Once, when I was very young -- with lots more energy and less experience than I have now -- I volunteered to direct the Christmas pageant at church.
"What?" said my husband, as if I'd just announced I was moonlighting for the Pentagon splitting atoms in the blender.
"It's a kids' play," I shrugged. "How hard can it be? All you need is a manger, a few tacky costumes and a bunch of kids."
"Including our three?"
"OK," I said, "I see your point. It may take work. But you won't have to do anything. The kids promised to help."
"Sure," he cackled, dumping Alpo in the dog's dish, "like they promised to feed the dog."
Here's a little tip: It's best to avoid, whenever possible, taking charge of any public activity -- be it teaching or coaching or Christmas pageant directing -- that requires one to take charge of ones' own offspring.
"Why can't I be Mary?" said my daughter.
"You're only 5," I told her. "One of the big girls can be Mary. I need you to be an angel so you can watch over me."
"OK," she said, "but can J.J. be Baby Jesus?"
J.J. was her Cabbage Patch doll. He would make Baby Jesus look like the Pillsbury Doughboy. I would probably burn in hell. But what's a mother to do? "OK," I said. "We can bundle him up in, like, lots of swaddling clothes."
"I'll be Joseph," said my oldest, who would grow up to be an actor and play bad guys on TV. "I'll carry a big gun and shoot King Herod."
"You'll be a shepherd," I said, giving him the same look I used to get from my mother, "and carry a big stick to keep the sheep together."
"Can Nate be my sheep?" he said, falling down laughing.
His brother, my wooly-headed 3-year-old, was not amused.
"I no sheep!" Nate hissed.
"Of course, you aren't a sheep," I said, combing my fingers through his wool. "You can be my Star of Bethlehem."
"Where will we get a manger for J.J.?" asked my daughter.
"That's easy," I said. "We'll make your dad build it."
And so it began, my well-intentioned effort to depict the glory of Christmas with several dozen sweet, innocent young souls -- as easy to direct as a flock of penguins on speed.
We never got through a whole practice. Started lots, but never finished. I couldn't believe how long it took to get to Bethlehem.
But on the night of the pageant, like the miracle of Christmas, the performances were flawless -- pretty much. J.J. lay swaddled head to toe in his manger; like Baby Jesus, "no crying he made."
The shepherd, a true ham, did a fine job with the sheep (when one of the flock wandered off in search of a cookie, he pulled it back with the hook of his crook and got a standing ovation).
The angel, as always, kept close watch over her mother.
And the Star of Bethlehem (with his curls springing out of a tin-foil costume and looking more like the Happy Star from Carl's Jr. hamburger joints) shined brighter than the sun on a California Christmas.
Some called it the best pageant ever, but they were grandparents mostly, and you know how grandparents are. I assure you it was the best Christmas pageant I ever saw -- and the only one I ever directed. My husband said it certainly had the best manger.
That was more than 20 years ago. The cast, except for J.J., is all grown up now. The Shepherd is still a ham, still keeping our flock together. The angel is still an angel, still watching over her mother
And the Star of Bethlehem cut off his curls, but he still shines brighter than the sun on a California Christmas.
Some things change, and some stay the same. That is as it should be, especially at Christmas. Here's wishing you and yours a little of both.
(Contact Sharon Randall at P.O. Box 777394 Henderson, NV, or at www.sharonrandall.com.)