Christmas this year was perfect.

We didn't go up to see my family because Betty's family was going to come and visit, but we were so excited to have an awesome Mexican holiday. At first, they told us they were coming December 15th, then it was December 22nd, then it turned out that they weren't able to come at all. By the time we found out they weren't coming, we had made peace with the fact that we weren't going to do the big family Christmas, and decided that we would stick it out down here in Cedar City and work on building our own traditions -- like when we lived in California.

While all of this was going on, I was so impressed with the way that my kids handled the upcoming holiday. I have stressed in the past about the commercialization of Christmas, and I have worried about whether I was doing enough to help my little ones understand what this day is really all about. I don't know why, but this year I feel like they really got it. This year they enjoyed every aspect of the holiday. For example, they were excited about putting up Christmas lights -- even though we did it halfway through the month and in the end we just had two strands of white lights to hang across the front of the house. I am sure that nobody went out of their way this year to drive by our house to see the Christmas lights, but if you were to see the pride Kimball has in our decorations and his dedication to turning the lights on right at 5:30pm you would think that he was in charge of lighting Temple Square.

Then there is the issue of presents. We told the children a few months ago that we would not have an extravagant Christmas but that we would do our best to make it great. They took things right in stride. Kimball never backed off of his "I'll be happy with whatever I get," attitude. Anahí and Alicia were excited about getting something related to Frozen, and Ian is just happy (except when he is not). Alicia, knowing that there probably wouldn't be loads of presents under the tree, took to drawing pictures for people in our family, carefully folding them up and writing names on the outside and keeping them in a safe place (away from the dog and the two-year-old) until the special day came.

So then Christmas Eve arrived. We were able to Skype my family and have a nice time listening to my Mom share a wonderful Christmas message focused on the LDS church's He is the Gift video. Then the cousins took turns opening the presents they had given to each other. It was really nice. The only not nice part was that Ian was very, very sick. His temperature was over 103, and during the gift exchange he started throwing up. OK, so that part wasn't perfect, but things were still going pretty well.

Later in the afternoon we were visited by a Secret Santa. It was a beautiful and completely unexpected gesture from a generous soul -- the kind of thing to which you can only give your sincere thanks and commit to being a better servant in the future. The feeling of humility and gratitude that it brought into our home was worth far more than the gifts that we received.

In the absence of family, we had initially decided to spend Christmas eve with some of our dearest friends here in Cedar, but as that evening approached it became clear that Ian was not in any condition to go outside. Betty and I sat down for a minute and discussed our options. I could take the kids to the party and she could stay home, but this hardly seemed fair to her as she had worked so hard to prep much of the food for the affair. She could take the kids and I could stay home, but by this point with Ian being sick she was so tired that thoughts of taking the other three anywhere were a bit overwhelming. In the end, we decided that Christmas was a time to be together -- even if we didn't have a huge feast.

So I ran to the party and got a couple of platefuls of food, we got the kids in the their new jammies (thanks to Grandma Neubert and my cousin Jen for getting those to us) and had a nice dinner with a couple of friends who had nowhere else to go. Then we got everyone in the living room and had our own little Christmas sing-along around the piano. I felt really close to my family, and I think that perhaps a few of our deceased relatives even stopped by from the spirit world to check in on us. Then we read from Luke 2 while the kids performed a little Nativity scene, and then they went down to bed.

But for Betty and me, though, the night was just beginning. After the usual Christmas Eve preparations, I walked around putting the house to bed at around midnight. When I checked on Ian one last time, he was awake in bed, feverish and having a hard time breathing. So I got him out of his crib, gave him a breathing treatment, and tried unsuccessfully for the next two hours to try to get him to sleep. Betty woke up at 2am and spelled me, but she was still unable to get him to sleep. I took back over at 4am, and the little guy was still going strong. After a while I figured that he had to be so tired that he would fall asleep if I just held him tight.

No dice.

I calmly held him, with my legs wrapped around his kicking legs, as he screamed and screamed, and cried and cried and scratched me and cried. Finally, after what felt like an eternity but really about an hour, he told me he wanted a drink of water. So we got up and went in the bathroom. By this time his fever had broken and he was drenched in sweat. The water helped calmed him down. I took him into the front room and opened the curtain a bit so he could see the heavily falling snow. And then, in that peaceful moment as we sat quietly watching this picture-perfect Christmas Eve snowstorm, his heavy eyes finally closed and he slept.

I carefully scooped him up and we went to bed, but by that point my mind was racing as I was thinking about some church stuff. So I stayed up for a bit longer taking notes and thinking about things. I'm not sure how long I slept (maybe 45 minutes?), but by about 7:15am the older kids were awake. I tried to sneak out of bed to tell them to be still and wait a bit longer, but Ian woke up so we decided to have our Christmas morning.

The kids were all happy with their simple Christmas gifts, and by afternoon time they were ready to get into their snow clothes and play outside. We played for quite a while. First we strapped Buffy to a sled and let her pull the kids around the backyard (one of the benefits to having a Husky). Then we built up a mound of snow off the end of the tree house and they sledded for a while. Kimball is still nervous about sledding because last year he had a crash, but we had a good time playing anyway.

When evening came Ian was still a bit too sick to go out, but the friends we had planned to be with brought us some Christmas dinner. By this time Betty was totally exhausted, so she went to bed around 5:30pm, waking up just long enough to help me finish putting the kids down. Then we had a few peaceful moments to breathe.

I remember in my college humanities class we talked about the Greek work agon, which means struggle. It's the word that gives us our English words "protagonist" and "antagonist." For the ancient Greeks, the good life, the perfect life, was based not on the absence of pain but on the presence of agon. Perhaps they knew that only through real struggle will we ever really grow.

Sure there were some parts of this Christmas that were tough, but I loved and am so grateful for the chance that I had to be with my sweet family. I love seeing my kids step to the plate and have a great attitude when times are tough. I love how God seems to always know when we are at the end of our rope and sends help. I love those precious quiet moments -- even though they nearly always come in the middle of the night -- when I get to help one of my struggling children find peace in something as simple as a snowstorm.

For me that is perfect.


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