I don’t know how I went from being so far ahead to being so far behind. I think it started with one little errand. That turned into two. Then lunch. Then three. Four, five, six, seven, eight. Just like that, Christmas Eve was almost over and almost nothing was done. When I say almost nothing, I mean not one single present wrapped, not one ornament on the tree, not one cookie baked, not one pie crust rolled. About the only thing that was done was the ham for Christmas lunch, and that’s just because it’s a Honeybaked Ham, so it’s pre-cooked. If nothing else, lunch will happen with relative ease.
Now here it is, 3am on Christmas morning, and I am wide awake, waiting for breaths to deepen, signaling the arrivals of sleep and Santa, which somehow always seem to coordinate. In 7.5 hours, a billion presents were wrapped, a mad dash was made to three pharmacies in search of eggs and sugar (because everywhere else was already closed), a batch of gluten-free peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies were conjured by Aubrey, the kitchen witch, and we three agreed that the Christmas tree could wait till morning for ornaments.
Other than a couple of presents from Matt and Aubrey, there is seemingly nothing under nor on the tree for me. This year, my gifts are intangible, and so much more meaningful. This year, I gave myself the gift of not being a martyr. Instead of trying to do everything, all by myself, or stressing everyone out because anything they were doing wasn’t being done perfectly (meaning MY way), I let go. I accepted my husband’s offer to wrap the Santa presents. There weren’t anywhere near as many for both kids together as there usually are for just one, so he could handle it. I gave him boxes, told him whose paper was which, and fled the room, for his sake and mine. I accepted Aubrey’s help in wrapping Ron’s presents, and I let her decide how to wrap the one from her, instead of my just doing it. Rather than micromanaging every piece of tape, every ribbon, every tag, I relaxed and enjoyed spending time with Aubrey, watching Burn Notice reruns while we wrapped in front of the fire. I didn’t worry about everything being perfect, or in this case, far from perfect. I focused on the important things; my husband, my son, my daughter, and all the giggling that goes on, on Christmas Eve.
Ron didn’t get me any physical presents, because I scored a tablet on Black Friday. On the last night before Christmas (and somewhat into Christmas itself), my true love gave to me the mad dash to the pharmacies, his offers of help with the night’s duties, and the precious gift of time with my daughter.
Above and beyond my gifts from my family, this year, I have learned to receive the gift of love. It is more difficult than one might think, especially for me, for whom “love” rarely meant love, but instead meant obligation. Perhaps it was my brush with death this summer, and the fact that I owe my life to my best friend, who knows me so well, she not only noticed something was wrong but acted on it; coming close to not being around to appreciate things tends to make one appreciate things, places, people in a way that one generally does not. As friends jumped in to offer their love and support, I was overwhelmed with how many people truly cared about me, no matter how far away they might be. And although my best friend and I had seldom told each other how much we love each other over the last 25 years that we’ve been best friends, we began to add “I love you!” to emails and posts and phone conversations.
Rico, my male best friend, has given me the gift of willingness to ask for help. He is the one who is available whenever asked, with no expectations of return on investment. From showing up with Starbucks when I really need it, to helping me buy/move/move again/move one more time various articles of furniture, Rico is there. Matt even made up a series of hilarious joke commercials that Rico could use: “When your house is saying, “Get out…”, Rico is there,” was my personal favorite. Rico regularly tells me I’m awesome, and now I’m finally starting to believe it just a little. Because I know that Rico does all these things out of love, not expectation, and because I know he won’t reject me unless he’s already obligated to something else, Rico has taught me that it is okay to ask. If he can give it, he does, and if he can’t, he doesn’t, but either way, I know that he will not later throw his help back in my face. Because of that, Rico has also given me the gift of my ability to help someone else without a constant pall of resentment. I am not forced by obligation, because there is none. Instead, I have the joy of helping a friend out of my own love.
Leigh and Bill have given me the gift of learning to accept the kindness of others. With an ever open invitation to get away from life for a few days and be spoiled with amazing food, good wine, excellent conversation, and riotous laughter, they have taught me that I can accept kindness without feeling like I am imposing. They have taken in my daughter, and treated her as their own, and while Aubrey has not yet received this particular gift of easily accepting kindness of others for herself, when kindness is forced upon her, she does allow herself to enjoy it.
William…well, he has given me the gift of learning to truly have unconditional love for a friend. While he does countless things of which I do not approve, I love him anyway. Will has also given me the gift of healing. My high school experience was pretty wretched, and Will certainly didn’t help back then. Of course, I tore into him with all the bitter sarcasm at my disposal (which was unfathomable in those days). Our friendship now somehow eases the viciousness of high school and removes the sting. Because he loves me, I can let go of the mean girls (and boys), and put them in the past where they belong. Will does not allow me to not love him. With his million phone calls a day that almost all end with, “I love you,” he is in my life, like it or not. I love that he values me enough to push past all my usual barriers, and forces me to let him in and allow him to stay. Few people make that effort, so when someone does, it is a magically unexpected gift, which is the best kind.
Sara Lynn has given me the gift of learning that just because I’m not at the top of the list doesn’t mean I’m not important. From fifth grade on, I was always jealous because to me, she was my best friend, but I knew that I was not hers. Her other friends did not like me, so although she tried to include me, I avoided social interactions with those friends, which meant I was often alone. I often hated her as much as I loved her, and I loved her more than anyone else at the time. Sara Lynn is a person magnet. People love her because she is open and fun and funny and brilliant and creative and outlandish. It is why I love her. This year, we have had wonderful chat sessions, and I’m able to listen from a different perspective. I had stopped talking to her right around high school graduation because I thought that she purposely would go after guys just because I liked them. Now I know that was my own insecurity, and not her intent. We had the unfortunate luck of having the same taste in men at the time, so of course she would like them, too. They were never in a million years going to notice me, or like me back, so what difference did it make if they liked her instead? How could they NOT like her vibrancy, her larger than life persona, her quick witted dry humor? I am regretful that we lost out on twenty years of friendship, but I am grateful to have her in my life now. Sara Lynn’s love, much like Will’s, has also helped me along on the path to healing. It is indeed a gift to accept that one does not have to be first.
And you, dear Reader, have given me the greatest gift of all…you have given me my voice. By valuing my words, you have taught me to value myself. Instead of only others deciding when, what part, and whom to tell about what I thought of as my shameful past, YOU have given me my own story back to me. Now it is up to me to tell, or not to tell. Because of you, I am no longer ashamed of my childhood, and I no longer take the blame for the things that happened to me. I refuse to keep the deep dark secrets; you give me the strength to shine light into all the places that are not so pretty, neither bright nor shiny. You give me the gift of freedom as I shed that shame, and that is something I never even realized I could have.
So this Christmas, while I may not have the traditional material gifts, wrapped in colorful paper and tied with huge bows, I am blessed beyond any Christmas that has come before. I have my extremely patient, kind, loving, and irritatingly perfect husband. I have my incredibly talented, creative, hilariously imperfect son. I have my beautiful, brilliant, witty, multi-talented, always surprising daughter. I have friends that make me love myself. And I have all of you, strangers yet friends, as you spend five minutes peeking inside my life.
Unlike diamond earrings, silver rings, or anything “as seen on TV”, these gifts do not need a receipt, and yet, I hope that I return them a million times over. As a wise young friend recently posted; I give to you the gift of acceptance, who you are, as you are. I give to you the gift of forgiveness, both for the things that you have done, as well as forgiving myself for the things that I have done. I give to you the gift of love, without expectation or obligation.
These are the gifts of Christmas. May they always be. Merry Christmas to all!
“If you want to arrange it, this world you can change it, if we could somehow make this Christmas thing last…by helping a neighbor, or even a stranger, and to know who needs help, you need only just ask.”