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Costco at Christmas: When One Day’s Events are Worth a Lifetime of Teaching

Costco at Christmas: When One Day’s Events are Worth a Lifetime of Teaching

I went to Costco today.

Yes, I know. It’s four days before Christmas, so I might be insane. I almost turned around after it took me ten minutes to get into the parking lot, but we needed groceries and we needed supplies for the Christmas weekend and today was just the day our life fit with errands.

Costco wasn’t actually as packed as the parking lot had led me to believe. There is a 5 Below, a TJ Maxx, a PetCo, and a golf store in the same plaza so perhaps that was part of the mayhem.

Before Costco, we went to a local story time that we love. My kids got some books and we all snuggled on a carpet listening to Christmas storybooks. Before the group reading started, the story time reader asked some questions.

“What are some things that your parents think are good for you to do?” she said.

Immediately, my oldest son (age 7) said, “Praising Jesus.” An involuntary laugh came from my belly. I was a little nervous about the reactions. “Praising Jesus” is not so politically correct, you know, and I didn’t know any of those other moms. Also, praising Jesus is a good thing, but to hear my son answer that praising Jesus is something good that we want him to do – something about that just doesn’t sound right to me. I know his heart is right and that he loves Jesus and loves to worship, but  I have an editor in my brain who is constantly trying to put words together in a better way (good for writing, but not always so good for parenting). I’m still pondering that “Praising Jesus” moment of today. Perhaps another post will come about it later.

I talked to my kids a lot about Costco before we went. “It’s probably going to be very busy,” I said. “You need to listen to my voice above all other noises,” I said. “I have a list of groceries, and that’s what we’re getting.”

I had even packed lunches and had my kids eat on the way to Costco so they wouldn’t be starving on our voyage through the maze of giants’ food.

For me, the problem with Costco is that my kids think it’s a playground. They climb on top of the pallets of green beans. They karate kick each other in the wide aisles. They cling onto the refrigerator doors, feet only half-way on the narrow ledge below. They run at the first sight of free samples and often stick around for seconds or thirds. Since I was the cautious friend as a child, always with creative ideas but hardly ever the one to actually carry them out, I am constantly surprised at my children’s adventurous spirits. Their wide eyes and fast feet are always ahead me.

Today, I walked into Costco breathing deep and moving intentionally, trying to prepare myself for distractions and hiccups. The good news is that I wasn’t boiling with annoyance by the time we reached the checkout. However, my oldest son (the one who said that his parents want him to “praise Jesus”) did throw a significant fit about mashed potatoes. Apparently he didn’t get a sample while we were standing at the table, and his brother had grabbed two. Since this oldest child is often picky about food, I asked his brother to share, thinking that if the oldest liked them he could get his own. My middle son gave my oldest a bite, but this was not sufficient to the oldest so he threw it on the ground and ran, pouting.

He is the logical one, the one who loves to calculate and follow instructions and charts. He is the social one, the one who loves to be around people, yet he is the sensitive one, too.

I sat him down next to the stack of canned tuna. I knelt and hoped that I wouldn’t lose my other children in the process.

It’s as if Jesus’ parable applies to parenting: “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?” (Mt. 18:12)

If a woman has three children in Costco and one is having an emotional breakdown about mashed potatoes, should she not stop everything and focus on that one?

“You need to stop with the, ‘I want,’ with the, ‘He has,’ and, ‘I didn’t get’ stuff,” I said. “You need to stop this fit right now.” He calmed down. Then I said, “What did you do with the bite of mashed potatoes your brother gave you?”

“I threw it on the ground,” he said, eyes down, face splotchy and scrunched.

This child is the oldest. The one who rushes to answer questions, the one who is always right. He threw his bite of mashed potatoes on the ground. I told him I was sorry, but he had made a choice and he was facing a hard truth. I said there would be more samples and he could choose to take them with gladness or to continue to mope about his lack of mashed potatoes.

Sometimes I wonder at the way I speak to my children. I know my thoughts are winding, poetic ones and often come out with the confusion and many viewpoints. I am trying to speak more clearly, to pause and edit before I give my children directions. Somehow, my son understood what I was telling him and he only mentioned mashed potatoes once more.

We walked out of Costco smiling, and to me that means success.

Epilogue

In the parking lot, the oldest son said, “Sorry, mom, for throwing a fit about mashed potatoes. Sorry [brother]. Sorry [sister].” This was not a perfect day, but since no person is perfect, neither can our days be. Still, we praise, as my son said at story time. I recently read a blog on “homeschooling in the grocery store,” including scavenger hunts and math games to give your children. I have considered that side of shopping, but for me, the grocery store is as much a place for character building as it is for mathematics. With or without charts and calculators, we’re learning both every day.

I’M FAILING AT CHRISTMAS

I’M FAILING AT CHRISTMAS

Is it really possible? I mean, Christmas is a day. December 25. And days always begin and end without human help.

But as humans, we so often act like we need to do all these things to make Christmas. We need gifts and trees and cookies and we need to drive around looking at lights and we need the happy music and the steaming cocoa.

In my household, we have Christmas traditions. They’re pretty usual. We make forgotten cookies. We watch all the movies. We look at Christmas lights. We give as much as we can. We have fun. This year, I thought we’d also spread  Christmas kindnesses across our community, and we’d make a Jesse Tree to remind ourselves of the bigger story. We started the tree, but have not been faithful, and my almost 6-year old reminds me daily. “Mom. We forgot to read our Bible story.” We’re stuck on Moses.

Surely, I thought, I can just incorporate kindnesses into our wintertime life. “Hold the door for the person behind you.” “Pay for someone’s coffee.” “Let someone go ahead of you in line at the grocery store.” I even sat down and made a list with my children. A whole list of completely plausible ideas. And we talked about why we wanted to show kindness.

“What is kindness?” I said. And we decided that kindness means considerate and willing, nice and helpful. We wrote our list and have done none of it. Not even the simple, free things. Because life happens without trying.

December 25 will come.

This year, the forgotten cookies crumbled. Our tree topper didn’t light. Our children have cried and screamed and talked through all the Christmas movies. When we drove around to look at lights, we had to stop for gas and for air in the tire. Our 4-year old was being nasty and my words weren’t getting through to him so I took him out of the van and sat him on the curb to have a little chat. It was really fun. (Not.) Really? Don’t you know this is Christmas? I thought. The roads for the best lights in town were blocked off, so we left that neighborhood early and got dinner at a food truck. Our kids hated it and ended up eating bananas instead. Our Jesse Tree is empty.

By trying to make Christmas, it seems I have unmade it.

But our tree is up (no topper). Our ornaments are hung (except one that likely got thrown out with our last tree). The air is cold. Forgotten cookie crumbs are filling a box on top of our fridge.

And my boys are not being kind or selfless like I want them to be. Like I want. “I” is such a selfish word.

Really. Do you have to do that? It’s Christmas. 

But is’t not Christmas. It’s only December 16. We’ve got nine more days.

Nine more days to make up my lack of follow-through. Nine more days to get it right.

Then, I wonder if we need that Jesse Tree anyway, or that list of Christmas kindnesses. Do we need cookies that hold their shape? Whether eaten by finger or spoon, they still do the sugary trick. We have tried. And now we’re going out of town for a pre-Christmas vacation, and we won’t be home to complete any of the things on our list. Really, we’re out of time for preparation.

Only one kindness has been done. This is one truly random, unplanned kindness that lets me know that my children understand the true meaning of Christmas.

It’s Jesus. It’s a savior. It’s peace on earth. Good will toward men. It’s glory to God. It’s the best gift ever wrapped up in cloths and presented by angels. It’s everything before Him and everything after Him. It’s unfailing love and a call to do the same. Peace on earth. Good will toward men.

Last week we went to Costco. Among other things, we bought a box of gummy snacks. They are a treat for my children, and that day I had splurged on organic ones. I gave one gummy pack to each child after seat belts were buckled. We made our way to the line of cars sitting stopped at a red light. Crowded and waiting to turn. To go home. And my 6 year-old said, “Mom. What does that sign say?” pointing to a woman on the curb wearing drab cloths and a shivery frown. A woman ignored.

“Pregnant and hungry. Anything helps. God bless,” I read.

I’m seeing these signs everywhere now.

“Oh,” said my son. “Can we give her something?”

“I don’t have any cash,” I told him, “What could we give?”

“Gummies!” he said, and he reached back into the trunk, stuck his hand into the box of gummies and grabbed a handful. As many packages as his fingers could grip, and he handed them to me. His precious gummies.

This kindness wasn’t even on our list.

But I rolled the window down anyway, letting in a chill, and I handed the gummies over. The organic ones, given in an organic way to a woman who said thank you and walked away and stuffed her hoodie pocket with them.

We search for meaning, for ways to make Christmas special. But meaning is only found in the manger, where animals roam and hay is scattered. Where life exists opposite from humans trying.

Life is not a human creation, but a gift.

So maybe I’m not actually failing at Christmas.

Somehow my children know, though they don’t often act like it, about peace on earth and good will toward men. They know about generosity and love and glory to God in the highest. They know.