by Frances Edstrom
I overheard a conversation the other day between a woman and an older gentleman who was going to be buying gifts for her family. I was astonished by how organized she and her family sounded. Compared to mine.
Then I consoled myself with the thought that the difference isn't really organization, but age. In a family of adults, the holiday gift-giving just doesn't have the same urgency that it used to. John and the girls and I are still asking each other for gift ideas and getting the answer, "I don't know"" Of course I'm afraid to ask for what I really want "” help organizing the photos I haven't yet put in albums. And when I told Morgan I'd like new socks, she lectured, "You know I don't give boring, practical gifts."
But I should complain! I remember the days of scrambling to do it all "” the perfect gifts, the perfect tree, the perfect cookies, the perfect dinner, culminating in the perfect Christmas Day, followed by the perfect mess.
I held in awe those people who would be ready for Christmas by July 31. How did they do it? I wondered. I would have scoured the town for the toy of the moment, only to have the child say on December 20, "I changed my mind. I don't want the Shiver Me Timbers Popeye Doll With the Automatically Inflating Biceps. I want the"" And there was the Popeye doll in my secret hiding place, all wrapped up with no place to go.
One year, the Axis of Evil Toy Conglomerate led me to call my poor mother to see if she could find the newest had-to-have video game machine in a Massachusetts store. I had my name on thirty or so waiting lists in Winona, without much hope of actually getting the machine in time for Christmas. She called within days with the good news that she had found one, and it only cost $9.95. This did not compute.
"Are you sure?" I asked.
"Absolutely!" she crowed, until she read the writing on the carton, and found out she had scored not the machine, but merely its carrying case. Talk about an empty feeling.
Being a mother at Christmastime has its drawbacks, luckily far outweighed by the joys.
Back in 1972, I hadn't yet been a mother on a Christmas Day. In fact, I'd only been a mother for six months. My birthday, which comes early in December, should have been all the hint I needed that motherhood's little disappointments encompassed more than stretch marks. But as December babies come to accept, their version of the Happy Birthday song has a second verse.
So when I opened my birthday gifts and the great big wrapped box (oh, boy! I thought) turned out to be a carton of Pampers, I was humming the second verse, called "It's So Close to Christmas."
Imagine my surprise on the Big Day when all the gifts (even from my very own Mommy!) were not for me at all, but for the BABY.
That was a shock for a girl in her mid-twenties whose middle name was "Romantic Idealist." In fact it led to a few tears, which the family put down to lack of sleep, but which were in fact not just a combination of water and salt, but self-pity and jealousy.
How could I be jealous of my own, precious, beautiful baby? Easy. I was thinking, "There she is, all smiles and giggles, doesn't even know this is Christmas Day or what a gift is, and everything here is for her! I didn't get so much as socks in my stocking!"
She, of course, doesn't remember that Christmas Day, the showering of love and gifts she received. I remember it perfectly. In fact, I can't seem to let go of it, can I? You'll be relieved to know that I did learn that watching your children's joy as they open gifts is a gift in itself.
And now thirty years later, I can't think of anything I want except to be with family, to share news and memories, to bask in love, to count our blessings. Except socks. I would like some nice boring socks.