Warning: this post is sickeningly sweet. It’s about an early Christmas surprise that made me cry. If this description makes you roll your eyes or let out a big sigh, you might want to scroll on past.
The older I get, the less I want gifts. Especially at Christmas. I want to spend time with my friends and family. I want to watch the wondrous anticipation on my grandchildren’s faces when we go to see the lights. I want to laugh. I want to cook, and eat, and bake, and eat some more. I want to chortle through “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” and cry through “It’s a Wonderful Life”. I want to see parades – the local ones with floats made from farm trailers and hay bales. I want to make wreaths, decorate trees, light candles, and spend every waking minute with Christmas music playing.
Yeah, I’m one of those.
This year, my Christmas spirit has been a little muted. Steve’s Dad took a fall in mid-November, and the injury was much worse than initially thought. Just before Thanksgiving, Steve headed to Canada to help out while his Dad recovered. I had put my Christmas spirit on ice a bit, wanting to wait until Steve was here to do it all with me. We both kind of knew that Christmas was a long shot, but decided we’d jump off that bridge when we came to it.
Last week, we jumped. No doubt about it, we’ll be spending the holiday 1,000 miles apart, for the first time in 17 years.
On the bright side, it’s been too many years since his Mom & Dad have had Christmas with both of their children, and that makes me really happy for all of them. This will be Steve’s first Christmas with his niece and nephew, which he’s really excited about. On the down side, it’s really throwing us all off. The grands miss their Papa something fierce, and I miss him more than that. He doesn’t realize it (hell, *I* didn’t realize it), but he’s kind of the frosting that keeps our gingerbread house together, even if I’m the one that makes sure all the gumdrops get put on.
Bottom line, I’ve been wallowing and whining more than I’ve been decking the halls. I’ve made some half-hearted attempts at leading the HoHoHo charge. I changed the regular porch light bulbs to colored bulbs. I put the tree up (but didn’t decorate it), put the Santa head on the door (which isn’t nearly as gnarly as it reads), and threw up some wreaths. I even made my own pine roping for the front porch. I was trying, by God!
Regarding the creation of 50 feet of pine roping: if you’re already in the throes of Christmas joy, you will find the scent of the pine intoxicating, and hum Christmas carols while you patiently attach small sprigs of holly among the pine. You’ll sigh with a warm heart when you see the completed project. If you’re NOT yet basking in the glow of the season, making your own pine roping will cause your arthritis to flare, you’ll fall off the ladder while gathering your cuttings, and it will take you 3 days to get the sap off of everything. Care to guess which experience I had?
I digress. The bottom line is that rather than swimming in a pool of Christmas bliss, I’ve been flailing around in a bucket of Yuletide pity. I even traded the Sirius Holly station (channel 17, if you’re still looking for it) to CNN. You know, nothing like listening to endlessly depressing news to put you in a good mood. December blasphemy.
Last week I was off on my final business trip for 2014. I was rather grateful for the distraction. 3 long days of meetings and spreadsheets and budgets, a few good meals, and no boxes of ornaments staring at me at the end of the day. I’ll take it.
My daughter Krista agreed to stay at the house with the dogs, as Moose is really too old to be boarded any longer. A further testament to my funk, I stocked up on frozen pizza and cereal for her and Ethan before I left. The real me would have made her a pan of lasagna (her favorite), and made sure the E-man had Nutella and biscuits. Welcome to Slacker Central, and I hope the milk isn’t sour.
I came home on Thursday afternoon, buoyed by on time flights and decent weather. One more work day before my holiday vacation started. I was, once again, trying to rally my holiday mood. I picked up Lexi on my way home from the airport since she was exempt from finals (smarty pants!) and needed something to do for the next couple of days. She’d be a great incentive to get the tree done, and maybe even put out a candle or two. I flipped back to Sirius channel 17 and focused on happy things.
Since Krista had my house key, she left the back door unlocked for me. Lexi offered to run around and open the front door while I unloaded luggage, and dogs racing out of the house to greet me (even the hobble-race by Moose) was a welcome sight. It was nothing, though, compared to walking in the house.
It had been transformed.
Spotlessly cleaned. Christmas tea towels on display. Ornaments and garland hanging from the tree. Table runners. Winter pine candles. Most stunning was the removal of a built in, room length table in the dining room that I had wanted to destruct for months, but didn’t have the energy to do it. It’s gone, and you’d never even know it had been there.
Lexi was beaming.
“Did you know about this?”
“Who did it?”
She pointed to a gingerbread train on the kitchen island, with a note. “Mommy and Aunt Krista and Uncle Alex. Surprise!”
I wiped my eyes and started dialing the phone. One after the other.
“Merry Christmas, Mom.” “I hope you like it.” “We wanted to help.” Each one downplayed their role and filled me in on the efforts of the other two. Of course they did: these are my kids. My selfless, giving, children. If I had known what fabulous adults those little snot buckets were going to mature into, I probably would have grounded them less as teenagers.
I can’t adequately articulate what they gave me this year. Not just a boost, an attitude adjustment, a helping hand. All of those things, certainly, but much more. They reminded me that we’re a family, and families pick each other up. That when our chain gets weak, they won’t let it break; they link arms and fix it. They gave me their time and energy, even though they have their own houses to clean and decorate, and their own families to tend to.
They gave me a great big “I love you” Christmas.
And I’m crying again.
Yesterday, Lexi and I went on a whirlwind thrift store adventure. We bought enough stuffed bears and bear accessories to create an outdoor Bear Family Display. We looked up some Pinterest pins on gifts she wanted to make and gathered supplies. As we arrived home, my kids and the other 6 grandchildren were pulling in, preparing for our Holiday Baking extravaganza. We laughed and disciplined kids for jumping on furniture and talked about how much we miss Steve and snuck bites of cookie dough and ate sandwiches.
We celebrated Christmas.
Just like my friend the Grinch said
Enjoy your day, my friends. I’m going to head into the kitchen and help Lexi with her Pinterest project. Then some shopping. Oh, and a lasagna to make for someone who will really love it.
Never doubt how meaningful an act of kindness can be for someone. You can give someone their best Christmas ever without spending a dime.