I remember it well.
Carrying my newborn, holding hands with my toddler, we arrived at the family Christmas party just a few minutes late. I counted that as success, given the fact that we were all dressed and no one was crying, not even my husband or me.
We were inundated by well-wishers, most eager to see our baby. They politely asked to hold him as my 18-month-old son looked on. Music began and played festively in the background. Dishes clinked. Lights blinked. Conversation rose.
We had been there 30 minutes when the tears began. While all these faces were familiar to us, to my children they were strangers. As everyone came close and the noise level grew, my sweet boys both became overwhelmed. Their eyes darted about and their cries called to us. It was just too much.
My husband and I dreamed of celebrating the holidays with family, but this was becoming a nightmare.
Excusing myself, I scooped up my boys and headed to the bedrooms upstairs. It was cooler here, quiet and calm. Setting them down in an unused room, I turned and closed the door. Tears ceased. Smiles returned. We sat in silence and settled down.
The holidays can be a wonderful time of celebration and fun. But for children, our schedules and parties can quickly become times of overstimulation and exhaustion. How can we help them through family gatherings, making the most of the season for ourselves and for them?
We left that party early. My husband talked to his family. We shared a meal together. We listened to Grandpa tell the Christmas story, and then we took our little ones home. Not everyone understood our early departure. But, as parents to two small children, we were the ones who needed to understand the children who had been given to us. We needed to respond to their needs while balancing family expectations.
And as my children have grown, we have stayed longer at parties, experienced less crying and stopped searching for an empty room for escape. But my kids know still that we will respond to where they are and what they need, even in the midst of a celebration. This is not a lesson I can teach with words, but one that must be shown time and time again.
And when I step back and picture that first, holy night, I want to bring my children into the truth of a young family, close together with the Savior at the center. I want to let them be quiet enough to notice the stars and hear the angels proclaiming the birth of Christ, our Lord. I want to teach them that the parties are fun, but that hope is found in the reason we gather together.
It is hope that I cling to and hope they will need as they learn that we are loved and seen and comforted in the midst of a raucous world.