From Chicken Soup for the Working Mom's Soul

Being a Working Mom

Being a working mom was one thing, but being a divorced working mom, especially in the 1960s when “divorce” was a very dirty word, was something else again. Some days I wondered why I bothered, days when I wasn’t sure I could cope for another hour.

And then there was Christmas. A time I had always cherished. A time I had tried to keep free of commercialism. A time I loved deeply. But that year it was a time of despair and frustration. The kids would receive gifts, of course; my sisters would send them lots, and I was sure I could fill their stockings with little puzzles and things from one of the cheaper stores, but there would be no Christmas cheer: no tree, no “extras,” no turkey dinner. And after living on baked beans on toast and macaroni and cheese week after week, I couldn’t bear the thought of my little ones being without even a Christmas cracker.

I worked for a small company, and the office manager asked if I would play the piano at the children’s Christmas party. I said I would, and she told me that the names of all the children in attendance were put into a hat and whoever’s name was drawn received the tree with all its decorations. She also said that there was a man in the plant who had ten children, and he always won, so I shouldn’t get my hopes up.

I had almost forgotten what hope was.

At the party, I looked at the tree sparkling with tinsel and bells, and I felt a deep and sad longing. Not just for the tree itself, but for all that the tree represented: the essence of Christmas, the carols, the joy. I watched as the children played games and sat shyly on Santa’s knee to tell him their secret longings. Oh, how I wished there really was a Santa Claus.

Then came the cake and ice cream, the carol singing, and the candy canes. I thought, Well, even if we don’t have anything at home, they have had a good day today. I was so glad for that little company I worked with.

At last it was time to go home, and after helping with the cleanup, the office manager announced that it was time for the drawing. I pretended to be busy wiping down the tables so that no one would see the tears of disappointment I knew would come. Then I heard, “And the winner is—Michael Clifton!”

What? I couldn’t believe it! My son had won the tree! The sales manager brought the tree to our basement apartment, and the joy on my children’s faces was almost more than I could bear. I said a silent prayer of thanks, but there was more to come. The general manager of the company gave me a turkey. The office manager gave me a Christmas cake. The sales manager gave me a bottle of wine.

Such bounty. I was overcome with gratitude. And we had a wonderful Christmas.

It was much, much later that I found out that Michael’s was the only name that had been put in the hat!

Dorothy Megan Clifton

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