Picture-Perfect Christmas Chaos

I spent most of the morning hot-gluing the Virgin Mary’s head back onto her body. I should have known better than to let the twins play with the nativity scene my mother had sent; she had bought it at the mall but claimed it was made from wood from the Holy Land. Before I knew it, Mary’s head had rolled under the sofa and Leo was running around the living room, Joseph clutched in his left hand and Baby Jesus in the other.


What had happened to our stylish Christmases, our tree decorated with ornaments curated from our world travels: the papier-mâché globes from India, the wooden humming birds from Cuba, the delicate paper butterflies from China? Who had decorated the Christmas tree with tennis balls and dog biscuits? Who had started ripping wrapping paper off gifts, unraveling ribbon, and stealing ornaments? Life with toddlers is a never-ending cycle of organizing followed by destruction.

Leo Leo grabbing baby Jesus out of Thomas the Tank Engine

Through all of the holiday chaos, the mess, and the present buying all I have wanted since Leo and Luna’s birth is to make a family Christmas card. I wanted to be like all my friends who sent out those glossy photos of happy family dressed alike, holding their new baby. I desired the flawless smiles, the matching crisp white shirts, the moment when life looks uncomplicated and perfect.

Determined, this year my husband and I took the twins out to the beach. The four of us wearing Santa hats marched onto the sand, the air brisk. It was one of those amazing Vancouver winter days full of light and cold. We herded the twins onto a log, set up the camera, and held our breath through rehearsed smiles and prayed that both children were looking at the camera. After the camera went off in a glorious barrage of clicks, Leo and Luna ran off in separate directions and Derek and I approach the screen carefully.

"Please, please,” I pray, "one good photo." As we scroll through the images we say in tandem, “Not that one. ... and not that one. Nope. Oh, that’s not good ... Definitely not! ... No.”

By the time we had gone through the all frames, Leo had buried his Santa hat somewhere on Sunset Beach and Luna was using hers to collect rocks. Another attempt at making a Christmas card had ended in failure.

Luna, our serious crafter and I tried our hand at painting cards; the few that were made went to family. And as the season went on, our mailbox filled with those wonderful Christmas cards from our friends. ‘Tis the season to be envious of the rows of white teeth, the manicured Christmas trees, and even that archetypal holiday card set in the woods complete with a sleigh and a rented Santa. Ready to release my inner Grinch, I tear open a card from a family friend and in it, a holiday miracle. Santa holding one baby: happy, eyes engaged with the camera, a sincere smile only a 2-year-old could create. His brother was caught in mid-scream. A scream so primordial, so savage, it almost ripped through the paper. And a message that only a parent of toddlers could write: “Happy Holidays from our babies doing what they do best.”

Luna about to eat baby Jesus Luna about to take a bite out of baby Jesus

And as I write, I am watching the twins back at the nativity scene trying to undo the hold of the hot glue. Leo shakes and shakes and shakes the manger until Baby Jesus comes loose again. They turn and smile, that smile that only 2-year-olds can produce when they’ve done something they shouldn’t. They turn, run, and before I know it, Baby Jesus is riding in Thomas the Tank Engine’s freight truck, around and around the tiny plastic railway, while Leo and Luna are singing "Happy Birthday" at the top of their lungs.

"Happy Holidays," I think to myself, as Leo and Luna do what they do best.

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