I face the same dilemma every Christmas.
I have absolutely no idea what I can give my parents to show them how much I cherish who they are and what they have done in my life.
I know that Christmas isn’t about presents. But in my life, I’ve come to use Christmas gifts as a way for telling people I love that they are truly valued. It’s not about what the gift costs, it’s more about showing someone you know who they are inside, or perhaps about capturing a special moment from the past. Like a few years ago when I bought my brother a box of Pez dispensers that looked like the members of KISS. But I digress.
In recent years, particularly since my children were born, I’ve come to know and love my mother and father more than I ever have in my life. Yet in this new understanding and appreciation of who they are, it’s become more and more difficult to celebrate them at Christmas time.
We often hear people talk about the feelings they have for the most special people in their lives. How friends have always “been there” for them, whatever that means. How family is the “foundation” for everything, even though they can’t stand to be in the same room with cousin so and so or aunt this and that. Or, even how we should eject from our lives anyone we care for who dares not agree with us.
Truly, I understand the amazing rarity that is my relationship with my parents. But I often take it for granted. I tire of people constantly blaming their own failures and bad decisions on mom and dad, as if everyone has what I have. I’m insulted when other women lament becoming like their mothers. I could only wish!
This problem of not being able to pay my folks the proper appreciation has been growing year by year. Mostly because I have discovered that I need their love as much as an adult and parent as I ever did growing up.
I know now that it is my parents, not the friends I once relied on, who are truly my support and strength. It was the two of them who spread the net under my family when finances threatened ruin. It was they who cried with me as I struggled through severe post-partum depression. It was mom and dad who rushed to my side when I had my heart attack, to hold my hand, hold my children and hold up my husband. No. One. Else.
And sadly, I realize with each passing day, that I will not have the blessing of their presence forever.
They challenge me, but respect my choices. They help me, but do not provide me a crutch to rest on. They pray for me, but do not expect God to forget my transgressions. I fight them, yet they stay at my side, unlike so many who have tired of my battles and brokenness.
They are indeed the ultimate gifts, equalled only by my own children and husband. And this Christmas, in my attempts to repay all they have done for me since I’ve supposedly graduated to adulthood, I’ll likely find my dad another Pittsburgh Steelers something, and my mom another hand bag or piece of jewelry she doesn’t really need.
I know they know these things are only symbols. That how I feel is so much more than I could ever express with my limited funds or mere human words.
But year after year, I’ll continue to look and pray for some thing or some way I can show them the unlimited value of the gifts they give me everyday of my life.
Christmas has had me thinking about childhood a great deal these days. Not so much because I have children, but more because I have children who are on the cusp of no longer believing in the “Big Guy.”
They’ve been dealing with all sorts of tweener issues this year — things like early puberty, friends with hormonal issues, bras, the “talk,” and well, you get the idea. They’re growing up. Much to my horror.
These pivotal moments have me thinking about my own growing up. I wish so much I could explain to my girls what a great time this is for them. Not my dad’s old speech on “high school and college are the best time of your life so have fun, but don’t fail.” I’m thinking more of the forgotten magical time between “your a little kid” and “your a big kid now.” Maybe we rush our kids through childhood so quickly now that this period no longer exists. Maybe the rush to grow up. But I remember some great things about it that I never knew were great. I hope my girls aren’t so busy growing that they miss them.
Particularly, I’ve been thinking about one specific summer. I can’t remember how old I was. Eleven? Maybe 12?
My best girl friend (who I haven’t seen physically in something like 17 years) and I went to every little league game played by a group of boys who lived in our neighborhood. Mostly because my friend and one of the guys on the team were what we thought was a “steady” thing back then. You know, held hands in school at recess, played together after school and on weekends, a rare kiss or two on a birthday and that was about it. If only our relationships since than had been so simple.
It was usually pretty hot outside, and we loved getting junk at the ball field’s little concession stand. Particularly gum and soda. It was the same field where earlier in the year, I failed the Presidential Physical Fitness Test because I couldn’t run three laps around the outfield and through each dug-out fast enough. Puberty, remember?
But my memories of that field aren’t really of my lack of physical endurance, or really of baseball itself. They’re about practicing my middle-school cheerleading voice for the sake of one fascinating young man who had more hits than any other kid on the team. Probably because his birthday fell late in the year and he didn’t make the cut off for the team he should have been on. Not that he wasn’t a good player. He was talented. The best, maybe still, in my star-struck little girl eyes.
As I remember, I did my job well. One of the coaches gave me an award for being the “Most Boisterous Fan.” I wonder of it’s still somewhere in my mom’s garage. By the time the boys won their league championship (I think that’s how it went) my cheering for the quiet blonde was usually followed up with little boy taunts of “ohhhhhhhh” from the dugout or outfield. Sometimes when I remember this I indulge myself by believing a few of those hits and home runs might have been just for me.
My oldest daughter is a cheerleader now. The younger one wants to be next year. I wonder sometimes if there is some special boy she cheers for on the football team. Then I tell myself she’s too young for that, because I don’t want to admit she could feel that way about anyone yet. I tell myself – she still believes in Santa. She doesn’t like boys yet. Then I remembered how long I believed in Santa. Ok, I still do.
I haven’t asked her yet if she still does, but I know she’s suspicious. I think she wants to, but doesn’t want to be the be the only kid in fourth grade who does. I also think she’s holding on because she knows her sister (who is working on her third boyfriend at 8) still believes.
I’m not sure where believing in Santa became my litmus test for my daughters being ready for their first crush. After all, I can still remember the first boy who caught my eye. In second grade.
My baseball boy actually called me on the phone a few times that fall (he was my first crush to take to the phone), much to the concern of my mother who never went to one of the ball games. They were those kind of magical, innocent calls where a boy’s friend makes the actual call, puts the other boy on the phone, boy and girl giggle a little, say hi, ask how school is, and then laugh and give up, having nothing to say.
I’m wondering if my daughter’s new year will include any of those special moments, dripping in innocence, throwing up red flags for her father and I to worry about. I hope then I remember those summertime glances and blushes for what they were — innocent.
And I hope she believes in Santa for maybe one more year.