Story #21: Mystery Box

The box’s postage was stamped and canceled but we could not see where it had been sent. There was no return address and it was addressed to Travis, our middle son. It was far before things were bought on the Internet. We set it under our Christmas tree, thinking it was from a grandparent and the sender would be revealed when we opened it. We lived far from family because we had just moved cross country.

On Christmas morning we gave Travis the honor of helping cut open “his box.” When he opened it there were many smaller wrapped gifts inside which all had a tag written, ‘To Travis.’ All the gifts were exactly what a seven year old boy would want. We let him open every single one. I looked at my husband at each gift and he looked at me as if the other one did this without the other knowing. We would shrug with every single gift and look under and around and over each paper, each bow, each tag to see if the mystery giver was revealed.

To this very day we never found out who the mystery giver was. We believe that it was from the Big Man from the North Pole. We don’t really know why our little boy was singled out that year. Perhaps he needed some special treatment we were not privy to. Perhaps he wished for his very own package, one quiet night sharing a bedroom with three other brothers because being in the middle of a family of five siblings is not easy. Whoever it was it did the trick.

He has never forgotten.

Christmas magic is real.

Thank you Santa for allowing the ‘middle man’ be the special boy that Christmas.

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Story #20: Christmas in the woods

I had been pregnant sick for many months and my husband and I decided to get away from being so home bound so we decided to spend Christmas in a cabin in the mountains. We decided that we would not lag tons of presents and decorations because I still was not feeling well and could not exert a lot of energy. So we decided we would create a homemade Christmas once we got there. There were not a lot of people around so the Christmas pace slowed nearly to a standstill which felt strange. With only the forest and snow around there was not much commercialism. My husband took our two children in the woods behind the house and cut down a small pine tree and brought it inside to decorate. They loved the adventure of finding it in the snow. We used tin foil, paper chains, and popcorn to decorate. We ended up buying a small strand of lights at the grocery store so it would light up when the other lights were off. It was snowy and cold but we built fires and played games all snug inside the cabin. Santa found us in the woods that year. The children were worried. But he managed still to do it. There was nothing fancy about it. But that little Christmas is so fond to me.

Nearly 20 years later we chose to do a 2nd Christmas in the mountains. Our family had grown substantially being teens and above. When we got there we bought a little tree at a nearby tree lot but once again created homemade decorations out of foil, popcorn and paper chains. Our children were game when I got out string and glue to help make the cabin festive. Once again there was a calm pace at the cabin during the quiet wintertime. Santa once again found us in the woods. He manages to do so.

I love Christmas at home. But when I begin to feel that anxious panic during the holidays stuck in traffic, forgetting or worrying that I won’t be able to find the right gifts, preparing lots of food,  getting the wrapping done in time, or trying my best to uphold the Christmas atmosphere… I like to calm myself by thinking about Christmas in the middle of the mountains all wintry quiet celebrating Jesus’ birth with those I love most.

Story #18: The Christmas Guitar

The young musician showed me several guitars he would like if someone would give him one for Christmas. It was my very first official Guitar Center purchase alone. At first we looked up at all the pretty guitars hanging in rows on a wall. He then would select one down, hold it tenderly as if it were a baby, then play for me. His passion for music and this medium was flowing out through his fingers. I stayed in the store for many hours trying to pick the right one.

 I had been watching my son for awhile. He experiences music. Many people practice and learn songs and get very good but there are a few others that feel music in an intimate way and it truly is another language for their souls. I knew this son had to have this gift and that it was up to me to notify Santa Claus which one he should have. I had my own little stash of money that I had saved for the purchase. I purchased one that sounded rich and clear. I was so excited.  It was one of those gifts that I could barely stand the wait and wanted to tell him so badly. I hid it for Santa. Christmas morning came. He didn’t say much when he took it out of the case. But he touched that guitar exactly like the musician who showed  it to me at the store. And I knew exactly what he felt about it.

Young musicians at Guitar Center are now my good friends. All of my children have discovered over the years that music is one of their love languages.  Guitars, drums, violins, key boards, pianos and even voices are a rich part of our life. As an artist mother my heart swells to see how the arts have become a part of my children by their own choices. Purchasing that guitar was one of the best gifts I ever have ever given. 

Story 17: HO HO HO…NOT!

The car air was now a stale mix of daddy and child toots, Mc Donald’s stale French fries from lunch, and a slight aroma of vomit as we neared our sixth hour of driving Highway 5 from Los Angeles to the Bay Area. We were having Christmas at Grandma’s but the excitement had dimmed around Harris Ranch Area when we had to distract one of our young passengers who up-chucks when he smells cow manure. By the way the distraction rarely works! And once he does it becomes a chain reaction.

We were on our fourth Disney video and nearing the turn off to Highway 680 when our car jerked weird, pulled to the left and began to swivel and shake pretty hard. My husband didn’t curse out loud but I heard him whisper something and luckily we were in the right lane for a pretty easy pull over. He got out and held on tight as the fury of 70 miles per hour traffic tried to grab and take him along to their own destinations. He walked back to see the flat tire now resting on the rim.

It was dark. The San Francisco fog had already moved in for the night. It was years before people used cell phones. And we were fifteen minutes from our destination with five children very done with driving. There were secret Santa gifts, Christmas presents, diapers, suit cases, food stuffed in every corner and now we were stopped dead and knew we would have to unload.  We both gave each other that “you’ve got to be kidding” look then got out and began to unload the back of the van to find the spare.

I did the unpardonable sin by asking “Have you ever changed a flat tire before?” But that thought poofed when drivers began to honk seeing wrapped Christmas presents strewn in the dead grass next to the Highway spotlighted with their mocking head lights. It was so infuriating! We were good at not raising our fingers or screaming out at each honk that held each time as the car swept by…’Hhhhhuuuunnnnkkkk!’  

But we’d hit our limit. It was best to leave my husband alone with the jack, and pour substitute of a tire that was supposed to carry us the rest of the way. “Should we pray on it?” I asked him, before I got back in the car. At least there was a tire there, right?

The children wanted out. I tried to offer more fishy crackers and fruit roll ups which had worked as fun treats on hour two but were not doing the trick. Legs were hitting the seats, tears, whining, and that was just from me…

The tire got changed and the back of the van was no longer perfect puzzle packed like we praise when my husband completes the task in the beginning. We all held presents on our laps for the last lap. I wish I could say the story ended with some Christmas angel coming to our rescue, scooping us up and flying us to our destination or bringing hot chocolate and singing but people just honked and laughed in their own warm cars as they sped past.

We haven’t really laughed about this experience yet and it has been years.

Not all Christmas stories are happy-ever-afters. In fact some feel so sickening sweet we get tired of hearing as if we ate a full chocolate cake and now feel sick.

But I believe we blame Christmas sometimes, when we aren’t enjoying it.

 It seems the world is having so much fun all around us and we are not included or we feel so miserable we don’t want to be included.

But Christmas is not the problem it is really the solution to what we need in those not so funny times. You see Christmas spirit is really a commodity that our spirits and souls desperately need and I believe it is THE emotional fill up of our souls that we ration all year until it comes again.

We need it.

Because what I have realized is that all people everywhere are similar.

And the real Christmas spirit is only based on one word; LOVE.

We all need it.

We all want it.

And we all feel good when we are around it.

And that is what Christmas is trying to do.

God gave His son out of LOVE and I think we want God to stretch his arms around us individually and around all human kind and love us in this moment.

And Christmas is trying its best to do just that…

So Fill up!

WE NEED A LITTLE CHRISTMAS

Haul out the holly
Put up the tree before my spirit falls again
Fill up the stocking
I may be rushing things, but deck the halls again now

For we need a little Christmas
Right this very minute
Candles in the window
Carols at the spinet

Yes, we need a little Christmas
Right this very minute
It hasn’t snowed a single flurry
But Santa, dear, we’re in a hurry

So climb down the chimney
Turn on the brightest string of light I’ve ever seen
Slice up the fruitcake
It’s time we hung some tinsel on that evergreen bough

For I’ve grown a little leaner
Grown a little colder
Grown a little sadder
Grown a little older

And I need a little angel
Sitting on my shoulder
I need a little Christmas now

Story #16: The Princess and the Pea

The holiday festivities were full-on the year our oldest son brought his newly married wife home for her first Christmas away from her own family. The house was stuffed with Christmas; cookies to decorate, tons of food, friends visiting, wrapping paper messes, frantic last minute shopping typical with a family of lots of boys. She had only visited our home briefly once before and it was completely different then what she was used to. But she seemed to be determined to join in the family fun. She went along when we decorated trees at night in the freezing cold on winter solstice so the animals had some treats. She rang her bell on cue when we caroled to friends. She held her candle and sang at the town sing-along. But the “princess and the pea test” happened unexpectedly on Christmas Eve just before the magic of the night begins. We all got in our PJ’s after reading the true Christmas story in the Bible, then jumped on the newlywed bed to share the traditional bedtime story tradition; ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. After the story the two newlyweds climbed under their covers. But then all of the new little brother-in laws climbed under the covers along with them. There were a total of five snuggling close in a queen size bed; one brand new sister-in-law, the new husband, and three little brothers who were completely smitten with her.(Not little anymore)

They told her that it was tradition to all sleep together on Christmas Eve.

And do you know what she said?

“Okay.”

Then scooted closer to her husband to make more room in the bed.

We took a photo.

Then the boys started laughing, jumped out of the bed and retreated into their own rooms so they could wake up before dawn to see what Santa brought.

If there was a test to pass that night, she did with flying colors!

Story #15: Little Crusaders

We had just bought a new home after living in a rental for a long time. We were just a few months from celebrating the year mark of the San Fernando earthquake and finally were getting our children to sleep back in their own bedrooms again. The move became a symbol of a fresh beginning of safety and new happy memories to come. We had the new home owner’s excitement and felt we finally found our ”place” we could raise our family in Simi Valley. We had christened the home by having a new baby two weeks prior to moving in. We were getting to know our neighbors and our children were meeting new friends and getting used to new schools even though we only moved across town. Our home had a brand new play room that any age child could “hang out” in and make their childhood messes, but our tween-age daughter would always go to her new friend’s house instead.

The homes surrounding the development were older and a bit more humble and most of the families were people working hard to make ends meet. We would often keep inviting our daughter to bring her new friends home to our new house but they would rarely come, and if they did they would never stay more than a few minutes; especially when our Dad was home. I wished they would feel welcome but they never chose to. The friends were sisters whose mother was the prime bread winner for their grandparents and the two girls. The grandparents knew little English. We found out later that their father had been abusive and was nowhere to be found.

Closer to Christmas my daughter got in the car very concerned. One of the daughters had privately heard a conversation between her mother and grandparents. They had only $20 in their bank account. This girl shared this information with my daughter.

My daughter is a crusader. She always has been. If there is a good cause to stand for, she zestfully will take a stand! (Once she stole a puppy, because the owner hit it in front of us…that is a whole other story…) I could see the crusader fire glowing in her eyes.

“MOM! We have to do something.”

I am familiar with those words from this child. I have heard them before. Once that passion begins to flow it is like holding rushing water in your hands.  But often child innocence does not quite understand adult protocol and proper boundaries; like the puppy! I knew this family was very proud and would be embarrassed if we showed up with a box of gifts, food, and money. And we had just purchased a house so our own Christmas was going to be slim.

“MAH-M! We have to give them some money for Christmas!”

Even though it was difficult for her to wait, we decided the best person to discuss this dilemma with would be our daddy since he is very wise; especially when it comes to money issues. But he did not get home until after 7:30. So she had to wait…and waiting is not what crusaders do.

So, she did what she always does.

She did not wait!

She grabbed her most loyal devotees; her two little brothers, at the time (eventually she got four) and rallied them to her cause. They came running with their shoe boxes and piggy banks and dumped money and tickets out on her bed. (She had established personal services through ticket exchanges with her siblings so along with the coins were those earned tickets they could redeem for small prizes, gum and candy)  She dumped out her own stash of cash from past lemonade stands, car washes, and the scrimpy allowance we gave for emptying the dishwasher and taking out the trash. Besides a crusader, she is extremely thrifty. The children were pleasantly surprised that it all amounted to $33.61; a small fortune for them. All three stared at the pile of money. Then the little boys quickly stuffed their earned tickets back into their savings accounts before their sister decided they needed to redeem them now too.

“Now how should we get this money to them?” She said out loud to her brothers. The little army discussed different stealthy secret Santa moves. I could hear giggling from her bedroom while nursing the baby. Waiting was difficult now that the solution was found.

Later, Daddy came home. The problem assessed. Daddy offered to match the amount the children came up with to make the sum total of a whopping $67.22!” That felt like a small fortune to the children. They were thrilled. Then as a family we discussed the best way to give it to the family and decided that they would not accept it if we just handed them an envelope so we decided to go through our church minister.

We never heard about what happened after we gave the money to our minister to distribute. We only knew that it had been done.

Even though the piggy banks were dry, Christmas was different.

It felt so good being settled in our new home we loved so much.

But it was definitely more…

Thank God for crusaders for good…

especially when they are your own children!

Story #14: The middle of the night

I think the clock said 2:10 a.m. but my eyes were blurry from lack of sleep. I had not slept much for many nights.  My baby wasn’t fussy, just got his days and nights mixed up and in the dim of the night light you could see his bright eyes wide awake and his hands and feet were moving in the air.

“Okay, little one, let’s get up and let daddy sleep.”

I walked into the family room and bent down to switch on the Christmas tree lights. I sat curled up on the couch nuzzled in blankets cuddling my little boy. I whispered to him and he turned towards the sound. He was still so new.

I caressed his little head and began to sing “Silent Night.”

That is when I felt it.

It was a connective current to all mothers, but one in particular so long ago on that first Christmas night. I knew what she felt.

I knew the discomfort of a belly growing and stretching before a little one comes.

The pains of birth are like no other.

But the joy of birth is fullness hard to describe.

I sang and cuddled  my baby close.

Jesus belonged to Mary for just a short while.

Baby’s do that.

They don’t last long.

But tonight it was two mother’s lovin’ on our baby boys.