Tuesday, 23 December 2008

The Christmas Story

“This something to celebrate God's life. There's a red ribbon to celebrate the blood of God. The orange on this is for the world. The candle is to celebrate Jesus' birthday. The little sultanas are to celebrate the things that we have got to have that God gave us. But I made it at my school. I'm learning 'RE' right now. RE is when we talk about Jesus.”

As told by Bridger Anderberg (6) about his Christingle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christingle) and documented by his beautiful mother.

There are lots of versions of the Christmas Story - just like any story - ask my friends who "sasquatch" is and you'll get a many, and varied assortment of stories. Ask them just how long one should boil corn at altitude, and you'll get a whole lot more than cooking instructions...

Luke chapter 2 will forever be "The Christmas Story" to me. Complete with Querinious, governor of Syriah, placed inexplicably into infamy by the Gospel's author. I can pretty much recite it from verse one all the way to "Mary treasured all these things in her heart..." I learned it a little at a time, one year to the next, one sunday school teacher after another, flannel-graph to flannel-graph. So at dinner the other night I asked the boys, "Can you guys tell me the Christmas Story?"

Could they ever...no flannel-graph required -

Bridger: "First, Mary was sweeping the house. Then, um, the angel told her that she was going to have a baby and then Joseph got disappointed that it wasn’t his baby but he fell asleep and had a dream that the angel came to him and told him that the child will not be yours but you can engage with Mary and then it will be yours. Then Joseph was so happy that he ran to Mary and they were engaged."

"Then the king..."

Caid: you mean Hawod..."
Bridger: No not Herod. The king, told them to register and they had to go to Bethlehem (pronounced in proper British with a long e between the l and the h), the town of David in Judea.

I find Joseph's courage this year at the heart of my Christmas Story. I now know what it feels like to uproot a young family and travel thousands of miles from home. We aren't birthing a new child but we are, we have been, birthing a new HOME. A home that is not, and will likely never again, be attached to a physical place in this world. Instead it immenates from the connection that Cori and I have found in all of the heartbreak. All of the pain and the tears. And - not to be missed - the delight, the wonder, the passion, the newness, and the adventure. We can list home in places now like an empty driveway where a car should have been parked awaiting our return from holiday. In a bedroom with nothing but an air mattres for three months. On a freezing cold train carriage where we texted back and forth for two hours as a very important international flight left Gatwick without me. But also home is at the top of the Eiffel Tower. In the wings of Notre Dame betneath the Rose Window. Around the Carousel at the Luxembourg Gardens. At the seaside of the English Channel. In the balcony of a west end theatre. At the Oscar Hotel for Christmas dinner with the boys. In front of this year's tree surrounded by paper chains and childrens' art projects...

And, for whatever inexplicable reason in the human design, like with child birth, most of that birthing has been from Cori. Right from her guts. Something about HOME must come from a woman working to make it so. And so, I have found myself, thinking this year of Joseph. How he must have done all he could to ease the pace and the cadence of that miserable mule on the long road. How he probably gave up the last drink from his water skin every time. And how when he was pointed to the stable he settled in with a smile, tied the donkey, and then slipped to the back where he slid to a squat against the back wall with his head in hands just trying to pull it together. Just trying to keep holding the space. Knowing that's really all he could do.

Bridger: "Then Mary had to have the baby in the stable because they were living in the house that was a stable because there was no where to stay because the rooms where all full."

Me: Where did they try to stay first?

Bridger:They tried to stay in the inn and they asked if they could come in but no, the rooms were all full go try the next inn so the inn keeper said you could stay in my stable.

Me: What's an Inn?

Bridger: An Inn is a hotel in Pub.

Caid: No... Inn is de guy who is de keeper of duh hotel.

I'm suprised this year how many people I've heard reference the Inn Keeper. Some in veiled tones of criticism for not cleaning out so much as a broom closet or giving up his own bed. Some wanting to saint him for offering his stable. Even Garrison Keillor gives the guy a shout out in his version of the story as an overworked, disaffected employee who "just works here." Funny thing is we don't have any idea how he, or she, might have responded. Or whether he or she was there to talk at all. Whatever the case, I like the idea that Joseph stopped and checked on the back room at the local pub, and Mr. Inn, vewy gwaciously offewed them his stable.

Bridger: "So, the shepherds were watching their flocks and an angel came to them and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said not to be afraid. He said I bring you good news, today a baby is born in Judea, town of david...

Caid: "That’s bethlemen..."

Bridger: "...and you will see him lying in a manger in white clothes. Then a whole choir of angels came and they said glory to god in the highest, peace on earth to old men, amen.

The shepherds went to marry and joseph and told them all about what the angels told them. Then everyone was amazed when the shepherds told everybody else.

This was an important point to Bridger. So much so that at the Christ Church Deal Christmas celebration, in the middle of a prayer, Bridger asked for the microphone, and in Christ Church Deal fashion, was given it to tell everyone that one of the important ways the shepherds welcomed Jesus was by telling everybody else about them. But that's just Bridger. Making the kind of connections that Bridger makes everywhere. His full name means "He who builds bridges with Yahweh as his God." And this is what Bridger does. Yesterday he and I went to St. Paul's for a caroling service. St. Paul's is one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world. The spectacle was amazing. The choir was amazing. Bridger, was unimpressed. Until he learned that the lady sitting next to us was from Boston. i.e., the home of the Red Sox. i.e., the arch nemesis of the Colorado Rockies due to the outcome of the 2007 World Series. i.e., the arch nemesis of Bridger Anderberg and a problem he has been trying to resolve with Nate Shultz since the inception of their relationship. But, Bridger found common ground here. Not in the rivalry, but in the beauty of the sport, and soon the cathedral in all of its splendor could have simply melted away into the dark streets of Bethlehem and, without knowing it, every deed that Bridger has ever witnessed Matt Holiday perform in left field was just one more perfect announcement that the Christ child was born - because he shown out so clearly from the perfect little brown eyes of that little boy and his willingness to make a new friend from Boston.

Bridger: Then there was wise men, riding on camels but they went to Jerusalem, the town where Herod lived and they asked him where Jesus was and he didn’t know and he grew angry but pretended he was happy and said when you find him tell me and I actually will bow down before him too.

Caid: Hewod said that because he gwew angwy and he wanted to kill all duh baby boys.

Me: Why did he want to do that?

Caid: I’m not willy suwe actually?

Bridger: He was afraid that he would lose his power and he wanted to keep his power so he decided to kill all the boys in every country and he sent his men to do that.

This is a part of the Christmas Story I have a tremendous problem with as I consider all of the parents and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and grandparents and friends - all of the Anderbergs, and Hoggatts, and Nails, and Switzers, and Baars, and Shultzes, and Elwells, and Philips who would have been shattered by the unbelievable injustice of this event. The loss that would have torn through them as that innocent little piece of their wold was ripped inexplicably from them? I argue with God about this. About how that could have been prevented. About His safe passage to Egypt. About the ridiculous insanity of this bloodshed as a result of what we celebrate every December. I'm still arguing. He's still listening. Perhaps someday we'll change turns and I'll get a fuller picture. But this year I'm just thankful for Jake, and Jack, and Alastair, and I can't wait to see each of them.

Bridger: Then Mary and Joseph were told to move so they moved to a new house and the wise came to see them there. One of the wise men gave them gold, one gave him myrrh, one gave him frankincense. Myrrh is sap from a tree and frankincense is milk from a cow.

Caid: Huh uh. Fwankincence is sap from a twee and Myrrh (said in proper British muhh) is milk from a cow...

We never did discover which was which. But we are clear that those boys have been listenting during RE. RE is, of course, religious education. But this kind of understanding doesn't come from simply listening to the story in school. This comes because they ingest and ask questions and then think for themselves. It's why they can comment on Christmas eve that probably things didn't work out for Joseph and Mary exactly like they expected... Today didn't really end up the way we expected either. We spent the last third of the day in the emergency room because I dislocated my shoulder again. I was goofing around with he boys on the playground and out it popped. I knew immediately, but shoulders don't pop back in per the Mel Gibson/Leathal Weapon routine, so there we were, stuck in a park, in Croydon, on Christmas day with no idea where the closest emergency room was - and no phone. Cori was holding my arm in traction and uttered a quick prayer for help and within 30 seconds a family arrived with two boys, a girl, mum, dad, and the grandparents. Dad called an ambulance. Bridger was swept into the arms of grandmum for a chat to calm him down. Caid was figuring out how to shoot the air pellet guns the two boys had secured from Father Christmas and probably wondering if "it would be wise" to shoot one at me in that state. Granddad stood sentinel on the sidewalk and then barked orders at the EMT's until I was safely in the ambulance.

The ambulance drivers where very kind. Not the most gentle of men with an arm that happens to be as secure as a clock pendulum but very tender just the same - and I needed that today. Due to the horrors that I've heard of the NHS I expected much worse, but even the hospital experience wasn't bad and after only 5 hours from the time of dislocation, I was on my way home with something very strong and affecting doing cartwheels in my veins.

Expedient as it was, we missed Christmas dinner. So we went for plan B. Curry from the local Indian place. The door was open and I walked in to greet the manager and the guy that works the til at the offlicense up the street. Both know me by now and asked about the sling - so I explained. Turns out the restaurant wasn't open today. The manager just got stuck there due to holiday train schedules. He is a Muslim and has never in his life celebrated Christmas. However, when he heard the story, our Christmas Story, he just wanted to help. So he took my order and made us a take home feast of some of the best Indian food I've ever eaten. And made sure that each of us, boys included, had a special drink while we waited for the food to finish.

And so at the end of the day, as Christmas has once again passed on this side of the world, I think about the unexpected turn of events of our day. The unexpected turn of events of our lives. The times in the last few weeks that I have had to slip out back behind the stable, slide to a squat and put my head in my hands and just try to get a grip. And then I think of Roc, the manager of Taste of Bengali at the Sanderstead Train Station and I hope that's what "Inn" was like when he couldn't offer a room to Mary and pointed her to the stable. Simply delighted, even though the event meant nothing to him, to provide a place in the stable.

May the remainder of your Christmas be blessed. May you revel in the family and friends that you have. May you be surprised by all that a friendly universe can offer you if you will open your arms. And may you find the Christ Child in the most unexpected of places throughout 2009. Merry Christmas!

Dec. 25, 2008

Thursday, 18 December 2008


Bridger and I turned a corner in our relationship last night. He read a book to me. 'Snow' by P.D. Eastman (which is generationally indicative because he reads that "P dot D dot Eastman"). It has 61 pages. I was so proud of him. Afterwards I told him so. I asked him how he felt about himself, having worked so hard at learning to read. "Yeah, Mom," he said. "I persevered. I know what that word means. I heard you saying that to Holly B at school last week." We talked a little about perseverance and again how proud of him I was. He responded by looking me in the eye and with a very serious look on his face he said, "Yeah, Mom. 'Cause I'm old. And I'm ready for this."
I feel a little old too. I have a son who reads. A new dimension has been entered. I hope I'm as ready as he is.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

So here's a weird thing--the English don't seem to rinse things. I noticed it with dishes when we've visited friends here. There's one sink of water with soap. You wash the dishes in the water and then sort of swish them around in the water and set them on the sideboard to drain. No rinsing. No separate sink of non-soapy water. In fact most kitchens I have seen only have one basin in the kitchen--not two sections of the sink like my sink was in the States.
I haven't seen a traditional carwash here yet either. Instead, in the major grocery stores or at the mall there's a 'handwashing service.' They have a little cart with a bucket of soapy water and rags and sponges and that sort of thing. The cars look plenty clean when they're done. I still can't figure out how they rinse it though! There's no hose. There isn't a separate bucket of clean water to rinse with.
So I'm flabbergasted. No rinsing. Go figure...

Monday, 15 December 2008

You know you're a mama when...

You know you’re a mama when...you wake up with your hair crusted with snot because your four year old couldn’t sleep unless his little face was pressed right up against your head.
You know you’re REALLY a mama when...you don’t rush to the shower when you realize you have crusty, booger-hair. Instead you cook some breakfast because said sick child asked for something to eat for the first time in days. You give him a bath. You throw his crusty, booger-y clothes into the wash. You wipe down the entire house with antibacterial wipes and THEN you take a shower.
Oh my sick people at the Anderberg house. I finally tallied it up. Some or all of us have been sick the last 6 weeks. Almost seven weeks. We’ve had low grade fevers that make people fussy and uncomfortable. High fevers that make people hallucinate and convulse--or just sweat so profusely I’ve had to change soaked sheets several mornings in a row. We’ve had pink eye. Impetigo. Rashes. Really bad coughs. Body aches so severe people are sobbing and crying out. Puking, we’ve had that too.
We’re working our way down the forms of treatment. We’ve been to the doctor so many times I think they know me by my first name at our ‘surgery.’ Not super helpful so far. They initially diagnosed the impetigo as ‘dry skin.’ Caid got the sickest he’s been yet at the tail end of a round of antibiotics. And they were so dismissive about the fearful middle of the night phone call regarding a fever that they made me cry. It got so bad that Scott finally said, “Time to call a witch doctor!” So I took them to a homeopath. I can’t tell if it’s working. It’s a philosophy that works ‘with the body’s natural defense mechanisms’--like coughs and fevers. So maybe it is working? Maybe it would be much worse otherwise? I’m not sure what to think. Mostly I just want my little boy to run around and play and be the wild man I know and love. Bridger is better, but Caid...
I remember having mono when I was in high school. I was so sick. For weeks I barely ate anything. One day I said to my mom, “you know what I think I could eat? Some mashed potatoes.” She made this gigantic pot of mashed potatoes and was so thrilled when I ate about a 1/4 of a cup of them. My little Caid told me this evening he could maybe eat some mashed potatoes. I thought of my mom as I stood over my largest stock-pot full of potatoes and watched him eat two bites.
Things aren’t all bad though! After laying in bed much of Saturday just wanting to die, I felt pretty good when I woke up Sunday. So after I washed my nasty, crusty hair, I decided to seize the moment and went into the city to do my Christmas shopping. I had several of these cool moments where I’d look at the hustle and bustle around me and think, “Dude! I live in LONDON! I am Christmas shopping in LONDON! ‘Cause I live here!” It was surreal and very cool!
There were great big snowmen balloons and snowflake garlands in Soho. There were hundreds of Christmas lights on Oxford Street. There was a steel band in front of a huge department store playing their guts out to the tune of ‘Let it Snow.’ Amen, I say! I went to Hamley’s Toy Store. Which was insane but oh so festive. I shopped and ate a pasty in Covent Garden. I walked down Regent Street and could see literally thousands of shoppers in front of me and thousands behind. Like a scene in a movie. Then I got on a train with so many shopping bags I took up two seats. It was a great day! Add that to the list I suppose. You know you’re a mama when...you can go from on-your-death-bed-ill to shopping in 24 hours so your kiddos will have presents under the tree. Oh yeah, and then come home and bake cookies for your other son's Christmas party the next day.
Today I was back at sick duty. Nurse Mama. I decided to set aside my ‘to do’ list yet again and laid curled up with Caid all day. Not such a bad way to spend a Monday! We watched a really sappy Christmas movie. He’d cough and cough, and I’d just reach over and rub his chest or his head or just pause the movie and hold him. He was so content to do that all day. Truthfully, so was I. I wish I knew how to make him feel better. I'm worried about him. At the end of the day though it sure is fun to snuggle that little wild man for as long as he’ll let me!

Sunday, 7 December 2008


Do you ever have on of those days?  You know the kind that just starts bad and then spirals downward?  Pretty soon you're just begging for the sun to go down so you can legally go to bed and wait to start again the next day.  Good night!  Well...I have had one of those days...for over a month now.  
My gran died.  My car was stolen and my house broken into and robbed.  We went to the States and I had horrible culture shock.  Then as soon as we returned to England the you-know-what hit the fan.  We've missed so many days of school that I've started hiding from the head teacher.  Bridger and Caid and I sick as dogs and Scott out of town a ton.  Night after night of 3 or 4 hours of sleep total.  Mornings of rolling over and having to tell my just-turned-six-year-old that I'm too sick to fix him breakfast, let alone drive him to school.  Caid caught impetigo perhaps because--in spite of repeated admonishments of "stop touching everything!" and "buddy that has germs!" he still was caught licking the pole on the subway.  Heebie jeebies aside, I've been too tired and sick to hose the house down with bleach no matter how much I wanted to.  Add to that the fact that they misdiagnosed it the first time at the doctor's office as 'dry skin' and well...you get the idea.  
Just as things were starting to look up, I got lost about 6 times on my way to get Christmas presents for everyone Stateside this week so I could ship them on time.  Then when I finally got to the shopping center I spent half an hour trapped in a parking garage just LOOKING for a parking space.  Did I mention how narrow and tight these parking garages are here?  Can I just tell you how many hundreds of people were in front of me not to mention behind me?  If Caid had not been in the car and therefore I HAD to stay calm--serious panic attack.  As it was I had to use my carefully practiced labor breathing techniques.  Thank god I'm a doula!  
My house is a wreck.  There's so much laundry that even my oldest boy has resorted to going 'commando' (that's pretty much the younger one's m.o.).  This is a bad sign as he owns, well, a lot of pairs of underwear.  If they're all dirty it's been a long, long time since I've done laundry.  Every day someone says, "Mom?  I can't find any..."  I'm getting a little tired of saying, "They're dirty!  You'll have to go without today!"  
I keep trying and trying to get a grip.  Trying and trying to let myself off the hook--we've all, including me, been super sick.  What do I expect?  Clearly a spotless house, perfectly healthy/clean/cheerful children and everything in its place.  Including my waistline.  Loving adding that to the list of "things not going well."  Let's just say I'm wearing a lot of pants with elastic waistbands these days. 
Scott was in Germany most of this last week.  I felt like I was coping pretty well.  Then we went into the city for a "Christmas day."  I was picturing tinsel on all the trees.  Lights and greenery decorating every store.  Carolers on every corner.  I know it's corny and cheesy, but I really thought it would be just ridiculously festive.  We arrived at the Houses of Parliament to a big protest rally.  Trafalgar Square's tree was big, but that was about it.  We had a blast playing on the lions, but our camera's battery died when we tried to take a family photo.  We maybe should have just called it then.  The Covent Garden light display--critically hailed by all--turned out to be a very 80's sort of...um...I don't know.  The boys thought the 'light sabers' were cool, let me put it that way.  Our food was cold, I couldn't find the trains I really wanted to buy for my nephew.  The weirdo Christmas carnival in Hyde Park was pretty fun but kind of weirdly out of context.  Think Montana State Fair on the lawn of Buckingham Palace.  Bizarre.
So basically when Bridger started sobbing this morning because one of his 15 new Batman tattoos didn't quite work out right and had to be thrown away I lost it.  Scott was on a run.  Bridger was sobbing.  I just thought, "you spoiled rotten little brat!  It's ONE freaking tattoo--you have 14 left!  Choose another one!"  But no...there he is, sobbing, "I'd ask for some more for Christmas, but that would take so lo-o-o-o-ong!"  I'm not going to lie to you, it was one of those 'shoot me and put me out of my misery' moments.  At the time, I couldn't figure out why it made me so mad.  I just knew I pretty much wanted to wring his selfish little neck.
So I promptly gave myself a time out and told everyone I wasn't coming out of my room until I was ready to be sweet. 
I'm not proud of the fact that it took me nearly 4 hours to come out of there.  I was just so mad. I started furiously composing an email on the great and horrid injustice of my life when eventually I had my 'aha' moment.  It's amazing how angry a selfish little boy will make a selfish mama.  Sigh.  
See, I have all this baggage that makes me feel like I have to help everyone be cheerful and everything run smoothly.  It made a lot of sense when I bought the set.  Honestly, it did!  The unfortunate thing that baggage makes me decide now though is that everyone always ought to be cheerful and everything always ought to run smoothly.  So when it doesn't...well the s**t hits the fan.  The baggage has become far too cumbersome.  
So after this realization hit I took myself on a good long walk.  I wore my comfiest fuzzy fleece pants.  I snuggled up in my puffy down vest.  I strapped on my favorite tennies.  Then I took my time.  I watched the men playing golf in the fog and the frost.  I stopped and checked out the neighbors' gardens with their perfectly frozen flowers.  I squished through the mud on the football pitch nearby.  I bought myself a Christmas mug and some cute Christmas napkins.  I cried a little.  Then I came home and decided I was going to be sweet even if I couldn't be cheerful. 
The funniest thing happened.  I started wrapping presents and playing with my little boys.  I made them laugh and giggle--not because I needed them to be cheerful, but because it was fun and I wanted to.  All the sudden I found some cheer.  Not the obligatory kind either.  The genuine, deeply felt happiness.  The feeling you read about in all of the best Christmas books.  Where the snow falls and the fire crackles and everyone is happy and in love.  
There's no snow here in this part of England.  So far it just rains a ton.  There's not much for Christmas lights around and my stockings are hung above the radiator.  There's a couple of super fun little boys here though and a husband who loves me very much.  I don't know when I'm going to get the laundry done.  I hope we don't catch any more infections or diseases on account of me not having cleaned the house.  Regardless though, I've decided.  I want to be sweet.  I'll be cheerful when I can.  And I'm going to try my darndest to let go of the need for things to go smoothly.  Clearly holding on to that need does in no way make them go any smoother!  As far as I can tell, the best route there is thankfulness.  Who knows, maybe it'll even rub off on the 6 year old.