Just in time for the start of the Season of Joyful Expectation, I have now entered the part of pregnancy that I refer to as the "what was I thinking?!?" stage. It arrives when my energy levels start to drop at the same time that my to-do list suddenly lengthens. I am doing a lot of pre-emptive resting, and that is definitely good for me physically, but often I lie there in my nest of pillows fretting about the things I am not getting done.
Sunday afternoons are the worst. Probably because they are the best time to lie down and rest a lot, since Mark is home and no one has to go anywhere. But I am always thinking of the things I could do to get ready for Monday. Ergo, more time to rest equals more time to fret.
This pregnancy has really forced me to accept that the world will not stop turning if I don't get it all done. Whatever "it all" is.
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I did pull together all the Advent stuff on time. (What's this? Is she actually getting a sense of proportion and perspective? Figuring out what the important things are and what things are small stuff not worth sweating?)
It helped that we had a four-day weekend right before the first Sunday of Advent, and also two-day free shipping.
My kids' chocolate-filled Advent calendars arrived on time, for example.
And! I got a belated birthday present of cash with strict instructions to spend it on something I wanted, just as I was wishing we had a proper nativity set; so I put the money toward a Holy Family and three kings and a shepherd and a flock of sheep. Porcelain would have been nice, but I trust I can upgrade from the Handpainted Unbreakable Polymer when there are not quite so many little people around. Anyway, now I can look forward to adding a figure or two each year for a while, which should be fun.
Also, Simcha Fisher posted her Advent Chains activity and I got it all printed out, on purple and pink paper even! Totally recommend this one as it is nearly no work to set up, and if you print it on white paper instead you can even use it to do the Jesse Tree thing as it gives you a little coloring-page ornament every day. And the Advent wreath is operational too.
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Our Advent wreath is Scandinavian-style, made of wrought iron with glass cups to hold ball candles. I bought it in our first year of marriage; at the time it seemed an extravagant purchase for an item that is meant to beused one month out of the year, but by now I am very glad of it. I like it because it is not very large, and the center of it comes up in a decorative handle so it can be easily moved without tipping it or accidentally taking hold of the loose glass holders. Both features are important in our compact house, since we have to use our dining table and countertops all day long as a work surface and can't have any sort of centerpiece that just sits there and looks pretty.
I cleared off a shelf above the computer and that is where it resides during the day (along with the aforementioned Nativity figures); in the evening after the dinner dishes are cleared away, I grab the wreath by its handy handle and set it on the table, and right before bedtime snack we gather around it for our Advent ritual.
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That ritual, we keep fairly simple, and always the same. First, one child lights the candle(s); they take turns each day. Next, Mark leads us in a short prayer -- a different one each week -- that I downloaded from somewhere. My daughter has the privilege of taking a loop off Simcha's Advent chain and reading the scripture verse aloud. Then we sing a verse or two or seven of an Advent hymn -- sometimes "People Look East" or "O Come Divine Messiah," because those are so much fun, but the kids are convinced that "O Come O Come Emmanuel" is proper. I have the verses printed out in Latin and in English this year. Finally the three-year-old gets to blow out the candles, his privilege as the youngest. The reason for that privilege should be obvious.
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My daughter, and not any of the boys, gets to read all the scripture verses for a less obvious but quite specific reason. The parish we attend reserves altar service to boys, and I want her to have some roles that she can keep for herself.
This is not a form of protest. I support a return to the "altar boy" tradition, for a number of reasons both practical and theological. But I am sympathetic to my seven-year-old's annoyance that there's this thing her brothers are invited to do that she isn't. The reasons, compelling as they are to me as an adult, are not all that accessible to seven-year-olds.
(Especially when the seven-year-old in question frequently goes to Mass at other parishes and notices that 90 percent of the altar servers at the other parishes are girls.)
Ours isn't a faith that operates one hundred percent at the "accessible to seven-year-olds" level, so I don't necessarily see this as a problem; but I have taken pains to point out to her that women and teenage girls have visible and important roles at Mass too. When the boys were younger, we treated it as a matter of simple expectation that when they were old enough they would serve at the altar, learning how to reverently handle the patens and candles and such and how to walk just so and how to pay attention during Mass. Similarly, we treat it as a matter of fact that when my daughter gets old enough she will serve too, probably as a lector. She has to wait longer (in our parish, teenage boys and girls can read the readings at Mass after confirmation, whereas the youngest altar boys are only ten), but she is looking forward to it.
Anyway, that is why it is always her privilege to read aloud any scripture passage that is part of a family devotion. She is practicing to be a lector.
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As for the chocolate Advent wreaths, I only have one thing to say: Once you get your kids the kind with chocolates behind every door, you will not be going back to the plain paper kind. So don't try it unless you are committed to keep it up for the rest of your years as a parent.
Kids love ritual. It is amazing how quickly a single year's activity can become "but that is the way we have done it for as long as I remember and so we have to do it every year." I suppose it is less amazing when it involves eating chocolate before breakfast.