Defining “Hygge”

1779301_10152138179680502_1263730929_nEvery year, our annual winter getaway with friends grows a little crazier.

More children. More bags. More dinosaurs, more story books, more baked goods I never, ever want to stop eating.

But this year, I went as a single parent. Jason has been sick for almost a month now, so he (very sadly) opted to stay home. I totally understood, but I was also a little desperate. I needed to double over in laughter with friends. I needed winter sun in my eyes and four feet of snow under my shoes. I needed towering pines.

I needed to broaden the narrows of my winter.

So I packed up three pack ‘n plays, two bumbo seats, a doorway jumperoo, three bags of food, two backpacks worth of clothing and diapers, five blankets, and three children under the age of 3 into the van.

In theory, it was possible. In reality, it was madness. In retrospect, it was very, very good.

***

1239733_10152138170690502_1027633142_n I read a great article a month or so ago about a mystical Danish word called “Hygge”, (pronounced HYU-gah). The word has no direct translation in English, but instead sounds like a conglomeration of emotions: well-being, contentment, camaraderie, coziness. The article says it’s kind of like Christmas, just not limited to once a year.

I was fascinated with the idea – this non-translatable word for something so meaningful. Really – when you have a second, you should definitely read the article. Anyway. I put it on my bucket list of words to study, ideas to play with.

I haven’t started the word study. (Go figure.) But after this weekend, I think I have a new word to add to the mix of not-quite-there-but-close definitions for hygge.

Collaboration.

Because without collaboration, hygge can’t happen.

Without collaboration, I would have driven North alone, praying through clenched teeth that nothing would go wrong. (Instead, I caravanned with dear friends who drove out of their way to let us tag along.)

Without collaboration, I would have made seven or eight trips to unload my van. (Instead, four very kind gentlemen made an extra trip or two each to shuttle in my babies and belongings.)

Without collaboration, I wouldn’t have gotten to snowshoe in the woods, feed babies, make supper, take a shower, read bedtime stories, or ever really just sit down. (Instead, there were open arms and helpful hands in every situation – even the darkness stumbling, nook fumbling, face rubbing, please-just-go-back-to-sleep-for-the-love-of-everything-good-and-holy-because-it’s-bedtime moments.)

IMG_2881But it wasn’t just about helping me.

Collaboration is what makes weekends like this possible. From finding accommodation, to organizing meals, to bringing toys and gear, to caring for one another’s children, it is our combined efforts that create an environment for hygge to happen.

And in that moment, the glow of the fire, the children asleep, the roar of laughter, the pine paneled walls and windows full of stars, hygge comes. It widens our hearts. It fills us with thankfulness. It becomes the thing we can’t describe.

ab377e29-7a2c-4d0f-9c0e-ad7a59cb4d77.1.10Maybe that’s okay. This word hygge, this word with no translation – maybe it’s meant to stay nebulous, a little mystical.

Perhaps hygge’s blessing is simply the bright consciousness of experience, our windows blazing light against winter’s dark, our laughter rising through the chimney and spreading like sweet smoke into the night.

Holiday reinforcements

In life, just like in battle, reinforcements can mean everything.

This has been a month of necessary reinforcement. The girls gave up sleeping through the night about five weeks ago (funny correlation – how long has it been since I posted?)

Gabby's new look

Gabby’s new look

It’s been rough going.

The reason, best we can tell, is teeth. Yep. Teeth at four and half months. Gabby cut her first two last week, and Lucy is not far behind her. And the little buggers must hurt, because once in a while the girls will let out blood-curdling screams that scare the crap out of me at 2:30 in the morning. The only thing I can do is nurse them back to sleep.

This happens once, if not twice, each night. So it’s back to sleeping in two to four hour increments for us. Sigh. The funny part is, we can function like this. Not well, obviously, but it’s possible. And so that’s what we’ve been doing.

Functioning.

Despite our lack of sleep, it’s been a busy month.

Scenes from friendsgiving - yes, that's a pumpkin creme brule pie with a gingerbread crust. And I'm pretty sure Sarah's french silk pie reached hallowed status.

Scenes from friendsgiving – yes, that’s a pumpkin creme brule pie with a gingerbread crust. And I’m pretty sure my friend Sarah’s french silk pie was so good it reached sainthood.

We decided to do a “friendsgiving” the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Jason bought a turkey, I told everyone to bring a side dish (and it didn’t matter if it was leftover or re-purposed from actual Thanksgiving), and we made a big pot of macaroni for the kids. It was not going to be clean or trendy or perfect, and none of those things were the point.

It was chaos of the very best sort. Nine kids to eight adults. Foot traffic everywhere, crumbs and beverages on every surface, baby gates and diaper bags and sweet little hands tugging on whatever pant leg happened to be in reach.

When the meal was over, Jason built up the bonfire in the front yard. The guys went on kid/dish duty so the girls could get outside and have uninterrupted conversation. I snuck out first, face and hands tingling in the cold night air. I watched the kids jumping and chasing one another. There was commotion in the mudroom – hats, coats, boots being zipped. But for a clear, star-filled minute, I was alone in my yard.

I love moments like this. It’s like taking a nap in the living room when someone’s in the kitchen and the gentle activity of the house is a reassuring hum. Observation is rest, is beauty, is worship in its own right.

So I let my head fall backwards. I unrolled my fists in my pockets and let the muscles in my face go slack. Two days after Thanksgiving, I finally I let gratitude wash me, and I shivered at its overwhelming force.

I know the cardinal rule of holidays is being present and mindful. But holidays with babies take that to a new level. Being present means counting the hours since the babies last ate. Being mindful means double checking the diaper bag to make sure every possible scenario is prepared for.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the rush and bustle, the flurry of arms that greet me at family and friend gatherings. But that night, when everything stopped for a collection of star-studded seconds, it was exactly what I needed.

***

10th annual Fellas and Wives party

10th annual Fellas and Wives party

Okay, so throwing a party probably seems a little more like functioning. I get that.  But compared to my days filled with diapers and crayons, discipline and feedings, planning a gathering seems so wonderfully normal.

Cooking becomes my creative outlet. Eating together becomes a celebration, and even the humblest of meals becomes festive when  shared. And as a bonus, having people in my home also means one important thing.

Help. Help on so many levels. (And someone else holding a baby.)

Juliette's amazing gingerbread trifle

Juliette’s amazing gingerbread trifle at Friend’s Christmas

So we keep opening our doors, practicing hospitality even when the floors aren’t clean and the babies are crying. We love collecting the people in our lives around our old Formica table.

We love eating good food (particularly Scottum’s dulce de leche ice cream – not pictured because it was devoured way too quickly.) We love sprawling out around the fire, tripping on toys, and holding our little ones.

We love the waves and hugs at the end of the night, each one like pressing a seal on our time together.

***

Sometimes raising my girls feels like I’m setting out to paint a gigantic church with an old, frayed paintbrush. But then someone comes along with a piece of scaffolding. And another. And another.

Lucy, Lila, and Gabby sporting Aunty Kari's Christmas gifts!

Lucy, Lila, and Gabby sporting Aunty Kari’s Christmas outfits

We paint together for a while, and it gets easier.

A few weeks back, a friend watched all three of my girls while I went grocery shopping. Another friend helped me coral my girls at open gymnastics. Another accompanied me to Target so I could have an extra cart and a playmate for Ellis.

Friends and family have helped me shop, taken me out, come to my home and watched my girls, leaned on the counter, drank coffee, called, texted, and even Skyped.

 

Super grandma to the rescue!

Super grandma to the rescue

My mom went so far as to clear her schedule last week to help with my teething terrors, and Jason’s parents have been amazing overnight babysitters.

Scaffolding, all of it.

Reinforcement.

And we are, as always, grateful.