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A Most Angelic Act

Her darling daughters were at each other’s throats. Could the Christmas spirit help them to get along?

An artist's rendering of children performing a Nativity play.

Breton was teasing her little sister. Again. “Kristin, say sufferin’ succotash for us.”

“No!”

“C’mon, say it!” Breton insisted. Her best friend, Jessica, giggled. “Wait until you hear. She sounds just like Sylvester the Cat from the cartoon,” Breton told Jessica.

I was in the kitchen eavesdropping on the painful exchange. It seemed like my first-grader and her friend would never tire of taunting three-year-old Kristin. And it seemed Kristin would never tire of fighting back.

“I won’t thay it!” Kristin yelled.

“Girls!” I called. “Play nice in there!” Couldn’t they keep it together long enough for me to get dinner on the table?

“Kristin,” Breton said slyly, “say, ‘I won’t say sufferin’ succotash.’”

“No! I will not thay thufferin’ thuccotash.”

The room erupted into peals of laughter, and then savage screeching as Kristin emitted a dramatic, earshattering wail.

“Girls! I’m coming in there!” I said, pulling the chicken out of the oven, ready or not.

“Remember when we found out we were having another little girl?” I asked Michael that evening once the kids were in bed. “We were so excited. We imagined them growing up to be best friends.”

“They will grow up and be best friends,” Michael said. “But right now they’re just kids, and kids fight. Especially siblings.”

I wasn’t so sure. I’d read every child psychology book I could get my hands on to try and figure out the problem. “We don’t favor one over the other,” I said. “We follow through on discipline. We express love. We show them attention. We—”

“We’re doing everything right, Kathie,” Michael said. “Just give it time. The fighting will get better.”

“Yeah, right,” I said. “That would take a miracle.”

Christmas was around the corner, and I was hoping that with all the activity—shopping, decorating, baking—the girls wouldn’t have time to bicker. Instead the girls found more excuses to haggle and brawl.

They chased each other around the tree, knocking ornaments to the floor. They threw gift boxes at each other. Kristin bit Breton’s crayons in half, and Breton barred her sister from her room—and their pet goldfish.

Michael retreated to his workshop when things got loud. My only retreat was early morning prayer time.

A few days before Christmas I was up with the sun. How can I get through to these kids, Lord? I said to him. Fighting is no way to honor your birth.

Jessica was coming for a sleepover, and I spent the morning and afternoon threatening to cancel the fun. When she arrived, all three girls retreated to the playroom. Within minutes the screaming started.

“What is going on now?” I asked, standing in the doorway.

“We are trying to put on a play, and Kristin keeps bothering us,” Breton explained. “Well, can’t Kristin have a part in your play too?”

“No,” Breton said, folding her arms across her chest.

Kristin wailed.

“Mom, we’re trying to do the Nativity scene. What could we do with a baby?”

I tried not to laugh. “You’ll think of something. But either your sister has some kind of role in the play, or there is no play. Got it?”

The next several minutes were blessedly quiet. Michael and I relaxed in the living room and read the paper until Jessica entered, dressed in my satin nightgown and white scarf. She had bracelets up and down each arm, and pointed to a construction-paper star that was taped, lopsided, to a coatrack.

Breton—with a blanket wrapped around her head, carrying an old cane for a staff and a stuffed dog for a sheep—sat on the ground gazing up at her in reverence. “I am an angel,” Jessica announced. “Follow this star to Bethlehem.”

“Okay,” Breton replied. “I will!” She hopped up and they both ran out of the room calling behind them, “We have to change!” What had they done with Kristin, I wondered.

Five minutes later Michael and I were beckoned to follow the paper star to Kristin’s bedroom. Breton and Jessica, now Mary and Joseph, knelt reverently among stuffed animals.

Center stage, swaddled in bath towels, was Kristin, looking up lovingly at her sister. There was a gentleness I’d never seen between them before.

Everyone in the house seemed to be under some kind of Christmas spell. All was calm, all was bright. And the spell didn’t break once the curtain came up and the players took their bows. The rest of the evening was quiet. The three girls played dolls without a cross word.

As I helped Kristin into her pajamas, Breton came up from behind and tackled her. I was about to scold Breton when she locked Kristin in a bear hug and said, “I love you!” Kristin giggled.

The girls still fought after that, but never as much. The love born in a manger long ago was alive and well in our house. Even a three-year-old felt it. I had my Christmas miracle.

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