Today’s post isn’t going to be about cleaning. This is a blog in pursuit of domestic bliss, and family life falls neatly under that heading. Or not so neatly. Today’s post will be relevant to the day.
Today is just another day. I woke up, made coffee, fed the dog and cleaned up some shredded bones my dog found on his morning walk. I checked my email and found a very lovely sentiment from my father, about various firsts that happened on Christmas. I cried a little when I saw the two gift bags from Santa waiting for my children to come home and open them – because Mama couldn’t find both stockings, she got some gift bags for Santa to fill instead.
I can hear my daughter’s voice piping through my head, “Mama, don’t forget to find the stockings, Santa needs them!” Or from a few years ago, my son, “Mama, leave the door unlocked for Santa!”
I didn’t leave the door unlocked for Santa. He actually tried to come by yesterday with the kids’ present (it’s a shared present for the whole family, a Wii), but we didn’t hear the door, so he has to come back again on Monday.
We didn’t have enough money to buy gifts for the kids ourselves. So Santa is it. Stocking stuffers and a Wii.
On a level, I feel terrible, a huge let-down as a mom. Every time I see a commercial depicting a family sitting down at the Christmas tree and opening presents, my heart surges like it wants to run away, to escape the inevitable disappointment my children will face when they come home.
Last Christmas, for me, was perfect. I had the family over for dinner. Everyone showed up, even my brother and his girlfriend, who live in Chicago. We bought the tackiest little tree for the gifts to go around – a fake potted 1.5′ tall number with a corny Christmas angel to boot. It was good for a laugh. There were so many gifts, plenty of good food to eat (I proved myself as a cook, finally!), and merriment to spare.
This Christmas is the complete opposite of that.
I woke up sad and lonely, full of disappointment. The house is quiet – the children won’t be back until dinnertime. It’s just another day. Except this “other day” is full of reminders as to how it’s supposed to be a different day, a lively day.
But I shake it all off. I am blessed. And in spite of all my sad feelings about how the day is going differently than how I’d planned, I’m up for the challenge in front of me. My kids will be getting gifts from all their grandparents, from uncles and aunts, from friends. Everyone wants to see them happy.
I can choose to look at our lack of a material Christmas in one of two ways. I’m a failure for not providing the Christmas I was “supposed” to, as dictated by the commercial culture we live in, the expectations of those around me. Or, conversely, I could choose to see this as an opportunity to give the kids an even better gift than anything I could find in the store – an extra dimension to the holiday. I could choose to focus on the opportunity to share what Christmas is really about – family and memories.
We’ll have some sort of wacky kid-themed dinner. Maybe we’ll light some candles to create some “mood lighting.” Depending on what the kids want (it is all about them, after all), maybe we’ll make some cookies or play a game. We could watch a movie. And then it will be story time as they get ready for bed. And I will tell stories of the Old Ones who celebrated the Winter Solstice; of the original St. Nick, who helped out a poor family when they least expected it; of the original Christian nativity – because it’s still a sweet story that deserves retelling.
I’m going to teach my kids when they come home today, that Christmas is all about Presence. You are present with the people you love, you feel the presence of those whom you cannot be with. Presence is more than just the physical body – presence is a state of mind, a state of being.
I’m going to teach them the best gifts anyone can receive don’t make a lot of noise, don’t come with flashy bright colors. The best ones are the ones you don’t expect and you can’t quantify. The best gifts are the ones that pick you up in hard times and keep you going, that give you a reason to smile through the tears.
I haven’t gotten a single material gift for Christmas. I didn’t expect any, nor did I really want any. I didn’t give any. But I was recently given a gift that changes my life – the life of my family – in ways I could never have fathomed, and still can’t quite wrap my head around.
This gift will enable us to have our needs taken care of – my lady can have a good car, I can get hearing aids that I need. But more importantly, it gives us a chance to set our roots down for once and for all, to have a role in community-building, to make life better for those around us and for our children.
I really couldn’t have asked for anything more.
I guess the best gifts are the ones that make a person feel valuable, cherished. And don’t children need that more than bells and whistles?
Happy Holidays … and may your Christmas be filled with Presence.