In my perusal of blogs this morning, I noticed a theme that resonated with how I'm feeling. Both Melissa and Mrs G. have written posts about the less-than-picture -perfect nature of family life. I have an image in my head - a patchwork of film clips, story books and chance comments - of what family should look like, especially at Christmas.
A few days ago, a friend whom I have not seen in a long while dropped by with presents for the children. As we chatted over a cup of tea we smiled over how lovely it is to put up the Christmas tree - carols playing, Champagne in hand, excited children. I agreed. We looked at each other and she admitted that it hadn't been like that at all, that she had taken refuge in the kitchen to avoid the stress and her husband had been cross with her for missing the children's faces. I admitted that last year our tree decoration had resulted in me shouting about all the mess and how I didn't want a tree in my house at all. Although I would love my children to recount in years to come the special family time of putting up the tree together, I know that the reality would be them remembering the arguments so I just kept out of the way this year.
I realise that I want my family life to look like a story book - I would like the children to be as obedient as Laura in the Little House Books, I would like to be as calm and unruffled as the Mother in The Railway Children (who never cried in front of the children), I would like to coax my garden into beautiful life like Mary, Dickon and Colin in The Secret Garden and I would like my children to have adventures like The Famous Five and to have Christmases worthy of poetry. By the end of yesterday I was crying with frustration and exhaustion.
In the midst of this, I have been pondering the expectations placed on the Christ Child. While many, even at his birth, recognised him as the long-awaited Messiah, I wonder if he lived up to their hopes. His victory on the cross was not the victory over Rome the oppressed people were longing for. I wonder if the shepherds, as old men, heard of his crucifixion and connected the victim with the babe in the manger; and whether they understood that what was perfect in God's eyes, was not the story book picture they had, perhaps, imagined.