and so are all the kids. But they know the clean-up routine. They do it every day. For every day this chaos erupts and every day they shove it back into place.
When they have reclaimed the dining room they sit down to lunch and the mama asks wearily, “well, what did you think?”
“That was fun!” the four year old shouts. “Let’s make it again!”
“Yeah,” the 10 year old chimes, “but let’s do it while the toddler sleeps.”
“Tomorrow,” the mama says, “we’re making a wreath.”
Because this life with kids? It’s exhausting and utterly messy. Whether the parents make the mess or the children, it matters not. Messes happen, chaos occurs, clutter erupts. We work for the beauty we create; for the craft project as well as the bedtime giggles, for the hand painted art as well as the trusting heart. We don’t have to make garlands or string lights or frost cookies, but we do have to love.
When I see the pictures posted above, I see the labor involved. I see the whole curve of the rainbow, the peak of frustration right down to the pot of gold. The work we put into life makes us proud of our outcome, makes us content with our lot, gives us something beautiful to hold. Wreaths and garlands or board games and snuggles, a listening ear or simply a kindly spoken word: as parents and as people we live, we love, we clean up, and we do it all over again tomorrow.