The Gift of Being Present This Season

I love the holiday season. In our household Christmas starts in full effect the day after Thanksgiving. We put up our tree, watch our favorite Christmas films, hang decorations, and start streaming Christmas music immediately (John Legend’s A Legendary Christmas has been in heavy rotation this year). This year has been no exception. The only thing is, it’s always tough to balance play and actual rest with all the duties of the holidays. Given that I work in education, I’ve always had ample time off each year (about a week for Thanksgiving and two weeks for Christmas). Yet, each year it’s a challenge for me to simply be present enough to enjoy my time off, while also gaining the rest I need to be ready for the new year.

Even now, this week, we’re gearing up for a trip to South Carolina to visit one half of our extended family and then a flight to Baltimore to visit the other half. I’m a “cram it all in” type of person (my wife is decidedly not, but she goes along for the ride with some exceptions). But recently, as I’ve been reading the book Present Over Perfect, I’ve been learning how to clear away a lot of the frenetic clutter in my life (mostly in my head) in order to simply enjoy the moment. A funny thing happens when I find myself present enough to enjoy the moment, that’s also where I find rest.

Yesterday, my first official day of vacation this played out beautifully. Since I spent all morning at the barber shop and Samantha was abandoned home with the kids, I decided to take them out for an adventure. All four of the girls (under the age of 8 mind you). Let that sink in. As usual, I had no plan at first, I was hoping to figure one out as we pulled out of the garage.  In fact, we almost didn’t make it. It took me 45 minutes to get them dressed, shoes on, diaper bag packed, etc, only to get buckled in the van to find that London had had an accident in her car seat.  Ugh.

I was this close to calling the whole excursion off. But, not wanting to disappoint and also because Samantha was already fast asleep I knew we had to do something. Just as I was leaning over to untie London’s shoe, exasperated with the situation, she hugged me and said, Happy Merry Christmas daddy. And she wouldn’t let go until she got a smile and a return salutation. 

That’s how they get you isn’t it?  I was done after that. Heart melted, we walked back to the garage where everyone else was waiting and I told the girls, let’s make this day amazing. Passing out gum (because bribes always help), I asked them where they wanted to go and they decided to head to our favorite place: the bookstore.  I love that this has become our favorite hang-out spot! You can bet that every time it’s just me and the girls, if we’re hanging out somewhere, we’ll always end up at a bookstore together.

When I arrived, instead of doing what I usually do, try to control things, or rush my way through, instead I just went with the flow. Sloane and I sat on the floor and played. I sat next to Olivia while she read to me from different books until she choose one that was just right. Rather than rushing Riles to select a book, I simply encouraged her to take her time. I caught myself actually losing track of time while just sitting there on the floor of the bookstore. That’s a phrase that I rarely utter, losing track of time.

Shauna Niequist has this great quote about choosing to play:

What would our lives be like if our days were studded by tiny, completely unproductive, silly, nonstrategic, wild and beautiful five-minute breaks, reminders that our days are for loving and learning and laughing, not for pushing and planning, reminders that it’s all about the heart, not about the hustle? 

What would my life be like indeed! I might have more afternoons like yesterday. It reminds me of something that happens in our home, sometimes, but not often enough, we’ll have a random dance party. Literally, we could be clearing dinner from the table, or in the living room about to go to bed and suddenly I’ll turn on youtube and boom! Fifteen minutes later we’ve danced ourselves tired. Those are rich moments.

I want more of those. So, as I write this I’m also pondering how in the midst of hustle mode this week with family, I intend to stop hustling, even if just for a few moments each day. It seems that’s where the real gift of this season lies.


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