Madelaine Shaw-Wong


Christmas, 2012

I love the Christmas season and the beautiful symbolism that goes along with it. Unfortunately, many Christmas traditions have been forgotten by our secular culture. Some symbols are so deeply ingrained; many people don't bother to question the meaning. I delight in the beauty of rich symbolism and in passing traditions down to my children. Then, they can also experience the anticipation and joy of the season. For some, Christmas is one day. For me and my family, it spans more than a month.

The season starts with the beginning of Advent, four weeks before Christmas. We set up the Jesse tree. Jesse was the father of King David, whose genealogy carries down to Jesus. We pull our little, fake tree out of the box and place it on the kitchen table. On the first day of Advent, we put a picture of the Star of David on the tree, to show our connectedness to the Jewish religion. On the second day we hang an apple, for Adam and Eve. There is a rainbow for the story of Noah, Jacob's ladder, two tablets for the Ten Commandments, a basket for the story of Moses, and so on, recounting events of the Old Testament. We take turns telling the stories. As we get closer to Christmas we hang a picture of a hammer, for Joseph, a rose for Mary and finally on Christmas Eve we hang the star that shone over Bethlehem.

We light our Advent candles, one for each week, to count down the weeks. The candles sit on a wreath, circular, symbolizing the continuity of life. The children eat chocolates from their Advent calendars. These symbolize the sweetness of Jesus. They must exercise such self-control, to eat only one a day. The excitement builds and the longing for the birth of Christ.

We decorate with red and green. Green symbolizes hope, especially in the evergreen tree that remains alive and green all year. Red is the blood that was shed to save us. When combined, as in the poinsettia, we have the hope of redemption through the sacrifice of Christ
Advent ends with Christmas Day, but that is just the first day of Christmas. We light a single white candle for Jesus, symbolizing his purity. We attend Christmas Day mass, open gifts, and enjoy a delicious meal together. On the twelfth day, January 6, we celebrate Epiphany, when the wise men delivered their gifts to Jesus. They gave him gold because he's a king, frankincense, because he's God, and myrrh, because he's a man.

A letter to St. Nick

December, 325 A.D.

Dear Bishop Nicholas of Myra,


Your most humble servant asks for nothing as the anniversary of the birth of our Lord Jesus approaches. I am writing to thank you for saving my life and the lives of my friends, one year ago, today. As you know, we were unjustly condemned by Eustathius, the ruler of Myra, and sentenced to death.

We were, the three of us, held for months without trial in a small cell, starved and beaten, accused of unimaginable crimes. Oh, the misery of that dank, dirty prison. Rats bit our feet while we slept and the guards abused us when we awoke. I must tell you, I preferred the rats. Of course, I don't have to tell you about the misery. You were also unjustly imprisoned, years ago.


On the day of my arrest, I was pulled away from my potter's kiln, locked in chains as the neighbours watched and my wife wept. I yelled to my wife to write to you, to beg your assistance. You are known far and wide as a wise and generous man. I still remember how you helped that poor man who could not afford to pay the dowries for his three daughters. They would be suffering in a life of prostitution if not for you. I knew you were a man with a reputation for justice.


I still have nightmares, remembering the day of our execution. We were pulled into the glare of daylight. After spending so much time below ground, the sun was painful to our eyes. Our heavy chains dragged behind us. We were unused to walking after being confined in a cell too small to stand upright. Our bodies were weak and malnourished. The crowd gathered. Their eyes glowed with excitement. They chanted, "Chop off their heads!" They were hungry for blood. I saw my wife, jostled by the crowd; she clasped her hands across her chest. She was praying for me.


They picked me to die first. They told me to bow my head. I did. I awaited death. I admit I almost welcomed it. The executioner raised his sword. I saw the glint of the metal, and squeezed my eyes tight. Death was imminent.


I heard you shout, "Stop!" I opened my eyes and saw you standing in front of me, your hand grasping the sharp blade of the sword. You stayed the executioner's hand and called out, "What good is served by their killing? How is the God of mercy honored by bloodshed?"


You demanded our release and we were unbound. I collapsed on the ground and looked up at your face, smiling down at me, your beard as white as snow. I hadn't the strength then, to offer you thanks. My body, so weak from famine and shock, my poor wife and son had to support me on our return home. You never asked me to repay you, and indeed I cannot, being a simple tradesman. All I can offer you now is my sincere thanks.


You will certainly go down in history for your goodness and generosity.


Your humble servant

Maddy's Manual: A Guide to Housewifery

“When are you going to have a baby?” This is one of the first questions you can expect as a newly married woman. Don’t get angry at your nosy, interfering mother, mother-in-law, best friend, mail carrier or some guy you’ve never met. They ask merely out of curiosity, and because they can’t mind their own business. Be prepared. The longer you wait, the more frequently the question will be asked. People will point to their wrists and say, “You’re nearly thirty. Tick, tick, tick…” This is an underhanded way of telling you that you’re getting older.

One day,  your maternal instincts may get the best of you and you will find yourself sitting at home with a beautiful baby in your arms. From that point, your life will be changed, radically and forever. You will look back on your old life when you were free of responsibility, twenty pounds lighter and not totally, madly in love with a tiny infant. When your maternity leave is finished, you must make a decision – leave your child at a daycare or quit your job.

If you decide to quit your job and stay home with your child you will experience a marked decrease in household income, but will also experience the joys of raising your own child – all by yourself, hour after hour, day after day. Lack of adult conversation will inevitably turn your brain to mush. Your most stimulating activities will be changing diapers and scrubbing floors, but don’t let that get you down. There’s always the laundry.

To beat the housewifery blues, try to get out once in a while. Join a “Moms and Tots” group. You will then have the chance to talk to other moms about topics such as breast feeding, sleepless nights and toilet training. If you have never been a parent, such topics may sound uninteresting, but after months of monotonous, mind-dulling days and sleepless nights you will find the topic of toilet training to be truly inspirational.

At some point, you will think about going back to work.  You may also consider having another baby, in which case your life will again be changed, radically and forever.

 Part I: How to Shop for Groceries with a Baby and a Toddler

Some say it can’t be done. I say it can be done in ten easy steps. All you need are: a great deal of planning, time, patience, supplies, money and a cell phone.

1. Make a list of things your family needs while walking around the house with baby on your hip and a toddler clinging to your stained, overstretched sweatpants.

2. Prepare your diaper bag. You will need diapers, baby wipes, baby cookies, baby blanket, bottles, changing pad, rattles, soother and toys.

3. Change out of your stained, overstretched sweatpants. Don’t worry about putting on makeup, not that you have worn any in the last two years, but do consider combing your hair.

4. Dress the baby in her snowsuit. Dress the toddler in his snowsuit. Undress the baby and change her poopy diaper. Dress the baby in her snowsuit. By now the toddler will have taken off his snowsuit and will be in the bathroom trying to flush your car keys down the toilet. Reach your hand into the toilet and retrieve your keys. Dress the toddler in his snowsuit.

5. Put the baby in the car, securing the car seat with the seat belt and tether. Search for the toddler. You will likely find him eating out of the dog’s dish. Secure him in his car seat.

6. Drive to the grocery store. Drive home, because you’ve forgotten your wallet. Drive back to the grocery store.

7. Find a grocery cart that will seat two small children. Don’t forget to bring your diaper bag. Make your way into the store.

8. Walk up and down the aisles collecting your groceries while balancing a bottle in the baby’s mouth and preventing the toddler from throwing items out of the grocery cart and onto the floor.

9.  By the time you are half-way through your list, one or both children will be crying. It’s time to bring out the toys and snacks and make your way to the checkouts.

10.  Heave the loaded cart through the snow-covered lot back to your parked car. Search frantically for your keys. Notice that they’re still in the ignition. Take out your cell phone and call for the locksmith.

Part II: How to Take Your Dog for a Walk

Dogs need walks. This is an undeniable fact of dog ownership. The task may seem simple to the rookie dog owner, but don’t be fooled. There are inherent difficulties and dangers.

First, never let your dog know your intensions. Act casually as you move about, collecting your house keys, shoes and leash. Don’t make eye contact. Once your dog figures out that you are taking him for a walk, the problems start. The larger breeds jump on you, possibly causing you to fall. The smaller breeds leave puddles of pee or poo in their excitement to get out the door.

If your husband is home, instruct him that he is to watch the children while you are out. Wait for him to issue a confirming grunt. If he is not home, then small children must come along for the walk. Be sure to allow fifteen minutes per child to get them ready for thewalk, or a half hour per child in the winter. (See Step 4, of “How to go shopping for groceries with a baby and a toddler,” for instructions on how to dress children in snow suits.)

Attach the leash to the dog’s collar and secure him to an immovable object, such as a doorknob, while you put on your shoes. I don’t suggest tying him to a chair or any object which could be pulled or knocked over, causing scratches to your floor or injury to yourself or your dog. Failure to secure the dog before putting on your shoes will result in your face, arms and pant legs being covered in excited dog slobber.

The usual commands are useless in a situation in which a dog is anticipating a walk, so be sure to step outside ahead of your dog, using your body to block his path. Otherwise, you run the risk of having your arm dislocated from your shoulder.

Once outside, turn and lock the door behind you. This can be the most difficult step. It requires both dexterity and strength. Delicately insert the key in the lock while tugging on the dog’s leash repeatedly and shouting commands that he will inevitably ignore – “Sit,” “Stay,” or “Get back here, damn dog!”

*Hint: Plan your route so that you do not pass any playgrounds, unless you wish to add  an extra half hour into your schedule; fifteen minutes to allow the children to play on the equipment and fifteen minutes to convince them to get off the equipment and follow you home.

Now, you may start on your walk. It is generally accepted that a dog will walk on your left hand side while you hold the leash loosely across your body. He should lope serenely beside you while you enjoy the scenery. In reality, your dog will take you for a walk.

*Hint: a pair of thick gloves will prevent rope burn.

Push the baby in the stroller with one hand while holding the leash in the other. Also, be sure to hold hands with your toddler to prevent him from walking into traffic. Bend down to pick up your baby’s discarded bottle which has rolled beneath a parked car. Retrieve her binky where she has thrown it in the gutter. Remove the pre-chewed gum, which your toddler has just picked off the sidewalk, from his mouth.

*Hint: also watch for sticks, stones, bugs, worms and cigarette butts. Such found items are delicacies to a toddler.

Your dog will pause frequently to mark his territory and finally, he will stop to poop on the neighbour’s lawn. By now, you should have walked one-half block. Turn around and go home, because you’ve forgotten the plastic bag.

Part III: How to Cope with Three Children


Congratulations. You and your husband are officially outnumbered and therefore doomed to failure. You may continue to battle valiantly against the odds. You may try to keep the house clean and ensure that the children have matched socks. It is best that you learn to love dust bunnies. (Bunnies, as they grow, make delightful playmates for your children.)

Your children are growing. You are finally free of the burden of diapers. Now, your free time is eaten up by after school activities, ballet, piano, soccer, hockey…. Each will require you to sell raffle tickets and bake cookies. There are recitals and competitions. Roles added to your title of housewife are: taxi-driver, baker, sales person, coach and cheerleader.

Teachers will assume you have lots of time to spare, because you are just a housewife, and will call on you frequently. You will be asked to volunteer for school field trips and take marking home for three different teachers.

Be sure to take time for yourself. Take a hot bath in the evening, while ignoring the plaintive cries of, “Mommy! Mommy!” and the little fingers you see wiggling under the bathroom door. Try reading a page or two of a novel in your bed at night before you drift off to sleep.

The truth is, until the last of your progeny is grown and gone, your time is not your own. There will never be enough minutes in the day to accomplish all you want to accomplish, never enough money to cover the expenses and there is never, never, enough wine in the bottle.

Part IV: How to Help Your Child Practice Piano

You love your children and strive to be a good parent. You make them eat yucky broccoli, do the stupid dishes and go to boring school. Remember, good parents love their children so much they make them do many things they don’t want to do. You will use encouragement, compliments, rewards, pleading, bribery and sometimes, threats of bodily harm.

First, call your child to come and practice, for example, “Zackary, come and practice piano.” This is followed by a moment of silence while your child pretends not to hear you. Repeat the command.

You will hear a groan followed by the response, “I’ll do it later.” Don’t be fooled. The child in no way intends to do it later.


Repeat the command, increasing the tone of your voice and shout the word, “Now!”

At this point a sour-faced child will approach. Instruct him to sit on the piano bench. Next, you will hear a litany of complaints, such as, “I hate piano. I want to quit. It’s too hard.”

Ignore all complaints. Your response is: “Practice for twenty minutes and I’ll give you a: (substitute one of the following, depending on what your budget will allow) hug, ten minutes extra to stay up past bedtime, a cookie, a sticker, five dollars, a puppy, a lap top, a pony, and so on.

Your next job is smile encouragingly while the child massacres, “Ode to Joy”, or some other beloved classic.

Above all, don’t be discouraged. Your budding Mozart or Beethoven will one day see the value in your nagging, when he pushes his own child to practice piano.

Part V: How to Deal with a Grumpy Husband 

Your husband, bless his cotton-picking heart, is the most difficult problem you will have to face as a housewife, chiefly because he is under the impression that you don’t work. In his deluded mind he sees you spending your days napping, playing with the children or shopping, where you are busy spending his hard-earned money.

If you wish, you may list for him all the chores you did while he was at work, i.e.: “Today, I got out of bed, fed the children, made breakfast, made lunches, cleaned the kitchen, did four loads of laundry, shopped for groceries, changed eight diapers….” You may list your chores, but you shouldn’t really bother. Your grumpy husband will have stopped listening after, “I got out of bed.”

After a “hard day at work” he will proceed to release his pent up tension on you and the children.  The conversation will go something like this:

“Who spilled juice on the floor?” he asks.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” you say.

“You should know. You were here all day.”

“I’m not omnipotent. I can’t be in all places at once.”

“Why haven’t the kids finished their homework?”

“Why don’t you ask them?”

At this point, grumpy husband will start barking orders, “Kids! Get off the computer! Do your homework! Put your shoes in the closet!”

Don’t let this distress you. He’s simply letting off steam. Lead him to his couch in front of the television. He will then lie down on his back and promptly revert to speaking Caveman, a charming monosyllabic language consisting of grunts and growls. Give him the remote control so that he may relax watching other men tackle and pummel one another. All will be well, in an hour or so.

In the evening, after you have fed the family, done the dishes, bathed the children, read the stories, tucked in blankets and kissed faces, you may fall into bed, exhausted. At this point your spouse, fully rested and fed, will cuddle up to you and say, “I think we should have another baby.”

 Part VI: How to Deal with Questions Regarding Baby Number Four

Family, friends, acquaintances and strangers seem to think it’s their right to ask personal, prying questions. Don’t be offended. They can’t help it they’re boorish and insensitive and don’t feel obligated to answer any of the following questions:

1. You’re pregnant again? Really?

2. Are you Catholic or Mormon?

3. It wasn’t planned, was it?

4. Aren’t you a little old to be having another baby?

5. If your questioner is particularly rude and ignorant, he/she may ask, "Are you planning on keeping it?"

Your fourth child will be a delight to you, like all the others. The problem is that you will be too tired to notice.

Part VII: How to Take your Teenage Son Shopping for Jeans

Who doesn’t love geeky, gangly, pimply, self-conscious, hormone-charged adolescents? They eat everything in sight and proceed to grow three inches in a month. It is time to go shopping. When parents give their children a wad of cash and free reign of the local shopping mall, they miss out on a unique bonding activity. What could be more fun than shopping for a pair of jeans with your surly son? While you are perusing the shelves, he will be looking nervously over his shoulder. His nervousness stems from a deeply rooted fear that he will be seen by a friend or classmate, in a shopping mall, with his mother. It is for this reason that you ought to allow a constant distance of about five feet between you and your son.

While in the mall, never refer to your teenaged son by any pet names, such as, “sweetie, booboo or pumpkin.” Doing so will cause your teenaged son to turn several shades of red.  Don’t ever hold up a pair of jeans to your son’s waist. This will embarrass him to no end and never, under any circumstances, use the word, “crotch.”

Ask your son what kind of jeans he likes. Say, “Do you like skinny, boot cut, slim, straight, low rise, relaxed, or classic?”

Expect a shrug and a mumbled, “I dunno.”

Don’t let this discourage you. Follow with more questions. “Do you like black, blue, or faded?”

He will say, “Whatever.”

Take this as a sign that he is willing to negotiate. Pick out several suitable pairs of jeans in his size and hand them to him with the instructions, “Try these on.”

“I don’t like those.”

“Which ones do you like?”

“I dunno.”

Before screaming, tearing your hair out and running away in frustration, take the time to explain to your son the various styles, shapes, and so on.

His response will be, “Yeah, Mom, whatever.”

You may then lead your reluctant son around various shops repeating the steps as shown above. Scan all shops before entering and lead your son directly to the “Sales Rack.” Be prepared. Your son won’t like any of them. He will lead you directly to the designer jeans, not because they look any different than the sales jeans, but because they are designer jeans. Then, your conversation will sound something like this:

 “Those are too expensive,” you say.

 “But I like them.”

“When you get a job, you can buy designer jeans. I’m not spending (x number of dollars) on a pair of jeans. Do you think I’m made of money?”


Now, you can scream, tear your hair out and run away in frustration. While you are running away, open your wallet and throw your son a wad of cash, so that he can have full reign of the local shopping mall, and buy his own jeans.

 Part VIII: A Few Words of Encouragement 

Housewifery is your chosen career, a career which you may never quit. The pay sucks. You will get no time off or sick days. There are benefits though – hugs, hand-drawn Mother’s Day cards and dandelion bouquets.

Housewifery will inevitably drive you mad. If you haven’t lost your mind already, you soon will. Embrace your lunacy. It’s easier that way.

Your children become your career, your duty and your obligation. Your job is to prepare them to face life’s challenges head on, with verve and vigor. If they fail, well, you know it’s their father’s fault.


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