Thursday, December 6, 2012

christmas trees and crusts of bread: when tradition creates tension

Our advent for today is getting our Christmas tree.

We have agreed that given the frenetic tension of our house deadlines, today is the only day we can do it.  We will do it between 11 and 1.  These are not optimal times, but we will make it work.

Daniel asks me, wisdom gained from newlywed years oozing, "What are your expectations for this event?"

I think for a moment and tell him that my expectations are always too high, but I will try to be realistic.  It would be nice to go get our tree together and get some hot chocolate on the way, and come home for enchiladas.  That's what we always do.  It's tradition.

In my mind, yes, I'm thinking snow and crowding in his truck and a long drive and being all relaxed and cozy, sure, of course I'm running the movie reel.

Ohhhh, how life is not like that.

Shouldn't I know this by now?

He didn't show up at the time we'd set.

I called and offered to pick him up.

He said "For what?"

sparks flew.

It doesn't matter. Overcome it! I tell myself. 

He says to pick him up at Menard's in an hour, he's coming, he's sorry, the drywallers were late, they pushed him behind, come pick him up in an hour.

I do.  He is working with his brother Mark.  Mark comes to me and tells me Daniel is busy.

I grind my teeth.

Do these kinds of things happen to you?

I grab some groceries.  I come back.

He isn't ready.

I wish he realized that it's no small feat to load the children and have them all excited to get our tree. 

I want to shout that my time has value too, that it's not fair to push me off, to make me wait.  The selfishness buzzes, blinds. 

He knows, I know he knows. He's trying, I know he's trying.  My heart wants to give him the benefit of the doubt, but still the frustration bubbles.

He is not out golfing.

He is working, hard, and I'm so thankful.

We end up buying our tree at Menard's.

For the sake of tradition, we buy hot chocolate from the gas station next door.

It's not idyllic.

Instead of traipsing through the forest, Eli runs down the aisles. 

Can you spot him?  The little bear, on the left, that's him.
So I get my camera out to take a picture of all of us getting the tree. 
battery exhausted
No picture.
I exhale.
My battery feels exhausted.
This morning we found out that we were the losing bidders on a house that we've been trying to buy for over two years. 
We signed papers finalizing the very last detail of Gabe's stone.
We applied  tried to apply for passports for our trip to South Africa. 
{"We only take applications until three o'clock.", says the unhelpful clerk.  "It's two-fifty-eight." I helpfully point out. We make an appointment to come back tomorrow at 10.}
Daniel watches his younger brother sign papers to join the Navy SEALs.
And in the midst of all this, in one day, . . . I just am wanting some calm, and the Christmas tree.
We load the tree into my van. 
He is going to leave.  He is going to work.  He is going to work all day long, into the night, and then go play floor hockey with his buddies and brother.
He forgot about the enchiladas.
Why do the stinkin' enchiladas matter so much?
They don't.
I feel tears push and stuff them away.
I shout to my heart, choose your words wisely!  I remember a quote I saw somewhere:
At any point, you have the power to say this  is not how the story is going to end.
I can nag.
I can send nasty texts.
I can justifiably play the "poor me" card.
I can beg for him to miss his gym night.
I can give him dark looks.
Or I can choose to end the story differently.
After all, it's just a tree.  We have it.  Who cares how it got transported?  The kids are thrilled.  It has tiny pine cones all over it.  They find this fascinating.
The enchiladas are better eaten happily at 6pm (kids + me) and at 9pm (Daniel and Mark) than together in stony awkward, hayley-won-that-round silence.
It's like those ridiculously enticing books from my childhood, the choose-your-own ending ones.  I could choose to make my husband's life miserable over the things that happened today.  We could argue endlessly about who was right and who was wrong.
Or I could put on my big-girl pants and just take a deep breath and say we're not going to end the story here.
It's just a tree.
It's just enchiladas.
The point to to create a happy home.
Tradition with an angry, bitter mama is empty, shallow, destructive. Who cares about keeping the tradition if you can't keep the peace?
What if the author of Proverbs was thinking of the holidays when he wrote:
better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife
(Proverbs 17:1)
I think my children and my man are going to be voting for the crusts of bread, every time.


  1. I just love your heart! Thank you for sharing. I can totally relate. How many times have I been there before too, knowing that I can choose how this story ends, choose to love my husband and show grace despite my feelings (and let's be honest most of the time it is over petty things). But so often I choose to let my anger rise and quite that voice that says let it go... Oh, what a happier home it would be if we all just chose crust.(thankfully sometimes we do.) :)

    1. thanks liz! it was so humbling to admit this all. . . I kept back-spacing. . .am I really so petty & childish? yes, so often, I am. thankful for fresh starts!

      thankful you relate! (it means i'm not alone.)

  2. Hayley, I absolutely love reading your blog. It's so refreshing and HONEST and real-life. So many of the blogs I read paint a picture that their life is a fairy tale. I know most people only share their happy times, and I probably shouldn't read those blogs because it makes me feel like my life is less than what it could be. I can relate SO much to what you wrote here. I am a stickler for traditions and movie-like perfection that sometimes my words and attitude is what ruins the special moments I was trying so hard to create. Thank you for your honesty and for putting it out there.

    1. yes, well said- "sometimes my words & actions are what ruins the special moments I was trying so hard to create". . .so true!

      thanks, Nicole!

  3. Wow. I love reading your blog -- you always share so openly and honestly! I'm going to remember this...we choose how the story ends and to do things that make for peace! Thanks for sharing! (i think this is my first comment to leave but I read your blog all the time.) =)Betsy Castleberry

    1. thanks for leaving me me a note! it's fun to know who reads! I finally figured out how to reply from my phone, so I can hopefully do better at showing my appreciation for the comment love! :)

  4. Good for you! It can be so hard to put on my big girl pants but it's so worthwhile. Thanks for talking about this and encouraging the rest of us wives!

  5. "It's just a tree. It's just enchiladas. The point to to create a happy home. Tradition with an angry, bitter mama is empty, shallow, destructive. Who cares about keeping the tradition if you can't keep the peace?...[Prov.17:1]...I think my children and my man are going to be voting for the crusts of bread, every time." YES!! I am such a "coziness-and-tradtion" oriented girl. And my sweet husband goes with ~ and usually enjoys ~ it. But one time he made a half-joking comment about not "worshipping at the altar of coziness", and the LORD has used that comment SO often to hold me in check and keep my heart and mind where it should be!
    Thanks for another gentle reminder from Him. Merry Christmas to your family-of-SIX.

  6. ha ha ha !

    "the altar of coziness!"

    Daniel is going to love that line. ;)

  7. So much wisdom in this post, Hayley! Thanks for sharing. I can SO relate...

  8. And your blog post prompted me to write this :)

    Thanks for writing, it makes me laugh and think hard about life.

  9. Wow, this is such a real-to-life and wise post. I'm not quite where you are yet regarding how to respond when your plans get turned upside down, but I want to get there ...

  10. Thanks Hayley! Nicole shared this on FB and I'm so glad she did! Glad to find you again. The issue you talked about is something I need to work on, and I appreciate your willingness to talk about it so honestly.