There are good times to cry. More importantly, good times to cry with your children. I re-learned that this last weekend while spending a Saturday lying low and doing my little routine that keeps encroaching viruses away.
A little background color first. For the second year in a row, we've done Christmas a little differently. One Christmas a few years back, my side of the family decided to forgo gifts for adults and instead only get gifts for the children. This had the unexpected result of many more gifts for the kids than usual. Watching my children rip through present after present and not know what to do with it all (and later see many things get forgotten or lost) left a lasting impression. I tried something different the next year.
The change in our tradition has come to be called The Seven Days of Christmas. Basically, we have 7 family nights that we do on random nights in December. They each have a theme (like "Popcorn and Puzzles", "Books and Blankets", "Fleece and a Film" or "Toys and a Treasure hunt") and begin with carols at the piano and/or a Christmas story or message before opening one present per person or for the whole family that has an activity to go with it. The month starts with the more selfish gifts/activities (like opening their toy gift after a treasure hunt) and as Christmas gets closer becomes smaller family gifts or service projects until there is only stockings on Christmas morning. For instance, one of the later activities was when after singing, I brought out fleece that we tied for Primary Children's Hospital while watching It's a Wonderful Life. This is a Kate version of things, mind you, so besides the one day to decide the themes and buy the gifts, I kind of made it up as I went.
I've love it because we get time to cherish each gift that we give to our children; to play, read and sing with them; to slow down the Christmas season and create lasting memories where the focus stays on relationships with each other and with the Savior.
(I just realized you may be saying to yourself, what happened to Santa!? Well, that started with my grandma and is too tricky a subject for me to tackle here. Suffice it to say that Santa is like Cupid, St. Patrick or ghosts at Halloween - background images that flash my children at the grocery store or in the media, but have little part in our family traditions. Honestly, my children probably believe in ghosts more from the stories of their father's youth than Santa Clause :).
There were some glitches to my plans of course. I had to be away for the first night so the treasure hunt didn't happen and on the "Books and Blankets" night the kids were so excited about making a tent (hence the "blankets") to read their new books in together that they begged and pleaded until I finally let them make a tent ahead of time. By the time the last book arrived from Amazon so we could do the activity, the tent had been slept in three nights and put away to make room for family events. I told you - I made it up as I went.
That's where last Saturday comes in. As I lay in bed that morning, circled by my books that I had just begun to study, my only son surprised me by coming in and asking if I'd read The Island of the Blue Dolphins to him. It was one of the books I'd purchased for the Christmas night that didn't happen. I'd been reading it to the girls in their room and he'd heard a little and wanted more. I told him sure, if he let the girls know so they could listen, too.
As I began to read with my two oldest Daysies gathered on the bed and the younger ones in and out, weaving the story into their pretend play, I thought back on the days I still remember gathered with my siblings around my mother in this very same house - even at times this very room. Like we did then, my children wouldn't let me stop after a chapter, but begged me on and on. We ended up reading the rest of the book right there. Also like when I was little, it proved to be an activity that bound us more deeply together.
Nathan loves being read to, but has yet to learn to love reading himself. I was grateful, then, for the timing of this experience. Through much of the last 50 pages of the book I was a wreck. At first, Nathan regarded my tears with curiosity - it wasn't a new thing to see mom crying while reading a book, but this time he was involved in the story, too. We were experiencing it together. Little House on the Prairie and C.S. Lewis Chronicles hadn't explored emotions this deep. Nathan began to snuggle up a little closer. Then to turn toward the window. I was pretty sure the movement coming from his body was a sob or two. When 3/4 of the book was read I had to stop as my voice was too choked with emotion to go on without stopping for a good cry. I realized that I was right, Nathan had already joined me and I stroked his back as he shyly tried to muffle his cries in the pillow next to me. Elise comforted us and brought us tissue. "Books can be powerful things, can't they Naynay?" I said. He replied with a reverent "yes" between quiet sobs.
I think the power of a book is increased when reading it aloud with people you love. It would be impossible to describe what happened to us in my room that day or what we shared, but it was nothing like crying over a movie together.
I felt like my life experiences were woven into the story - not that I am like the young woman the story described, but that my relationships and my experiences all informed the experience of reading that book. It wasn't what I got out of the book, but what it pulled from me. Like a mirror showing me what I contain inside and turning it out for display. And instead of examining what I found on my own, I got to go on the journey with my children. They got to examine with me and we learned things about each other there are very few ways to learn otherwise. It was a good book. It was a good cry.