BY KELLY SWAN | December 13, 2016
Each year I assume (or hope . . . or pray!) that it will be THE YEAR. The year that our family will slide into Advent in a calm, organized, thoughtful manner. That we’ll light the candles on our wreath each night (or even just each Sunday); that we’ll read each piece of the story leading to Christ’s birth, chronicled in our Advent calendar; that I’ll have time to contemplate meaningful gifts that increase the depth of our presence to one another and to the world; that we’ll decorate the tree as a family; that we’ll send Christmas cards, travel to see everyone we want to see, craft lovely gifts for friends, teachers, community members; that we’ll give generously of our time and resources to those on the margins.
Some years, one or two of those things happen. If we’re lucky.
Our family is comprised of four children, ranging in age from 2 to 10. That alone is enough to cause general chaos and mayhem.
Some years, we’ve moved in December. Some years, I’ve been pregnant in December. Some years, we’ve been in a state of unemployment in December. The recurring theme here is that we have rarely found ourselves in a state of quiet, peaceful, reflective waiting upon the arrival of Advent.
This year is different, though. This year, I’m infinitely more kind to myself. We’ve had quite a year . . . a major surgery, a move to a new city, a shift from part-time work and full-time caregiving on my part, a shift from full-time work to a prolonged job search and full-time caregiving for my husband. The weathering of a (personally and collectively) startling and emotionally draining election cycle, times of needing to be present to those in our lives during seasons of deep, personal sorrow, a great shift from homeschooling to school life, and the discovery a vibrant parish community in our new city that draws us in more than any other church experience we’ve had as a family. We’ve arrived at this Advent season exhausted, and, in countless ways, transformed.
A few days ago, on December 11, after my almost-6-year-old had begged for hours to PLEASE JUST DO SOME CHRISTMAS DECORATING, in the midst of a long weekend full of oddly-timed seasonal work schedules, time with relatives, a funeral, two parish Christmas concerts, homework, and just the general domestic management that is necessary at the end of every week for a family of six (yes, I mean cleaning and laundry), we welcomed her newly-found kindergarten best friend into our home with her mother. While her mom and I sipped coffee and chatted (a luxury that I largely left behind with my return to work), my daughter and her friend decorated our house. I thought, for a moment, about stopping them. They might not do it right! Something might break! But . . . I reminded myself that I have a stockpile of superglue and that, when my three oldest children were present at the birth of their baby sister, they crowded into the room just like the nativity figures were crowded into the stable after two 5-year-olds arranged them.
In short, I remembered to be present. I’m better at that this year than ever before, for so many reasons. I find myself in the early-morning chaos of prep for holiday happenings and the school and work day losing patience with the irrational demands of small people, but finding more and more fortitude to take a step back and be present with them in their lived experience. I find myself giving the Advent and Christmas-prep guilt the boot and giving two giddy 5-year-olds space to create a small Christmas paradise as their new friendship grows, to enjoy coffee with a new friend, and to focus on the joyful waiting of Advent in our present reality—the joy of simply living the life we have right now.
Kelly Swan has served as communications director for the Ignatian Solidarity Network since 2016. She grew up in West Virginia and is a graduate of Wheeling Jesuit University. Kelly has worked in parish social ministry, child and family advocacy, community education and organizing, and publishing. She lives in the Cleveland, Ohio area with her children.