Tuesday, January 21, 2014

What I Got for Christmas

At the beginning of December, in a burst of motherly wisdom, I sat down with my daughters one-on-one and asked them what they most wanted to do during the Christmas season. 

Sophia, age 9 and three quarters, surprised me. 

Her answer was, "Less." 

She wanted less parties, less activities, and time to just hang out at home and enjoy our house. (Which, I have to say, is pretty spectacular at Christmastime.) 

Olivia, age 6, wanted more. 

More parties, more outings, a house full of friends, and as much sugar as I would allow her to eat. 

In mid-December, we hosted an open house for our neighbors, kids included, from 6 to 7:30. At 7:30, Olivia was in the living room, ankle deep in Tinker Toys, passing out dress-up clothes with a cookie in one hand. Sophia was whispering in my ear: "It's 7:30. When are people going home?"

This is my life. I'm raising two children at the opposite end of the introvert/extrovert spectrum. 

The gift I got for Christmas this year was the ability to see this as a blessing. These walking polar opposites under my roof  force me to move toward balance as a parent and a person. 

Over our Christmas break, I made a very concerted effort to meet the girls' disparate needs, balancing adventures with rest, social time with solitude. The result was more harmony, family togetherness, fun, and peace than we have had in a long time.

If I'm honest, I'm with Olivia in the more-is-more corner. I want the same things as her, right down to the sugar. Especially in December. I love people, especially in my house; I'm happiest when I have an excuse to bake 48 cupcakes and hang decorations. 

I want to tie on my Christmas apron, wear my scissors around my neck and then sew, craft, cook and party until I drop. But the thing is, I will drop. I will, in fact, possibly drive myself to the brink of hysteria following the more-is-more plan. (Olivia, too, is likely to crash into a weeping heap after the party she begged for.)

Thank God for my introverted eldest, who acts as a human Busyness Alarm. Though I might not self-regulate for my own benefit, I will for my introverted eldest; I'll drive myself crazy, but I'm not willing to send sweet Sophia into anxiety and overstimulation. 

I'm grateful for the way marriage and mothering has educated me. I've done enough reading and research now to understand that being an introvert -- a quality not much valued in our outgoing American culture -- doesn't mean anti-social or unemotional. Sophia is a wonderfully passionate and relational person. She just wants to relate one-on-one and for shorter amounts of time, and then retreat to her bedroom to recharge. And unlike her mother and sister, she doesn't use people as mirrors; she knows who she is without having to take a survey of public opinion to be sure. I want to be more like my daughter in this way.

On the other hand, Liv and I are good for her. We draw her out of her room, her books, her inner world and force her to relate to people in groups, to cut loose, to be hospitable. 

I hold up Jeff as her model. Also an introvert who would be almost totally content to spend all his time with me and the girls, he is also profoundly generous and hospitable, ready to open our doors to the entire neighborhood should they happen to show up at the door. But then, he's been living under the same roof as me for 14 years, so perhaps the gift I've given him -- challenging though I may be -- is also balance. 

I'm grateful for the blessing of balance I got for Christmas. God grant me the ability to hold onto it all year.

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