71. A Voice Above the Vacuum

71. A Voice Above the Vacuum

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Matters


A Voice Above the Vacuum

The best gift you can give is a hug: one size fits all and no one ever minds if you return it.

~Author Unknown

It was our first Thanksgiving in the new house, and I wanted everything to be perfect. Perfect food. Perfect house. Perfect conversation. By the time I hit the forty-eight-hour countdown, my vision of a table with pressed linens, fresh flowers, and a smorgasbord of homemade desserts had already dissolved. I was just hopeful that I’d find a clean tablecloth and eight matching dessert forks.

Our family “plan” for everyone to chip in with the necessary prep work had been torpedoed by my husband’s new job in retail. To make matters worse, a critical project for me that week had claimed two days of planned vacation. John Lennon was right: Life is what happens while you are making other plans.

By Wednesday night, while my husband was selling camping gear as Christmas gifts, my children and I were at home and into full-blown vacuum-mania. I was thankful that a kid’s allowance didn’t constitute a salary as I put my six- and eight-year-old to work, violating all child labor laws. For my part, I was swooshing around in the toilet bowl, headed for a meltdown. I started ticking off all the ways my holiday was falling short as if it were a long list of personal injustices.

It was already too late. In my perfect Thanksgiving, there wasn’t going to be any orange zest in my cranberry salad because it hadn’t made the grocery list. There would be no perfect family photos to record the day because I had forgotten to buy batteries. The hand towel that matched the new bathroom paint had not been laundered. And then I saw it and exploded; it was the last straw. Someone had brought home the wrong toilet paper. Two-ply or not two-ply: that should never be the question.

I don’t remember what my son asked me as he was trying his best to finish the vacuuming, but I do remember twisting into that mean-and-tight mom-face before barking out an angry answer. This combination of sound and fury is a universal signal to kids everywhere that their real mom has just been abducted by aliens, and it’s best to duck and cover until she gets back. But he didn’t.

Instead of darting out of view, my second-grader turned off the vacuum and walked the whole way around the stairwell to face me. He never said a word. He just wrapped his arms around me for a hug that makes me feel ashamed of myself to this very day. My son—my shrink—took a risk to teach me that sometimes we need a hug most when we are least huggable.

It was the perfect Thanksgiving. The people I loved gathered around my table where a pumpkin covered up last year’s stubborn gravy stain. We dined on just one choice of pie, and my dad used a mismatched dinner fork without complaint. My daughter drew a picture of us on a paper plate where no one had their eyes closed.

I learned a lot from an eight-year-old that holiday, and I’ve tried hard to remember it. As the holidays approach now, I try to celebrate all of our blessings, especially those that come disguised as inconvenience. And if you find a grump circling your Thanksgiving table complaining about her job, his gallstones or her dress size, sidle up and give them all a hug. It just might be what they need most.

~Mitchell Kyd

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