I was 7 months pregnant with Zoe for Rachel and Claire’s second Christmas in 2009. I don’t remember a lot about that holiday, other than being tired and uncomfortable. What I do remember is that particular Christmas was not a joyous season for me. I was exhausted and devoid of Christmas spirit. Decorations were sparse because I just didn’t feel like dealing with them. There were no lights out front. We didn’t even put up our tree because in my rotund state, I wouldn’t be able to keep our not even 2 year old girls out of it.
Due to our growing family, finances were tighter than usual that year. We’ve always been able to pay our mortgage and bills and get groceries with no trouble, thankfully, but there wasn’t much extra. Christian and I had decided not to exchange gifts in order to put that money toward the kids, and even then they weren’t getting anything big.
The excitement and energy of the holiday shopping season gets to me sometimes. It makes me strive more than ever to set a good example for my children and demonstrate that there’s so much more to Christmas than presents, while simultaneously sending me on a wild goose chase for the perfect gifts for every member of the family. This year more than ever I felt conflicted. I knew that my girls were too young to care whether or not they got 5 presents or 25, large playsets or small toys. But I still bemoaned the fact that there was so much I couldn’t get them. All I could see was what we didn’t have instead of what we did.
I found myself in Target one night, smack dab in the middle of the holiday hustle. My kids were home in bed and I was making a run for necessities alone. All around me families conferred with one another about whether or not Aunt Sarah would like this necklace, or do you think this sweater would fit your mom? I was filling my cart with diapers, wipes, and toilet paper and feeling sorry for myself. I wondered if those people appreciated the freedom they had to spend.
I finished my shopping and left the store with a heavy heart. I imagined my girls opening their presents Christmas morning, but instead of seeing the joy in their faces as they unwrapped each exciting thing, I only felt the dread that I wasn’t giving them enough. Even worse, my heart ached at the innocent ignorance that they had no idea.
I should be able to give them more, I thought. I should be able to give them the world.
Lights flickered in the distance as I pulled onto my street and neared my house. There, in the middle of our yard at 9:00 at night, stood my husband, surrounded by tangles of lights. He had planted a pole in the ground and was running strands from the top to the ground in a tree formation. It was crude, and more than slightly crooked, but the lights cast a warm glow across our yard. Stunned, I got out of the car. He looked at me, looked back to his handiwork, then back at me, a goofy grin spreading across his face.
Maybe I had texted him while I was out. Maybe my mood had shown before I left for my errands. But he knew I needed a little light in my holiday season. He knew I needed some Christmas cheer. It was one of the most touching things he’s ever done for me.
I shake my head and sigh a little when I think about that year, about how much I focused on the things, specifically the things we didn’t have. It could have been the culminating stress of adding another child to the mix: another mouth to feed, another bottom to diaper, another wish list to fulfill. It could have been a case of wanting what you can’t have. At not even 2, Rachel and Claire were too young to know or care about how many presents they got. All they knew is that people were throwing toys at them right and left and not even giving them time to play with them before tossing another one their way. Turns out Christmas is quite stressful for young children.
Three years later we find ourselves with a bit more wiggle room. The growing ages of our children makes it easier to talk to them about not just receiving, but giving to others, both in our family and those in need, thoughtfully and with purpose. 2009 was also the last year we spent Christmas Day with my family. It was the last time my grandparents got to experience Christmas morning through the eyes of little ones. We stay home now, relaxing in our pajamas, opening our gifts, creating our own traditions.
This year there’s no crooked, multicolored tree of in the middle of our yard. The lights are hung in a more deliberate fashion. Inside our stockings are up, and our Christmas tree stands tall in the corner, the ornaments hung not nearly as evenly spaced as I would like, thanks to the young decorators. I catch them sometimes just sitting at its base, basking in the warm glow in the early morning. I stare at them for a while, until they turn and give me a goofy grin, so proud of the fact that they turned the lights on themselves. And I have all the Christmas cheer I need.