70: Finding Christmas

70: Finding Christmas

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Book of Christmas Miracles

Finding Christmas

Because that’s what kindness is. It’s not doing something for someone else because they can’t, but because you can.

~Andrew Iskander

The sound of my infant daughter’s crying burst through the baby monitor. She can’t be awake already, I sighed, glancing at the clock. Only fifteen minutes had passed since I’d put her down for a nap. Caring for her and my six-year-old son, coupled with suffering from a bad case of the baby blues, had turned my days into blurs of diapers, bottles, crying, and whining. To make matters worse, Christmas was approaching. I had no idea how I would finish my shopping and gift-wrapping or bake the three dozen cookies I had promised my son’s teacher for his class party.

I was lucky if I managed to take a shower each day. With my mom living only ten minutes away, I desperately wanted to turn to her for support. But she was in another state caring for my grandmother, who was recovering from a heart attack. I battled tears as I gently lifted my daughter, red-faced from crying, out of her crib. I dropped heavily into the rocking chair and cradled her. And as I rocked her back to sleep, I let my tears flow. Without my mom, I was unsure how to quiet the apprehension and worry I felt.

My mother’s stay with my grandmother was lasting longer than expected. “I’m not going to get home in time to put up my Christmas tree,” she had told me on the phone. “Your dad is still on a business trip so he won’t be around to do it either.”

“Don’t worry about it, Mom,” I told her, hoping I sounded reassuring. “You’ll get done what you can and the rest won’t matter this year.”

But I knew better. Mom always made Christmas at her house magical. Every year, the scents of cinnamon, sugar, and chocolate would mingle as she baked her special cookies and fudge. The fresh balsam wreaths she would hang on every door brought a sweet, woodsy scent to each entrance of her home. She’d also make sure the aging, handmade felt Santas and Styrofoam snowmen blended perfectly with the newer ornaments that adorned her tree. She’d spend hours finding the perfect gift for each person on her list and planning the menu for Christmas dinner.

It looked like this year would be different. As I had hung up the phone, I thought, I should put up her tree this year. I quickly dismissed the idea. Who was I kidding? I could barely drag myself to the coffee pot each morning. I doubted I’d even finish decorating my own tree. But I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. I couldn’t stop thinking about the weariness I’d heard in my mother’s voice. I became ashamed at my self-centeredness. I realized that I wasn’t the only person who was tired and overwhelmed this year. My mother had always made Christmas special for me, and now it was time for me to make it special for her.

A few days before Christmas, my husband and I loaded the kids into the car and drove to my parents’ home. Amazingly, my daughter fell asleep on the way there. When we arrived, I placed her — still strapped safely in her infant car seat — on the couch. We began to work. My husband brought the much-loved artificial Christmas tree up from the basement, along with box after box of tree ornaments and decorations. While he strung the lights on the tree, my son and I began looking through the boxes. It felt like Christmas morning had arrived early. Each decoration I found transported me to a wonderful childhood memory.

“I remember this! I made this in Girl Scouts,” I exclaimed, as I pulled out a round ornament decked out in glitter and fabric scraps.

“And look at this one,” I said, holding up a large, blue, hand-blown glass ball. “This was my grandma’s ornament. I remember hanging it on her tree when I was a little girl.”

“Mom, these are cool,” my son said. His blue eyes sparkled as he studied several faded, red-and-white candy canes made of twisted pipe cleaners.

“I made those when I was about your age,” I said.

“Can we make some for our tree?” he asked.

“Yes, that will be fun,” I answered, smiling. My joy at watching his excitement canceled out any thoughts of my own exhaustion.

Miraculously, nothing went wrong. No knots were in the light strands, and each jewel-toned bulb shined brightly. No ornaments were dropped or broken, and my daughter enjoyed a rare and extended slumber while we worked. I forgot about my fatigue and depression because I was focused on how my mom would react when she saw our handiwork.

We worked for several hours hanging ornaments and arranging other holiday decorations around her house. Then it was time for the finishing touch. My son giggled as he was put on his dad’s shoulders. My husband lifted him high above the tree’s branches to put the star on the tree. I looked at my daughter, still sleeping, and smiled at her sweet, contented expression. I had to blink away the grateful tears that suddenly filled my eyes.

The next day, we made the three-hour trip to pick up my mother. I could see dark circles under her eyes and the worry lines etched in her forehead as she gazed out the car window.

“I can’t believe Christmas is only a couple days away,” she sighed. “I am never going to get my tree up. I still have shopping, wrapping and baking to do.”

I simply nodded and smiled. My son bounced in his seat the entire way home, talking nonstop, but somehow managing to avoid blurting out our secret. When we arrived at my mom’s home, he and I ran into the house ahead of everyone else and turned on the Christmas tree lights.

My mother walked in and he yelled, “Look, Grandma!”

Her gaze was drawn to the tree standing regally in the corner. Her eyes grew wide and she gasped, covering her mouth with her hand. She started to cry and then ran to me and held me tight. We laughed and cried at the same time.

“Thank you. I can’t believe you did this,” she whispered, choking back her tears.

It was one of the best moments of my life. What we did for my mother changed my whole attitude that Christmas. It shifted my focus from my troubles to my blessings and the feeling of pure joy I received by giving to another. I had truly found Christmas.

~Annette McDermott

Chicken Soup for the Soul: For Mom, with Love

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