Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The True Meaning of Christmas

I love Christmas.

Christmas explodes at my house the day after Thanksgiving—or as my daughter, Melanie, so eloquently put it last year as she surveyed our decorated living room, “Mom, it looks like Christmas threw up in here...” I love getting into the spirit of the season. I play holiday music all day, every day. I mail highly informative and attractively designed Christmas letters and cards to 100 friends and family members on December 1st. At least two nights each week, I force my teen-aged kids into the car to drive with me through the neighborhoods so we can see the lights. We always do a Secret Santa. Most of my shopping is done long before December begins and I find joy in seeking out just the right gifts for my family and friends. It’s the one time of year when I do crafts and, yes, even cooking is involved.

But not this year.

Two weeks before Christmas and I haven’t done a thing to prepare. My day job is swamping me. My house remodel/redecorate is a much longer work-in-progress than I had imagined it would be. I haven’t been feeling well. Last week, I decided Christmas was just going to have to happen without me. I told my sister that, like it or not, she was hosting the family party this year. Christmas would be cash and gift cards. I put my Christmas letter on the To Do List for February. And we’ll be doing a Secret Easter Bunny in 2007.

I surveyed my living room, jammed floor to ceiling with furniture and boxes that belong in the rooms that are under construction, and I sat down on the floor and cried. Life was just too much, too hard, too overwhelming. And as many of us tend to do when faced with an intolerable situation, I shrunk my heart. If I couldn’t have the Christmas I wanted, I wouldn’t have Christmas at all. My children are grown. They will understand when I tell them I’m too busy to cook, to shop and to decorate for Christmas. I resumed my day with a sour grinchy attitude and a heart that had shrunk by much more than three sizes.

And this is where you discover what angel children I have.

Megan, my youngest, nagged me for an hour to go downstairs and set up the computers in my home office. She had homework to do and needed the Internet. I kept putting her off because I was still catching up on work and I was too tired to fuss with the cables and plugs. She could use the computer in the kitchen, even if it is old and slow.

Finally, Megan got quite stern and said, “Mom, you have to go set up the computers NOW, and you can’t come back upstairs until I say you can.” Realizing something was afoot, but too tired to argue or even guess what it might be, I just went downstairs and did it. I could hear footsteps upstairs, so I knew she had company—but I heard no voices and no sounds to indicate what was happening. Megan came down once and I told her that I was uncomfortable with the idea that there were people in the house with the mess that it was in. She just smiled and said, “Love you, Mom,” with a cheesy grin that is her way of saying, “I know you don’t like what I’m doing, but I’m doing it anyway.” My favorite “b” word crossed my mind—Brat!

An hour later, I hear Christmas music blasting from upstairs—Sleigh Ride, the song I’ve played on Christmas morning for the past 10 years to announce that Santa has come and it’s okay for the children to come out of their rooms. I go upstairs to find a perfectly clean, rearranged and beautifully decorated living room, compliments of my children, Megan, McKenna and Stephen (son-in-law).*

Aware of how difficult this month has been for me, and having eavesdropped on my earlier meltdown, they had been planning it all day—asking surreptitious and well-disguised questions, pumping information out of me, coordinating schedules, sneaking keys to my office to retrieve Christmas trees on loan for a company party, moving heavy furniture without making a sound. And I had no clue. I was overwhelmed and in tears for the second time in one day.

Christmas came early this year.
It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes or bags!…
This year Christmas didn’t come from a store.
This year, Christmas means a lot more. **

And now my heart doesn’t feel quite so tight—thanks to my wonderful, gift-from-heaven children who deeply understand the true meaning of Christmas.

*Christopher and Melanie would have been involved too, but they were at work and out of town, respectively.

**paraphrased from How the Grinch Stole Christmas! By Dr. Seuss.

Now playing on my iPod: Sleigh Ride by Emile Pandolfi.