Simplifying Advent

The moment Talitha woke up this morning, before she’d even got out of bed, she asked in the dark (I was still in the bed beneath with Ophelia), “Mummy, can me and Effie open our Advent calendars?”

In years past, I’ve made intricate calendars like this toilet roll tree, complete with an activity planned for each day and a Bible passage.

This year, I spotted standard chocolate Advent calendars at a fundraising fair for Easton Jubilee Trust, a non-profit organisation my brother and my sister-in-law are involved in, and I thought, “Why not?” I’m absolutely certain the kids found these as exciting as any homemade option I could have offered.

We will probably do some form of a Jesse Tree, starting later today (if I can summon the energy) and no doubt we’ll get up to lots of Christmas activities throughout the season but I’m quite relieved not to have tied myself into something intricate this year. I’m intrigued too by the kindness elves but if they make an appearance, it’ll be patchy, and if they don’t, that’s OK too.

Advent offers an easy place to access the salvation story with children. The birth of a baby? They get it, they’re captivated by it. On one hand, I want to make the most of that in the lead up to Christmas, a valuable marker on our calendar as Christians. On the other, they are so good at celebrating all of life – it really doesn’t take much on my part!

I’m enjoying the freedom of “maybe we will, maybe we won’t”, conscious too that what they see in me speaks louder than any Advent calendar could anyway.

Am I longing for Jesus to come or am I distracted? Am I in tune with the suffering in the world or am I insulated in my comfortable lifestyle? Am I doing something with the “love”, “hope” and “peace” we talk and sing about at this time of year or are they just sentimental buzzwords? I have lots of questions of my own in the dark.


Finding “balance” and letting it go

I’ve had the word “balance” on my mind a lot recently, probably because the concept has felt elusive for a long time.

I try to grab hold of it by making the most of naptime and planning our days the day before, making sure we have a good mix of days in and days out, parent initiated activities and free play.

I sometimes successfully edge closer to it by going to bed on time.

I strategise for balance by sending my kids to a childminder (both girls for three hours one day and just the toddler for three hours another).

I’m pushing for balance by taking up running – I’ve been twice so far with a local group of mothers.

Yet I’m beginning to think that balance isn’t an achievable goal. Not for me, anyway. Not in any sense that’s total. There are days when the toddler doesn’t nap but clearly needs to nap. Days when I didn’t plan because…so many reasons…I just didn’t. Days when we don’t go out because I can’t face the effort of getting out and talking to other people. Sometimes that’s OK. Other times I end up wishing I had taken us all out.

Too many nights I lack the discipline to make myself go to bed when I should. Or I do but can’t shut my brain off. Sometimes I feel like falling apart just looking for that hole punch or that glue stick. I look around at all our stuff and want to throw it all away because I can’t find anything.

My children seem happy with their new childminder (a local friend from our church) but I worry every time I drop my nineteen-month-old off, just like I worried about her sister at that age. But I need the time and she’s so obviously happy there. So in a sense this gives my life some balance and in another it doesn’t.

It’s hard for me to tell whether balance skirts away because of something I’m neglecting to do or whether it’s, even at least partly, beyond my control. I find myself blaming myself for not feeling settled, for not always being happy, for not being all the things that it looks like good mothers, good people, are.

When I take it to God, I know that “balance” has become in my soul another word for “perfection”. And if I cling to it, I will end up beating myself with it. But that if I give it to Him, I can be free.


I didn’t grow up with Advent

I didn’t grow up with Advent. I may have mentioned this here before. My first December in England, nine years ago, I didn’t know what it was. My introduction came from my little cousin (who lives up north – and isn’t so little anymore!) showing me his Advent calendar.

I’m guessing it was either left behind as a Catholic relic by the Protestant community I grew up in or it’s just one of those European traditions that didn’t translate to the Caribbean in great strength.

In the last decade, I have fallen for Advent. I love the excitement it builds towards the big day. Talitha and Ophelia have two Advent calendars this year. One is a traditional calendar beautifully illustrated by Emma Sutton (it’s pictured above). I’ve somehow wound up also giving her a chocolate after she opens a door, though. Call me weak.

The other is a string of envelopes. Each contains a printout from Feels like Home with Bible verses, songs and readings to take us through Advent. An ornament accompanies each one, which Talitha colours and sticks on her her 2D “Jesse Tree”, mounted on the playroom wall.

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As we span the Bible, creation to Christmas, and as I read and ponder the Christmas story again for myself, I’m struck by the conflicted emotions bound up in Advent. There is joy and expectation but struggle and grief are here too. Mary is warned that her soul will be pierced, mass killings surround Jesus’ birth, the shadow of the cross looms across our Christmas tree.

For some reason, this resonates with me more deeply this year. Perhaps it’s because I know of and know people for whom this is, on various levels, an unhappy time of year. Perhaps it’s because, as a parent I’m keenly aware of all we desperately want to make this day for our families and all that that reflects about what we desperately want from life.

Advent, this thing I didn’t grow up with, is calling me to come again and meet with the God who isn’t distant from any of this – door by door, one day at a time.


Toilet Roll Easter Bunnies

Here’s a fun little Easter craft Talitha and I did about a week before Ophelia was born. I’d started to find it difficult to motivate myself to do anything much and going out was not really happening either.

Determined to make this happen for us, I laid out all the materials the night before. When she came downstairs, it was like Christmas!

I’ve tried to start talking with her about Easter. Our faith is such an integral and important part of our lives, we want to honour our children by helping them to understand what and why we believe.

While Christmas was relatively easy (Jesus’ birthday), Easter is tricky for obvious reasons but we’re just really matter of fact about what we’re remembering at this time of year. Talitha doesn’t need to get much more than the message that she is loved right now.

To that end, I find all the iconography that’s become attached to Easter rather helpful now that I’m a parent. Rabbits, chicks and chocolate eggs are fun and speak of celebration to a two-year-old. A cross they don’t yet understand, not so much. So, we’re having all of it.

Easter rabbit craft - Beautiful Tribe

I punched holes at one of the toilet roll ends for threading pipe cleaner through to make bunny ears, painted the lot and stuck on eyes and pom poms once the paint dried. Then the finishing touches were added with a permanent marker. Easiest rabbit craft ever.


It’s beginning to look a bit like Christmas…already

The Christmas thing seems to be happening for us so much earlier this year. Usually I’d blame it on commercialism and certainly it was weird walking into The Co-operative today and seeing all the merry banners. However, other markers are ushering us into the season sooner than I expected.

In an attempt to make this the year I don’t get ulcers stressing over last minute Christmas presents and the state of our bank account, I’ve been shopping gradually and putting things aside. Talitha’s presents are all done now, except for the stocking fillers, which we’re saying are from Santa.

Soaking fruits for black cake

Which brings us to a question we’ve not really asked ourselves before. What are we going to say about good ol’ St Nick? Do we pretend he’s real but be visibly half-serious? Do we go all in for it? Do we ignore it altogether? I’d love to know what other families, of any faith or none, do.

Certainly, whenever the subject of Christmas comes up – and it does because of all this flipping point of sale marketing everywhere – I say that Christmas is coming and that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday. I tell her that we celebrate Christmas to thank God for Jesus and to remember that He will come again.

I guess that’s the other reason why Christmas feels like it’s entering our lives so early this year. I didn’t grow up with Advent at all. I think maybe it was considered a Roman Catholic and Anglican thing and we weren’t either. Yet I’ve come to really appreciate it in the years I’ve lived in England. It’s a beautiful way of preparing our hearts for Christmas. So, this year I’m making an Advent calendar and preparing little activities that point to Jesus throughout the month because, for us, Christmas is about so much more than warm feelings of togetherness.

Not that those feelings are being neglected either. I really want this to be a special time for our family and for our children to grow up with traditions that they remember, like the tree going up in early December.

Pouring rum over fruits for black cake

So, I’ve already started one tradition I hope to commit to in years to come. Today, Talitha and I soaked the fruits for our Trini Christmas black cake. Dates, currants, raisins, sultanas, mixed peel, cherries and almonds, soaked in Angostura bitters, cherry brandy and dark rum. I felt more than a little odd popping into The Co-op for rum in the middle of the day. I felt even weirder letting my two-year-old pour all the alcohol into the fruit! We’ll let that soak for a month and hopefully let that be our November tradition.

Fruits soaking for black cake

Has Christmas started inching it’s way into your life yet or is it still very firmly ages away?


Hearts for Halloween – Lanterns of Hope for Those Living in Fear

Ignore the fact that these are possibly the wonkiest hearts you’ve ever seen. I am so pleased with myself for managing to carve a pumpkin, start to finish, on my own. I didn’t even grow up with Autumn or Halloween, friends. And getting bread sliced straight is an ongoing challenge. This is art.

world vision hearts for halloween

Last year I mentioned being a bit conflicted over Halloween. I’m not really there anymore. I can wholeheartedly say that we do not celebrate the true festival that Halloween is. We also do not embrace the scary side, even in fun. We do believe there are darker spiritual forces alive in the world and that they don’t deserve any glory from our attention.

hearts for halloween

However, I can also wholeheartedly say that I think it’s a lovely time to stop and look at what the world does in Autumn. Everything begins to die in preparation for new life, a new start for us all. There’s also a bit of community spirit in people giving sweets to neighbourhood children, so we’ve bought some for trick-or-treaters, just as we did last year. In truth, I don’t think most people are truly celebrating anything anyway.

Tomorrow evening, we’ll be going to a light party at a local church with some friends. The theme is superheroes but Talitha doesn’t know what those are so, instead, she’s going as a fairy.

carve hearts into pumpkins for world vision

We will also be lighting our pumpkins, hearts carved into them in answer to World Vision’s call to make this a night of hope for children around the world living in fear.

The bonus, as Molly from Mother’s Always Right points out, is that hearts are MUCH easier to carve than faces!


Observing Good Friday with a toddler

From The Beginner’s Bible

We made such a big fuss of Christmas around here that I’m actually a little embarrassed that I’ve let Easter sneak up on us when it’s such a significant part of the Christian calendar. Talking to Talitha about Jesus’ death and resurrection just wasn’t on my radar last year. I was in such a spiritual funk. But God has really has been doing some serious work in me since then (and is continuing – I certainly need it) and I’ve been feeling strongly that I want to somehow observe Good Friday with Talitha, even she doesn’t understand much of it at 21 months.

So here’s what we have planned:

Prayer first thing in the morning that we all get to know God better today, that we will understand what Jesus did on the cross, that we will put our lives in His hands and that we will truly love others. I try to pray in simple language with Talitha but where there are complex ideas that come naturally into the prayer, I inwardly ask the Holy Spirit to do His work on her heart that she will get whatever she’s meant to get from what we’re doing.

Readings from The Beginner’s Bible spread throughout the day at different points, starting with The Last Supper and ending in the Resurrection. I’m also gathering verses from Isaiah as I’m trying to incorporate more actual Scripture when we read together. Perhaps we’ll read about the Crucifixion in one of the Gospels when we’re having supper.

I’m going to try my hand at baking gluten-free hot cross buns. I’ve been baking with Talitha for a few months now and it’s such fun. She yells “yeah!” when I ask her if she’s going to help Mummy bake.

We haven’t decided yet whether to attend a service. The one at our church is beautifully quiet and reflective but this does mean it’s not so toddler-friendly, which is fine. We’ve been invited to a friend’s but perhaps we’ll just sing and sign a few worship songs at home and maybe listen to a sermon while tidying/playing or just have some quiet time.

Naptime will give us a chance to pray together. I’ve been trying to use some of Talitha’s naptime as a chance to reflect, read the Bible and pray. I’m not nearly as disciplined about this as I need to be but it makes a huge difference to my perspective when I do this. Since it’s a bank holiday, it’ll be great to take advantage of Laurence being home and spending time with God together.

Christian or not, what do you do with Good Friday?