Carol Jane Remsburg
For years the spirit of Christmas has eluded me. I can remember when it was there and I don't know precisely when it left but these last few years I'd come to dread Christmas because of the emptiness I felt. It seemed that the harder I tried to recapture the magic the further removed I became.
How Mom and Dad managed to convey that special gift every year I can't imagine. They never lost their touch. Somehow through the years I lost my way and this year I didn't have time to worry and agonize over it. Christmas arrived so fast that I was scrambling just to get through each day.
This is also the first year ever that I took my vacation the week of Christmas and you'd think that would give me some extra time but with Christmas Eve on Monday and Christmas Day on Tuesday, this didn't work out. My original premise was to have the time to spend with my daughter over the Christmas holidays without her having to spend most of it with other family members while I worked. This would also be the first time she's ever been allowed to sleep as late as she likes for more than three days in a row.
Right around Thanksgiving, again being late, Don and I made our Christmas list and made most of the initial purchases we wanted for our family, friends, and Erin. I felt like I had plenty of time. Then December sneaked in and I was way behind. I grabbed my niece and we went shopping, mostly for Erin but for other items as well. Suddenly there were certain things on my list that I couldn't seem to find or that our orders weren't arriving.
The great debate was held over just what Erin's "big" gift would be this year. At eleven she still has big wants but we often know that what she wants isn't something that she ends up enjoying for more than five minutes (see Barbie®). Actually her list wasn't huge or even outrageous this year. The only thing that seemed what "I" deemed a waste was the little motorized Jimmy Neutron® motorized remote controlled Orbitz. The toy itself wasn't terribly expensive but the rechargeable battery packs (and you HAVE to get two) cost $$$. Hubby lobbied hard and I objected on the grounds that "I'm-Mommy-and-we've-been-through-this-before." Hubby turned quiet and let it go.
Erin's little boom box, you know, those $49 CD-player, AM-FM radio, and cassette player combination up and died just before Halloween. Well the CD-player part did anyway and "Mommy" had the bright idea that a new stereo system with the added attraction of also being a cool karaoke machine with the video monitor for the lyrics would be tremendous fun for her and THAT wasn't even on her list. "Mommy" decided and that was that.
Meanwhile, I bought Gameboy Advance® games, clothes, books, a virtual aquarium (also not on the list), VHS movies, and then little things. I thought I was all set for Christmas. Then I looked at the calendar and realized it was the 16th of December and I hadn't done my annual horror that IS the Christmas letter. It was late on Sunday after a morning of more shopping. I hadn't wrapped a thing yet.
Hubby's gift hadn't been delivered yet and getting this year's CD of "Bob & Tom" took me three trips to the mall, "'Cuz it ain't in yet lady."
Such was the whirlwind just as the Friday before Christmas came. The weekend would hold other familial obligations with little time for last minute preparations that I was realizing would have to be done. Did I say this was to be my long awaited vacation? Had I looked forward to this? Does a shipwreck victim on a tiny island without food or drinking water want to be rescued?
The two weeks prior had been full of choir rehearsals and the Christmas pageant, my niece getting moved into her place, along with the never-ending drudge of work and home duties. I was feeling overwhelmed and not at all in the mood for Christmas. Even when Sammi, my niece, and I were baking Christmas goodies for her to present as gifts. The house had been cleaned and there still was the wrapping to do and some last minute items yet to purchase. Would I ever be ready? Would I ever get to relax? I wasn't sure but I certainly didn't have any spare moments to allow myself to worry about whether or not the Christmas magic would happen.
Suddenly it was Christmas Eve and I thought I had everything planned out for the day. I did some last minute cleaning, food shopping, and helped Don with all the chickens he was Cajun deep-frying for family and friends. I would spend the afternoon wrapping and getting ready for company—when the unthinkable happened. There was a last minute rush back and forth from town that seemed to eat the day away.
It was 3 PM and I still had all my wrapping to do before our company arrived at 5 PM. The house was nice, the candles were lit, the music played, and I locked myself in the bedroom and wrapped my little heart out. Then my sister and her family arrived and we exchanged gifts, ate food, and were merry. I was totally done in.
Then it was Christmas morning.
Don and I were up at six and kept waiting for Erin to get up. I took a long hot shower, drank my coffee, read the paper, and waited some more. The house was still. The lights on the Christmas tree twinkled and somewhere a cat was snoring.
First Don crept up the stairs and softly called her name. "Erin," he whispered.
"Huh?" came back from the beauty still in the thrall of slumber.
Another half-hour went by and it was nearly 8:30. I know there are parents across this land who would give me the last cent out of their savings if I could afford them the same. Don't ask me, it just happened.
I stood on the steps and sang Erin a Merry Christmas as softly as I could.
I persisted until she raised her sleepy head and smiled her sleepy smile and asked for a few moments more.
She was up ten minutes later but not up if you know what I mean. She was happy, thoughtful, and filled with wonder. Watching Erin be excited more over the gifts she was giving than the ones she was receiving was the spark that lit the flame. It didn't matter that the house was clean. It didn't matter that the Christmas tunes were playing softly in the background. It didn't matter that the tree was dancing with lights. And it didn't even matter that I burned the bottoms of the cinnamon rolls.
For the first time her eagerness wasn't what she was going to open but what others were. Erin had been so proud that she'd saved her own money for the gifts she gave and worked hard shopping and paying for them herself. Each gift was carefully thought out and decided on. Her delight in giving to others made her eyes glow—right after the sleepy look faded.
I made her some hot chocolate and we opened our stockings filled with small gag gifts and then around the room we went. The three of us dragged it out not wanted the warm light to leave our tight little circle.
There were no weary sighs, no rolling of the eyes, no pouts, and no sharp words. And I don't mean just from Erin. There were no raised eyebrows or crooked smiles.
And it wasn't that the gifts were fancy or perfectly on target. It was a snatched moment of perfect harmony among our small family and we were all in tune together for what seemed like the first time in a very long one. Each of us was genuinely happy. No, happy isn't quite the right word but perhaps joyful is more appropriate. Our love for each other kept that warm circle aglow.
Each of us felt our blessings. This best gift didn't arrive with lights or noisemakers or ribbons or wrapping paper. This gift couldn't be bought at any price. I just knew that once the wrappings were off and playtime was over the whining would begin—by either of them or even by me. It didn't happen.
By noon the games were still going on and laughter dominated. Don and I straightened up as much as we could. I addressed the laundry and gravitated to my comfy chair with a new book to relax a little before more company arrived.
The afternoon came and the afternoon went. That Jimmy Neutron Orbitz® had somehow found its way beneath the tree with a little help from Daddy. The karaoke machine didn't come into play until late in the day. Still, there was joy. It was that feeling of being blessed and loved. There were no tears or stinging words that often mark this day due to tiredness and stress.
I was in awe and savored each moment until the last.
Today, the day after Christmas dawned much like yesterday. The gift of happiness is still with us. The spirit of Christmas finally came back to me when I wasn't looking for it. It just happened and keeps happening.
Thank you Santa, I got the present I didn't dare ask you for.