Shepherds Quake

It’s a challenge to meet everyone’s expectations for a Christmas note. Some want a traditional travel log chronicling the highways we crossed in our Winnebago as we camped and visited relatives in the summer. Problem is, we don’t own a Winnebago. And we don’t really camp. And I’m a bit doubtful my relatives would fling open the doors if I pulled up with my four munchkins looking for room in the Inn.

Others expect a litany of my children’s accomplishments. All I can say is that if there are awards given for Most Roles of Toilet Paper in the Toilet or Fastest Rappeler Down the Laundry Chute I might need to think about adding a trophy room to the house.

There was also a hue and cry for failing to dish the details of my dating life in last year’s note. Such curiosity. To which I say, “Get a life, folks!” Surely you all have better things to do than wonder who I’m out with and what I’m doing. Leave it to my father who thinks about this enough for everyone.

I entered my house one evening to the incessant ring of my telephone.

“Oh good, you’re home,” Dad said when I answered.

“Aren’t you out of the country, Dad?”

“Yes, we’re in Tokyo right now. But Mom said you were out on a date, and when I calculated the time, I thought you should be home by now.”

“Well, the beauty of technology, Dad, is that I can forward my home phone anywhere…”

Can’t help but give dear ol’ Dad a hard time. He recently suggested that when someone asks for my phone number, I should give the guy his number instead. Sure, Dad. Let me just go upstairs to my room and don my Burka while you pre-screen my dates.

If you must know, I had a very memorable Valentine’s eve this year. I got home from work and decided I was too tired to cook. I changed into a comfortable pair of old sweats and ordered pizza.

The kids and I started decorating Valentine’s day boxes: Princess Barbie stickers for Paige and Katie’s boxes; Darth Vader and the Death Star to hold Ryan’s love letters. Romance was in the air.

When the doorbell rang, I grabbed my purse, opened the door, and was rummaging to find my wallet when I heard Pizza Guy say, “Wow! You’re an absolute beauty.”

Hmmm I thought. I’m going to have to wear these sweats more often.

Before I could look up to lock gazes with the man/boy of my dreams, I heard him say, “You’re the best looking labrador I’ve ever seen.”

There stood Whistler, sniffing wistfully at the pizza box with his tail wagging. My ego took a dive, as did Pizza Guy’s tip for the evening.

So there you have it. The rest of the stories, well, I just don’t think it’d be polite to talk about the men I’ve dated this year. Not until I publish the book, at least.

My married friends shake their heads and say they’re so glad they don’t have to date again. Perhaps. But if I’ve learned anything at all, it’s that life is all about perspective. Consider my chagrin that Whistler continues to drink out of our toilets; Whistler, however, wonders why his inconsiderate family keeps peeing in his water bowl.

Dating is an interesting pastime on breaks from work and motherhood. I’ve rather liked discovering new music, books, food, and favorite haunts through the guys I’ve met. And for their part, they’ve been consummate gentlemen and excellent company at restaurants, movies, hikes, charity events, the theatre.

As for the strange guys? Writing fodder.

Life is so different than I envisioned in my early 20s—before I had children and while I still knew what parents were doing wrong in restaurants and grocery stores, and especially at Target. I knew back then, that I would one day hold my children on my lap and read E.B. White to them. (For my Adventists friends, just assume I meant E.G. White.)

We would bake and decorate sugar cookies together (my kids, not Ellen White). I think my children were sepia-toned and wore Florence Eiseman shifts over their cherubic wings.

Fast forward 15 years. I no longer know how to parent now that I am one. In the early sleep-deprived days, I’d show up at the office with burp rags on my shoulder. I’d head out for an afternoon outing without a diaper bag and end up begging for Huggies. And, “Could I please borrow, like, three wipes from you?”

(Come to think of it, maybe there’s some Freudian reason that Ryan feels the need to use an entire roll of toilet paper…something to do with feeling deprived or insufficiently cleansed as an infant?)

The more prepared ladies in the women’s lounge usually refused to consider my request for a loaner.

“Keep it,” they’d say, with withering looks. Maybe they sensed I wasn’t really planning to use and return their offered items.

Whereas I used to work tirelessly to coordinate the twins and match the girls down to hair accessories, shoe clips, and tights, I’m more inclined these days to let Paige and Katie wear whatever their hearts’ desire: Usually their Princess Halloween costumes. To the supermarket. In April.

Sure, I read to my kids, but I tend to read them the riot act more often than the “Trumpet of the Swan.” How else do you respond when Ryan unscrews every last sprinkler head to create gushing geysers in the backyard? Or when Ryan uses up the Costco multi-pack of Edge gel to have shaving cream wars against his sisters in my shower? Or when Ryan floods the bathroom filling water balloons for battle until it seeps and leaks through the laundry room ceiling?

Hmmm. Seems to be a common denominator here…

I had life so figured out at 20-something. Two kids, not four. Golden wedding anniversary not a failed try for ivory. Change the world. Change diapers. Sometimes, it’s important to just throw out the script and wing it so that you obediently stay in bed when your little girls tell you that they’re bringing you breakfast. I wouldn’t have known to plan for a bowl of microwave popcorn. But it was perfect. My best breakfast ever.

Megan’s life is growing increasingly full these days: honor student parties, birthday/slumber parties, outdoor camp, volunteer events, children’s church. Whatever people tell you about adolescents not communicating with you, it’s simply not true. Megan and I have very open, broadband-like lines of communications. She emails me from her bedroom. I open her notes on the kitchen computer. It really is today’s equivalent of sitting down at the kitchen counter to have milk and cookies after school each day.

To be fair, the emails came at my request. Megan had a habit of waiting until bedtime to tell me what she needed from me at, say, 7:00 a.m. the next morning.

(I’m thinking that the mother of a pre-teen wrote the story of Rumpelstiltskin spinning hay into gold throughout the night based on her daughter’s expectations of what could be accomplished by Mom in the wee small hours of the morning.)

After a few lectures about this, Megan has now taken to emailing me lists of what I need to do for her by Monday, by Tuesday and, graciously, “Stuff I need you to do whenever you can get to it.” In organizational-speak, I think it’s called, “managing up.” So while I’m learning to throw out my life’s script, Megan’s taken to scripting some of my life for me.

As we approach this Christmas season, my advice is to enjoy the elaborate pageantry of perfectly orchestrated music and lights and presents and parties, but leave some room for the unexpected wonders of, well, those unscripted moments.

Every year, my church, like most churches, holds a special Christmas service. The program is perfectly planned. A glistening tree finds its place on the platform, and the requisite poinsettias and candles are positioned along the stage and pew aisles.

It wouldn’t be our Christmas service without Wes Hart singing O Holy Night and our congregation closing with Silent Night.

My kids are keenly attuned to the sacredness of this service—a time of peace and sharing with others as we attach our tithe and offering envelopes with paperclips to the tree.

Last Christmas, Katie sat beside me scrawling on a Batman coloring book. (Okay, I confess that I failed to bring superheroes of the Bible or something a bit more appropriate than the winged-vermin in black vinyl.)

Paige was doling out crayons to Katie. Pink for Batman’s cape. Purple for his tights.

I think I was meditating on Long lay the world, in sin and error pining when the scuffle broke out. Katie didn’t want the color Paige was thrusting at her. Another crayon was seized, fought over and snapped in two. Teeth and claws, and I was whispering firmly to Paige when the strains of Silent Night began.

She slipped off the pew onto the floor in a pout. The lights dimmed as the program participants streamed off the stage and carried their candles down the aisles to illuminate our sanctuary in soft candlelight.

Katie’s black velvet shoes hung straight off the pew and swung in tantalizing reach of Paige’s face.

“All is calm, all is bright,” the congregants sang. Paige ripped Katie’s shoes off her feet and hurled them at her. Shoeless Joe Jackson, I mean, shoeless Katie Johnston flew off the pew and threw herself onto Paige.

Shepherds quake at the sight…

I don’t know what was going on by the time we reached the verse about With the dawn of redeeming grace.

That might have been the moment a fistful of paperclips fell out of Ryan’s pockets…paperclips he had collected off of the offering envelopes from the Christmas tree.

Life is so not what you expect at times, but maybe we are inept at setting the right expectations for ourselves anyway. I am beginning to think that the whole beauty and mystery of the Advent season is that a Child was born to unlikely parents, in chaotic circumstances, in a manner that confounded everyone’s expectations. There are human plans and then there is Divine provision.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that joy and peace, redemption and grace come to us in the unanticipated moments of our lives. Gushing geysers of grace as you anticipate Eggs Benedict and find, instead, popcorn on your plate.

Wishing you unexpected joy and laughter this season and unmeasured merriment in the New Year!

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shellyngo

Shelly Ngo is the social media strategist for the King County Prosecuting Attorney's office in Washington state and the creator of www.Citizens ofSeattle.com. She completed her master's degree in digital media from the University of Washington in June 2015. Besides dabbling on Facebook and creating content for websites, she is also the full-time laundress, driver and cook for four kids and a capricious canine.

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