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You'd think a young man would remember his first car. But this photo, circa Christmas 1994, when Logan was three and a half, still carrying his sheepskin blankie, and Takeshi 18 months, just getting over the worst case of chicken pox his soon to be retired pediatrician had ever seen, is the only way either of them remember the Little Tykes car that was that year's coveted Christmas gift. (Guessing, though, they will remember their first real automobiles, used Nissan Altima and Pathfinder respectively.)
But the truth is, over the years, what lasts is the memories, the moments, the experiences, not the stuff, no matter how coveted, cherished. Especially true of the holidays.
And difficult memories are a good part of why the holidays are so challenging for so many.
Recent Facebook post, "Best gift you ever got as a kid on Christmas or Hanukka?" Responses poured it: GI Joe, Barbie's Dream House, Spirograph (that was a popular one!), Playstation, tape recorder, kitten, "my first dog", Nerf Bow and Arrow. I scan my memory bank- surely I must have had one great gift! But then I remember how, on the phone Christmas Day with my best friend, when she talked about her Barbie high heels, new tutu and tiarra, I tried to duck that same question, aware that I'd been given nothing that felt special (usually socks, underwear and an item of necessary winter clothing, though, to be fair, I do remember great teen birthday gifts: a Goya acoustic guitar, a Pentax camera.) But then again, I'm grateful my answer wasn't one of the responses to the FB post, "My father left for 3 days." (To be fair, I do remember great teen birthday gifts: a Goya acoustic guitar, a Pentax camera.)
So as a new Mom, I was determined to make holidays special for my boys. We bought an 8 foot tree from our local high school lot and decorated it, hung outdoor lights, put up not one but two Creche (both with brown Jesuses!), walked the neighborhoods with the best decorated houses - usually Marinwood, with the Mickey Mouse Christmas House and the Nisja Bear house, made gingerbread houses, Christmas cookies, adopted a family and chose and wrapped gifts for them from their list of wants and needs (usually a combination of kitchen, household and clothing necessities and a few toys, books or niceties), mulled cider, carolled with the neighbors, went to Christmas Eve candlelight service. I let Logan and Takeshi open one one gift each Christmas Eve, a bit of compromise from my Catholic high school classmates who opened all gifts after services Christmas Eve, and a definite change from my family of origin, where nothing under the tree could be touched until everyone was awake, breakfast cooked and eaten breakfast, and dishes washed, dried and put away.
And Christmas morning, the things Logan and Takeshi wanted most were always waiting, gifts from Santa, from me, family and friends.
So what do I remember about our Christmasses? Logan's second Christmas: the Yellow Tonka Truck! 18 months old, he could just squeeze his little bum into the back of the dump truck. Laughing and smiling, he rolled himself around the house in that car until he grew enough that he had to push it. His exuberant glee is etched in my memory bank. The year they got the Star Wars trilogy, they sat glued to the video recorder the entire school break. Pretty much ditto Nintendo console with Super Mario. And I remember the year Takeshi - he could't have been older than 4- came out of his room Christmas morning, circled the tree, opened the back door, circled the yard and returned. "There is no Santa Claus. Everybody knows, deer poop everywhere they go. I've looked everywhere and there is no deer poop, so no Santa came here in a sled pulled by reindeer." Logan was horrified. I don't remember how I responded. Think I said something like, "Well if you don't believe in him, guess he won't be bringing you any more presents." Guess he weighed his options, cause I didn't hear anything more about no Santa.
Every year, shortly after Christmas, the thank you letter came from our adopt-a-family. One year, for the first time, the family (of color) photograph showed a two parent family, a smiling mother cuddled beside a smiling father who has his arm around her, two children the age of mine sitting at their feet. Takeshi studied it a long time. Then said, "That's the family I want to be in."
Yes, it hurt. And he'd been shopping with me; he knew we were buying them some pretty basic provisions. But I knew the gift he was asking for: a Dad. I might not be able to make that happen, but I realized I could make our holidays more about us as a family. More shared experiences. And so began a shift.
Then, of course, came my stroke - a stark reminder of how limited our time on this earthly plain is, as well as a lesson in acceptance, in faith, and in the nature of true gifts - family, love, connection, hope, perseverence, health and healing.
So in this holiday season, I am counting my blessings, my gifts and sharing them. Logan is on his first trip to Europe ("Meet the Parents"!?!), Takeshi is driving home with his dog, Shasta. No tree. No store bought gifts. But our cup runneth over.
May yours as well. Wishing you all the best for a bountiful holiday season.
And think about giving your self (or selves) the gift of an inspiring, uplifting experience, my show! Tickets start at only $20.
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