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Soothing Rituals

alec vanderboom

As the eldest of the Rupp bunch, I’m the first, and so far only one, to launch my socially anxious mother into contact with a new son and new grandchildren. My sweet husband usually holds his own with his mother-in-law. We’ve had some spectacular failures, however, with the initial grandchildren- grandmother Christmas greeting over the years.

A sample failure was the first trip home after we moved to Wisconsin. My mother brought a My Little Pony for Hannah to play with in the baggage terminal. Hannah didn’t care and kept crying. “She doesn’t remember me at all!” my Mom wailed. (Hannah had last seen her eight weeks ago.) “Mom, she’s crying because she’s 20 months old, it’s two hours past her bedtime and she has been stuck on a plane for four hours. Her ears are probably hurting,” was my exasperated response. I don’t remember how that particular conflict resolved itself. Hannah either finally picked up her cast-off pony or my Mom suddenly remembered a remedy for sore ears. I know for certain, that the ruffled feelings did not become soothed by any patience, humility and meekness on my part.

This year, I’ve become more committed to my role as a homemaker. This afternoon, I found to my complete surprise, that skills I’m working on daily to ease my husband’s homecoming from work, also lay an instinctive foundation for comforting all guests.

My parents called today with a ten-minute notice of their entrance. I did a spot clean of toys on the living room floor. I made sure that Christmas cards the kids had made for their grandparents were within easy reach. I put myself and my three year old into fresh clothes. I picked up the pile of clean clothes sitting in the kids’ hallway and tossed it onto my bed.

When my parents arrived, everyone was lined up to give kisses. Then I passed the baby off to my Mom to hold while I made coffee in the sweet hand-me-down English set my sister had scored for me during my uncle’s recent move.

Nothing spectacular, Nothing dramatic. Still, I’m shocked over the power of a simple ritual of drinking coffee had on relaxing my mother. She was holding her youngest grandchild and thus had an important role to fulfill. She didn’t have to feel awkward about not “helping” or “being a bother.” I could talk to her easily while I prepared the coffee and set out the plates. My Dad was busy being entertained by the older kids by the latest changes to their bedroom. When the coffee was ready, we all had a chance to formally gather in the living room, munch on the cookies my parents brought from the Methodist Ladies Annual Christmas Cookie Walk and reconnect. This simple, simple “Christmas Tea” was the most peaceful initial greeting we’ve all ever experienced.

I’m a real “Johnny Come Lately” to the world of home making and mothering. It still touches me profoundly to see what a difference that “a big family full of children” can have in extended family gatherings. Having lots of children mean that guests can easily find a “hand hold” to grab onto when they enter. Some adults love to coo at babies. Some adults like to hold conversations with the big children. Some adults love to have an excuse to pour the tea or set out the plates. Some adults will just happily converse with the parents who are so thirsty for adult conversation, whether it be about a pending snow storm or the play-off potentials for the Redskins.

I grew up in a world where I always worried about being a “bother” as a child. I once tracked in slush in my snow boats and caused my paternal grandmother to have to spot clean her white carpets on Christmas Eve. My maternal grandmother always warned me not to spill my cherry cokes on her green velvet chairs. When I committed to becoming open to life, I worried about “inflicting” to many needy grandchildren on my parents & too many messy nieces & nephews on my two siblings. I’m so please to witness first hand what grace, ease and wonder my children add to our family gatherings. Despite all the anti-child hype out there, the truth remains that large families are comfortable families to visit.