the CD and the atlas: lessons learned in the lead up to Christmas

My Grandpa lives by the sea. We went to visit yesterday and spent a few hours with him, eating sandwiches and drinking coffee brewed on his camp stove in the afternoon sun.

He’s in the process of moving house and let me choose some of his books to take home. One is an old atlas with the inscription: “To Mary with love from Graeme Xmas 1960.” A message from my Grandpa to my Grandmother.

We have been looking through its softly worn pages today. In the lead up to Christmas while my heart is  beating faster and faster with increasing overwhelm, I can’t help but reflect on this little gift with wonderment. Imagine, opening up a present from your partner on Christmas morning to find a lovely book with a short message in the front. I like to think it was wrapped brown paper, and perhaps tied with white string. It is this kind of simplicity and thoughtfulness that I yearn for in my every day life. We are overcome with monstrous loud flashy messages and it is easy forget that we don’t need to buy each other and our children bigger and better things in order for them to be happy and healthy and cherished and loved.

At birthdays and Christmas I stick to this motto from Jodi Wilson:

something I want, something I need

something to wear, something to read

Even still it is easy to get distracted and carried away and panicky and compare-y. We have to stop doing this.

Gramps also offered me some CDs of classical music. “Ok,” I said, “but can I have one that isn’t frantic. One that I could listen to on a Sunday afternoon. Something calming. No violins?”

“Hmm. Well that isn’t how I approach music at all.” he replied.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I walk over to my CDs. I think of one I’d like to listen to. I put it on, then I sit down on the couch and I listen to it. That is how to engage with a piece of music. If it’s on in the background it might as well be anything.”

“Ok. But what if you’re me and you’ve got three screaming children and you have to cook dinner and fold the washing and feed the dog and it’s 1pm and you want to put your pyjamas on and you’re not really thinking about developing a relationship with a piece of music but you would like something to listen to… in the background?”

He stared at me for a moment, laughed, then a few minutes later handed me this, and we listened to it in the car on the way home.

The CD and the atlas. I’ve been thinking about them both since yesterday. The purity and the restraint and the slow and the time. I am so rushed. Even when I try to slow down, there are so many external things wanting my attention. Children, animals, schedules imposed on me and so many rules. Rules! So many!

It’s been a timely and gentle reminder. Now when I look at my Christmas list, I am not looking at things to add, but places I can pare down, things that I can make, things that I can replicate to create a bit of flow, areas that I was perhaps getting a little carried away (do the girls really need another story CD? What will really make them happy on Christmas morning?) I think it’s important to remember that the presents we buy and/or make for our kids are just the beginning for most families on Christmas Day. For many, including us, there will be a number of shared meals that day, and many thoughtful gifts and presents to open. To keep it simple and quiet in the morning at home, we are actually doing our children a favour and allowing them to enjoy the excitement ahead.

Will you start your Christmas morning slow and steady this year? Do you have many people and engagements to whiz around to during the day?