These are my children. Or rather, these were my children…about eight years ago.
I share this picture for a few reasons:
- Because it makes me smile. Every time. And for those of you with children, I figure it might just bring you back to the ages of 6 months and 3, when life was simpler. And louder. And slightly more dramatic. And definitely less cooperative. (This was our FAILED attempt at a Christmas card picture that year, by the way. While I wanted to send it as-is, the future-ex vetoed.)
- Because these two little angels embody Christmas to me. Not necessarily them at this age, but them at any age. They are my gifts, every second of every day of every year, whether they’re in my home or not. Family is the most important aspect of my Christmas celebration, and I couldn’t be more blessed.
- Because it provides some context to the story I’m about to relate.
As a family, we shared many years of holiday magic. My now-ex left me when my son was 8 and my daughter was 5. The “brick” discovery happened on December 29, 2007, providing me a tragic end to one year – but luckily, an entire year to prepare for the next holiday: My first holiday alone with the kids.
I focused diligently on what mattered most during the holiday season in 2008: family, gratitude and the spirit of the season. I would have my children with me, after all, and I was so grateful for that little slice of normal after the most turbulent year of my life.
So we did what we always do: Chose two angels from the angel tree, whose ages almost matched the ages of my kids, and we shopped for far more than the little angels asked for. I was feeling blessed beyond measure that we had gotten through the year and were fortunate enough to share our love with other precious souls who didn’t ask for their conditions. Just as we hadn’t, but in a far different way.
Focusing on the act of giving back and the importance of family has always been my way of framing the holidays. I consider myself a spiritual person, but not necessarily “traditionally” religious, and as such, I do not believe in forcing my children into a religious “box”; rather I’d like for them (when they’re old enough) to explore their beliefs on their own.
But that was the first year there were lots of questions about Jesus.
I mean, lots of questions.
And I answered to the extent I could. Those are complex topics for such inquisitive little minds, and I believed whole-heartedly in providing as much context as they were capable of understanding.
So there were stories of Jesus as real, Jesus as symbol, Jesus as legend, Jesus as guide, Jesus as inspiration to be a better person, Jesus as the ultimate giver-backer. I offered different interpretations, always encouraging them to consider Jesus (as an individual) and religion (as a whole) as something interpreted personally.
Anyhow, I vividly remember one day that holiday season while driving the children to school: It was a Tuesday, our trash day, and we were commenting as we drove about all the trash cans and the recycling bins and what big work our trash collectors have.
I was reflecting to the kids about how lucky we are to live in a community with trash service, to live in a country where garbage is collected for a nominal fee, and that there are plenty of places in the world that we were lucky enough NOT to be born that did not have similar amenities.
It was deep. But what can I say, it was the holidays, I was alone for the first time, and I was reaching. And I truly was grateful for the opportunity to share perspective with the kids.
And then, the words that issued forth from my then-9-year-old son blew me away.
“Well, Jesus is our trash man, after all,” he said with a spirit of certainty and resolve I had not yet heard from him in his less than decade of life.
I was astounded. It was such a symbol, a beautiful image of Jesus that he had clearly developed from our copious deep conversations about Jesus, his role in history, his life as an allegory for something much more significant.
Jesus was our trash man. He carried away our sins for a nominal charge – our belief, or perhaps our aspiration to be better people – and he cleaned our spirits. Heck, I even pictured him carrying away our recycling too, finding the “stuff” in our lives that hadn’t yet reached its full potential and giving it new opportunity.
“Sweetheart, that’s so beautiful,” I said to my son. “I love that you think of it that way.”
I was beaming with pride. Not only did he have a firm grasp on the symbolism of religion, but he was reflecting a certain Mikalee-ness to him. He saw beauty in something literal and transformed it through words. I had perhaps never in my life felt more fulfillment from a comment.
My ego, as it turns out, may have gotten the better of me, though. Because as I was picturing the symbol – and his future as a writer…and my future as the mother of such a brilliant mind – his little voice came from the seat behind me.
“No, mom. He really is our trash man. Remember?”
I did not. Until that very moment, when the image of the Christmas card that our trash man left taped to our trash can the previous week abruptly flashed in my mind.
My son, my precious little man, was being literal. I was the one going to crazy symbolic places.
But his innocent comment lives on. To us, Jesus is our trash man. Both literally, and to some of us, figuratively as well.
So squeeze your children if you have them this holiday season. Remember their unique perspectives if you don’t. Embrace a symbol that has deeper meaning to you and your family – whether you’re religious, spiritual or none of the above, I think we can all benefit from believing in a little bit of magic this time of year.
And before I sign off until after Christmas, I happened upon this in the store yesterday:
And given the road-kill ravage I’ve experienced this year, I could think of no better Christmas messenger to carry a holiday greeting to my amazing readers.
I am wishing you all peace, love and so many smiles that your cheeks hurt this holiday season.
(P.S. Can you believe: An entire post without a single obscenity? Must be a Christmas miracle…)