A Different Silent Night

Christmas stories are all unique, but in the end they’re all the same.  So forgive me if I bore you a little bit.

Six of our eleven children showed up at the beginning of the week.  Add in spouses and grandkids, and our home expanded from two residents to twenty-three.  We had ‘em stacked in the living room, a sun-room, and an entry hall.  Mattresses everywhere.

So we had ourselves some merry little mayhem.

In addition to merry, our time together was loud, chaotic, noisy, filled with songs, accidents, diaper changes, a few tears, occasional exasperation, and a great deal of laughter.  There were a lot of women in the kitchen, guys on the couch with sports, and kids in coats jumping on the trampoline.

On Christmas Eve there was carol singing and some scripture reading.   The next morning there was ripped wrapping paper and sliced-open carboard boxes all over the living room.   Afterwards I remember a lot of battery-operated plastic guns blasting away over and over and over and over and over.

Christmas night meant one more big dinner that left everyone in a food coma, while visions of opened presents danced in our heads.   Everyone slept well Christmas night.

Then came December 26th, as we all started coming down from our Christmas sugar high.  The house, which looked like a disaster area, started whipping itself into shape.  Suitcases were re-packed, boxes were filled with the same toys they arrived in, but now with no wrapping.

One by one, each family got in a week’s worth of hugs in three minutes then a few more for good measure, and then they were out the door and the next sounds were tires crunching through the remains of our Christmas Day snow as they pulled into the street and were swept away in the holiday tidal flood.

Our Christmas celebrations, as usual, had been a little too noisy, a little too crowded, a little too hyper, and a little too demanding.

And then it was a little too quiet.

Cleaning up your house after all the kids have left is sad, drab work.   There’s no one to get in the way, no toddlers demanding a hug right now, no adult children asking mom for a quick snack as if she was a short order cook with nothing better to do.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  Adult children the world over come home for the joy of being treated like a child again, while their mothers relive the joy of when these grownups were still walking around with heavy diapers around their knees.

Cleaning up a suddenly empty house after Christmas is when marriages can be just a little strained, because I’m a poor replacement for a happy toddler who wants to be picked up, noisily kissed on the cheek and tickled all at the same time.   When my wife looked at me after the last of the children left she didn’t seem inclined to pick me up and tickle me.

For the rest of the day our phones pinged with text messages of safe arrivals home, which we were glad to hear.   But even that only served as a reminder of what a weak and thin replacement social media is for actual talking and touching.   A text is better than nothing, but not by much.

For dinner that night we had a bowl of popcorn and watched a movie.  After that we said our prayers, turned out the lights and called it a day.

We weren’t awakened in the middle of the night by any babies crying, or feet walking the squeaky floor to the bathroom in the middle of the night.  Six a.m. came and went without any of the grandkids congregating in the living room to watch kid junk on Netflix.

Please don’t think I’m complaining.  As I’m writing this, and as you’re reading it, there are millions without homes, without health, without friends and a loving family, and, worst of all, without hope.   Compared to so many, we are rich beyond measure.

But that first night after the kids and the grandkids leave is a little sad, that’s all—that first silent, silent night.

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