Tale of Two Christmases
First Christmas - Arrival
If you were to go to a Hallmark store, or any other store that sells Christmas tree ornaments, you would find several “Baby’s First Christmas” ornaments. It might be a rocking horse, or a rattle, or a baby in a crib. But they all have the same inscription. “Baby’s First Christmas.” This year, my son and daughter-in-law will likely have several of these ornaments hanging from their Christmas tree.
This will be my first Christmas as a grandfather. Quite honestly, that was not on the top of my list of milestones I was anxious to celebrate. After all, grandfathers are old guys who wear t-shirts that say things like, “Proud Grandpa,” or “Super Grandpa,” or “Best Grandpa Ever.” As a general rule, I steer clear of wearing t-shirts with words on them. Limits the risk of offending someone. For example, If I were to wear a T-shirt that says “Best Grandpa Ever,” chances are some old guy will take offense, get up in my face and say, “who says you’re the best grandpa ever?” to which I would be forced to defend myself by saying, “My grandchild.” And then to further escalate the smack talk, I’d also throw in… “And probably yours.”
My wife has always known that I was not one of those fathers that were anxious to add “Grand” in front of their current title. Her response was always, “You just wait.” To which I would reply, “I’m okay with waiting.” Now that I have held my doll of a granddaughter in my arms, am I glad the waiting is over? Absolutely. I’m amazed at the things babies can accomplish. Every time I see her, she’s doing something new and extraordinary. Rather than list them all, I’ll just share what I believe is the most incredible feat that any 3-month old baby has ever accomplished. I still don’t know how she was able to pull it off. Somehow she managed to wrap this 6’2” 240lbs old man around one of her tiny little fingers.
First Christmas - Departure
If you were to go to a Hallmark store or any other store that sells Christmas tree ornaments, you would not find a single ornament to hang on your tree that said, “First Christmas without mom.” Maybe someone tried selling a line of those kinds of ornaments, but even at the after-Christmas 90% off sale, no one bought one.
My mom loved holidays. And Christmas was the…tree topper. Every fall, my mom started listening to Christmas music. I think all of the stores took their cue from her.
Store Owner: “Listen up team. I just received word from the Twede’s paperboy that he heard Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer playing when he delivered the newspaper today. So Christmas season has officially started. Yes, I’m aware that Halloween is still a few weeks away. You must be new here. Someone go to the very back of the storeroom and drag out the boxes of Christmas albums and cassettes.”
“Tis better to give than receive.” I heard that a lot when I was growing up. Mostly around Christmas time. And usually when I was excavating a mountain of presents beneath the Christmas tree to count how many had my name on them. It was usually my mother’s voice I heard. And even though I would roll my eyes when she wasn’t looking, I understood the message because of who it was that delivered it. You see, my mom was a giver. Givers get more out of giving than getting. Givers give without expecting to get. Givers get just by giving. I could keep them coming, but I think you get my point.
There’s a symbiotic relationship between givers and receivers. Imagine the chaos if the world’s entire population was comprised of just givers. Givers have to have a minimum of two things in order to survive. Oxygen and someone to give something to. Without oxygen, you can only survive for several minutes. Without someone to give something to, a giver will expire long before they run out of air. That is why receivers like me are so critical for the survivability and thrivability (made up word) of our species. I take my role as a receiver very seriously. Some may claim that I actually overachieve.
In October, my dear mother lost her long battle with Alzheimer’s Dementia. It was a battle she never had any chance of winning. It had been several years since she was able to enjoy the holidays she loved so much. Especially Christmas.
Two months ago we held a memorial service for her. At the reception that followed, when people approached me to offer their condolences, they always started the conversation with, “I loved your mom,” and then proceeded to explain why. Their explanations varied, but the underlying theme was remarkably consistent. Either them or their children (often times, both) were on the receiving end of my mom’s giving. They would describe what she had done, and how much it meant to them. I listened, nodded, and thanked them for their kind words. But inwardly I found myself wondering what the big deal was. After all, what they described was just my mom being her normal mom self.
I have found that some people proudly display their good deeds and accolades in a well-placed, well-lit trophy case. Other people, like my mother, toss theirs in an old box in a poorly-lit basement, where they are quickly forgotten.
Sometimes we write things on Christmas lists that we know we’ll never actually get. But we add them anyway and hope for a Christmas miracle. It’s been a while since I’ve actually written a Christmas list, and even longer since I asked for something that I knew no amount of money could buy. What I’m about to wish for is not for me. It’s for two very special people. I wish that sometime and somewhere between my granddaughter’s arrival, and my mother’s departure, they were able to meet each other on their way to their final destinations.