One year, when I was around three or four years old, my family celebrated what became known in family lore as the Christmas of Gluttony. My parents may have been embarrassed about it afterwards but, to my siblings and me, it was the best Christmas. EVER. New bikes were parked under the tree for my siblings. I received a play kitchen AND a hot dog stand. Two Cabbage Patch Kids. Even Buffy, our 1980’s dog, probably got something new.
I grew up solidly middle class, in a modest home in a small town, so maybe it wasn't really all that much, but to our little eyes, it was everything. My dad supported us on a school teacher salary and we usually only bought what we needed. Toys came on our birthdays and Christmas…or maybe when Grandma would slip us some change. I wore hand-me-down clothes, even monogrammed items since my parents aptly gave me the same three initials as my older sister, Kylie.
So where did that Christmas come from? Maybe my parents hit it big in Las Vegas on their annual long weekend away that year. Maybe my grandparents gave them a nice cash gift. Or maybe, something was happening in life that made my parents think they wanted to do things a little different that year.
This year, I get it.
This year, we’re doing one big Christmas.
Don’t get me wrong, we won't be spending a whole lot more. I will find every deal there is to unearth. I will take that amazing free child-size bright red table with pleather chairs off my generous neighbor. I will use the reward gift cards I earned at work. My older kids will re-gift stuffed animals and bean bag chairs to their younger siblings. We’ll wrap our gifts in brown Amazon paper that doubles as an art project (or is it triples since it was first used for packaging?). Maybe I’ll secure that used toddler electric car a family member promised that I swore I’d never let my kids have.
All of the decorations have come out, a little earlier than in the past. The kids will do crafts (that I hate) and bake cookies (that I love). Like Thanksgiving, there will be a giant meal on the table for our small band. We will knock it out of the park.
We ordered more cards than usual.
A new, gigantic fake Christmas tree sits in our picture window to replace the tiny one that once graced our shoe-box apartment in New York City and moved with us over half a dozen times. With only about twenty lights still working, it was time. Plus it was Black Friday.
I bought our first outdoor inflatable, a Boston Terrier, to complement our usual sorry string of lights. And, yes, I managed to hang some lights for the first time rather than just drape them over the bushes.
The dogs will probably get some treats in their stockings and at least one squeaky toy that will last all of five minutes.
I purchased more on Small Business Saturday than I have before. Those entrepreneurs and shop owners run our towns and keep their dreams and our communities alive. My daughter may not need that pink zebra jasper and rose quartz earring bracelet set (especially since her ears are not pierced), but a friend started the business and the jewels are gorgeous. I may not need that skin cream but… well, maybe I do. I haven’t highlighted or cut my hair in over eight months. It may help me avoid some of that aging I’ve done after being around my kids 24-7.
And, most importantly, each kid spent fifteen minutes with me picking out gifts for their siblings. Cost was not my only priority. At least until we were through Cyber Monday.
One big Christmas because…
My kids have been through a lot this year.
AJ and I have.
We all have.
A global pandemic. Lockdowns. Shutdowns. Not seeing their cousins. No playing inside their friends’ homes. Only one birthday party, for Ella who eked it out in January. No big vacation. No playground for months. Worries about the Easter Bunny being sick. A puppy who missed puppy school. Outdoor visits with the grandparents. Layoffs. Masks—so many masks. No going to the pool. No library. No shopping in stores. No apple orchards. No pumpkin patch. Trick-or-treating from tables, not doors (okay, that was actually pretty awesome). None of this. Little of that.
In the midst of this, I try to find the good. I truly believe that challenges make us stronger. We thought creatively and made it work. We discovered what truly matters, learning about ourselves and each other. My kids are closer than they ever have been before. I saw my two older girls cuddling while we watched a movie tonight.
Yes, cuddling. My Brooklyn had her arm around Ella’s shoulder while Ella rested against her chest. My heart nearly swooned.
We saved a lot. Gas for the car? Who needs that? Preschool tuition this spring? Half the cost for virtual. AJ’s work lunch fund. Gone. No sports camps. No amusement parks. No parties or fancy meals. No tolls for the Thanksgiving and Christmas treks to my sister’s in Ohio. No visits to see Santa. AJ cuts his own hair now while I trim the others. None of this. Little of that.
So, similar to this summer's extra balls and swings and the pop-up above ground pool, we’re going big. One big Christmas.
The kids’ eyes shined when they saw the tree that AJ and I laboriously set up. My kids will wake up on Christmas as excited as they do every year. They'll unwrap those gifts painstakingly picked by those siblings they’ve grown close to. We’ll cut back next year, but now they deserve one big Christmas.
We’re doing the best we can. Eight months in, we all are. Keep our kids healthy. Keep them safe. In whatever manner makes sense to you, give them the holidays they’ll remember. Because, I promise you, they won’t forget this year.
And you earned the right to feel like the hero you already are.