This special festive season has been quite challenging for several reasons. Most of our friends with 3 ½ year olds are having lengthy discussions about the nativity story, there has been great excitement over potential present wish lists, and for those that incorporate Santa Clause, the questions were endless! Much of the excitement, anticipation and intrigue has largely been created by the use of language. Words; meaningful building blocks that are pieced together to create concepts, questions and all the precious utterances of the very unique thoughts that carefree children may have. For our family, Christmas is a celebration of our Rescuer. As a result, the nativity story is a fundamental aspect to the season. Stories, up until recently, have been very difficult to convey and explain as a result of our limited vocabulary with the girls.
When hearing other children the same age, speak about Christmas, and share their innocent thoughts, uncensored wishes and wonderings with their parents, it is so tempting for me to withdraw back into a place of self-pity focusing on what I don’t have. We don’t yet communicate in full sentences and it’s still really hard for us to explain words like “precious” or “rescue”. It has required, on several occasions, for me to feel and acknowledge the pain of our current relative limitation of language, and then mentally list a few things about each child that I adore and rejoice over and then STOP comparing. I keep needing to remind myself that indeed Rome was not built in a day (a terrible cliché, but I actually think these exact words quite often.)
So when desiring to explain the nativity story on Christmas day to our girls, I had to ask myself a question, “What do we have to work with?” We have spoken language, words like “baby”, “mamma” and ” dada” are understood by all three girls, then we have sign language reinforcing the spoken and adding meaning to other key words like “star”, and the names of the other animals, and words like “king”, and importantly “Jesus” which is a sign that they are already familiar with. Then let’s think out the box and really embrace total communication… we can show them pictures in books and we can even act out the story!
After familiarizing myself with other key signs and trying to pick a moment aside from the excitement of new toys, we decided to tell our precious three, the story that has inspired this special day. Our three girls are natural actresses. Hadassah, generally wins the Oscar in our family, but both Tahlita and Eden are close runners up. They also love book time, so as soon as we rounded them up and showed them that we were about to read together, the delight on their faces got me excited. We read through the nativity story once. Kept it simple and used lots of signs and facial expressions… then the fun started. Each of the other four family members had a role assigned (I managed to escape this by being the director!) The obvious choice for the trusty steed, the donkey, was Dad! Hadassah wanted to be Mary, Tahlita was Joseph (who eagerly led the donkey), and little Eden played the star role of (a somewhat concerned) baby Jesus. All the hundreds of fluffy toys were transformed into the various stable animals. I spoke and signed through the story very simply, and the girls loved it! What we didn’t anticipate, was that after the first round, the 3 of them had decided that they each wanted a turn of being the “mamma”, “dadda” and “baby”. So the nativity story was narrated and directed 3 times…. Nothing like reinforcing the message! The funniest was when Eden was Mamma Mary and Hadassah was the giggling baby Jesus, but we all had a lot of fun, and for the first time, we had a chance of engaging our children with concepts and stories that are important to our family. Sure, it was super simple, but it was a start. I sometimes think, that we tend to complicate things too much anyway. Simple and humble yet precious, honest and a moment worth rejoicing over.
Next year, we’ll have even more language that will give us the tools to add more details, and this may even turn into a family tradition… a Christmas day family play! At the end of the day it’s the message behind the actions and costumes that I hope will sink into their hearts. The message is simply that of LOVE. And it’s not only words that convey this, and it’s not only Christmas, either. It’s the deep breath when frustration levels have reached a high as a result of limited understanding, the warm snuggle in the morning in spite of being kept awake all night by a restless child, the smile when exhausted and the, “Come my darling, let’s all go and read together,” when I’d do anything for half an hour to myself. I’m so often reminded that it’s my attitude and actions towards them conveying that they are valued and loved that speak far louder than any eloquent words. LOVE; that’s the meaning of Christmas, the purpose of the Bethlehem Babe and an action that is ultimately not limited by vocabulary.