“The time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in clothes and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).
Ever since our August move to Southern California, the Getz family has been taking names. We’ve made great friends, my husband has crushed at his job, and I have balanced part-time work and parenthood like a damn Huggies commercial. Then, in the weeks before Thanksgiving, we hit a stumbling block that completely threw us out of the rat race. Without going into detail, we were forced to halt our normal goings on, and re-route altogether. My initial temptation was to take control of the situation, form a plan for myself and our kids, set a firm new routine, and get back in the business of living. But as I doggedly and robotically entered fix-it mode, it occurred to me how exhausted I was, how exhausted my husband and my kids were. I realized that our normal goings on had not actually been working for any of us; not at all.
So this December, instead of turning up the law-volume during Advent, we’ve decided to do what I call “live frivolously.” The definition of the word frivolous is, “self-indulgently carefree; unconcerned about or lacking any serious purpose.” By frivolous, I don’t mean we’re throwing dollar bills around like hip-hop billionaires (would if we could, but the hubs has us on a budget). Rather, we go slow. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We indulge in things like cookies, Christmas movies, all-day pajamas, long stroller rides, and lots of no-reason-at-all-kisses. Less work, no school, no carpool, no bagged lunches, more here, more now, whatever that might look like.
This season, as I look adoringly upon my favorite of our nativity scenes (because there’s time now to engage in such frivolous looking), I’m struck most by the cows.
Usually, the focus of the nativity story is on the A-listers: Mary, Joseph, Wisemen, angels, shepherds, star, manger…Oh yeah, and BABY JESUS. But we rarely make mention of the barn animals who bore witness to the whole miraculous thing (other than, ew). Some of you more nerdy sticklers might note that the Bible never specifically references a barn as the birthplace of Jesus. Whether it was a cave, a house, or a stable, let’s just assume there were cows because we can all, including Luke, agree there was a manger (a feeding trough for animals). Most likely, where there is a manger, there is also (at least one) cow. Trees, meet forest.
Symbolically, cows have been synonymous with Mother Nature, fertility, nurturing and power for centuries and across a spectrum of religious traditions. This dreamy symbolism seems like a long-shot when you drive past a dusty herd grazing lazily in a field, or lounging in the shade alongside a freeway.
As far as I can tell, this is the day-to-day life of a cow:
For the sake of my vegan friends (I’m looking at you, Molly T.), I’ll not get into the grittier life of many-a-cow in this country. Let’s stick with the sort of milking cow that probably witnessed the birth of our savior, many long years ago.
Grazing in the fields, lounging in the shade: eat, sleep, poop, nurture. Sounds a lot like my frivolous life right now. And it’s been one of the most blessed and fulfilling seasons I can remember, spent (like cattle) resting on our knees.
Here is how the Getzes do cowdom: We live in a tiny apartment (your proverbial cattle shed). I’ve taken a beat at work, told my boss that the family is struggling and, in a beautiful moment of grace, he encouraged me to slack off instead of cut back on hours. Rest assured, we’ve taken “slacking off” to the nth. We wake up early (because, toddlers) but slowly. We are in no hurry to do anything (all except the husband, who leaves for work around 4:30AM). The kids have worn pajamas exclusively for the better part of a month. We start our days with a Christmas movie, and then another after that. While we watch movies I lie down too, with my babes in my arms or draped on top of me (as opposed to planting them in front of the TV while I do dishes or answer emails). After that, we might stroll into town to get coffee/hot chocolate and muffins. Then, our bellies full, we walk leisurely down the pier or to the playground. Maybe we play, maybe we keep walking. Eventually, we return home to eat lunch (whatever’s in the fridge and remotely nutritious) and then nap. After naps, we play with our best friends who live a block away, we return home, watch another Christmas movie, bathe (that’s a stretch), eat, and then go to sleep early. This is how you live frivolously, people.
This is how you live like a cow (and I know it’s a luxury not everyone can afford).
Be warned, living like a cow is not for the faint of heart. Our radius of day-to-day operations is about two miles wide. Today, my son spent ten minutes systematically snapping every crayon we own in half. Our floor is 97% small toys and remote controls, 3% carpet/tile/dog hair. The laundry may or may not get done, and clean dishes are for chumps. It takes a certain amount of grit and grace to refrain from the siren call of cleaning and errands and activities and purpose. If my mom saw this place, she’d lovingly remind me, “Charlotte, you were not raised in a barn.” And I’d quip back, “Yes, but Jesus was.”
What my kids need, after a confusing and chaotic few months, is not a mother who sets the example for strong working women everywhere (nor, for that matter, the idyllic stay-at-home mom). They don’t need a mother who checks off every item on the Christmas festivity to-do list.
They need a cow.
They need a simple life: to be fed, put to sleep, and to have their diapers changed – they need a mother who, without pomp or circumstance, simply delights in them. I’ve come to realize that my kids don’t just need this, I need it too.
It’s a hot topic this time of year to remind each other about those for whom Christmas is not filled with wonder and joy, but rather pain and suffering. I have a theory that Christmas is filled with pain and suffering (in one form or another) for all of us – including but not limited to adults who go to Disneyland without kids, people who post endless pictures of the Holiday parties they attend, and for those on a five-alarm mission to drag their kids to every Christmas-themed event in the tri-county area. These people are not Christmas-obsessed because they’ve lived the unblemished life, but because they – like all of us – are every-day-sufferers who ache for the extraordinary, who long for magic restored.
In this barnyard living, my family has recovered a portion of that magic and preciousness, lost and smothered by things like adult-responsibilities: carpools, the right school, babysitters, “fun” and “meaningful” activities, and a whole lot of making it work. The magic is in the stillness, the quietness, the moments in between all the parties and the shoulds – much like that silent, holy, not-much-happening night in Royal David’s City.
Eat, sleep, poop, nurture: this is our default setting as human beings. But it rarely sounds like enough, does it? Weary one, may you remember the words of Kunu (Paul Rudd) from Forgetting Sarah Marshall, “The less you do, the more you do.” May you find comfort this Christmas in taking your eyes off of Mary (who labored), Joseph (who led), the Wisemen (who gave), the angels (who announced), the star (that shone), or the shepherds (who responded). There is a time for all of these things. For now, may God grant you (and me) the freedom and grace to remember the cow, who offered nothing at all. May you find nourishment in the spiritual food – the magic, the rest, the wonder and goodness – of the mighty savior, lying in our feeding trough.