Forty-five minutes later the kids were still up playing with their grandfather and I was still urging them to get to bed. My Dad, better known as “Grampy” to all the grand-kids, is the consummate jokester and instigator of child’s play. He turns everything into a game and has a knack for bringing out the fun in any situation, sometimes when the adults would rather he didn’t. I pleaded more with him than I did my children to stop goofing around so that Vaughn and I could carry on with our parental duties.
It was 1:15 in the wee hours of the morning and the kids were finally settled in bed. My Dad turned his attention towards decorating a little, Charlie Brown-style Christmas tree that he bought and kept hidden in his work shed. Each Christmas Eve, after my kids fall asleep, he sets up and decorates this little tree with ornaments and lights. He places the tree in front of the fireplace next to the spot where Santa brings his presents for my son and daughter in the middle of the night. Upstairs in the living room making as little noise as possible was my Mom. She was putting the final touches on the display of gifts and presents which enveloped their 8’ tall, heavily-flocked, Christmas tree. Both of my parents had more hours of preparation yet to do, with the prospects of minimal sleep, in order that the Christmas they were going to provide for their children and grandchildren would go off without a hitch.
While waiting for the sounds of slumber and the thirty minutes of sacred quiescence to pass, my husband and I tiptoed out the front door and hauled in several bags, disguised as “garbage”, into the house ready for assembly and display. Tired from the long day of packing, travel, and celebration, our goal was to get everything put together, displayed, and into bed by 3:00am.
While Hubby was busy putting together a barbie playhouse and I was opening packages and sorting presents, I noticed that our son’s most-wishful request wasn’t in the bag. I frantically looked underneath the torn, discarded-boxes and in and around the bags. I ran back out to the truck to see if somehow it fell out and may still be in the bed of the truck. But the present wasn’t there. I soon realized that were a few other missing items that were also nowhere to be found.. My heart was pounding. Perhaps the bag flew out the back of the truck on our 2 hour drive down to the South Bay earlier in the day.
I was choked up with tears thinking about this being the nightmare that all parents think about at some point in their lives-a Christmas without toys. What was I going to do? I suspected that my son, a very bright and logical being, had already lost his belief in Santa. He never said so out loud, but the signs were all there. Yet he never let on, even if he did stop believing. My son was by no means greedy or selfish and would certainly understand if I pulled him aside and told him what happened, but for the sake of perpetuating the magic of Christmas for all involved, including my daughter who was still a full believer, I had to come up with a solution and a plan on what the heck we were going to do this late at night with all the stores closed.
While I was thinking about what to do next, a light bulb went off in my head. I remembered that in the garage I did place a box next to the luggage and the other garbage bags full of presents just before we packed up the truck before our departure. But it wasn’t me who packed up the truck. I ran back inside the house and asked my husband if he grabbed the box that was next to the luggage. He remembered seeing a box but he assumed it was one of the many boxes of clutter we kept in the garage.
Somehow in the chaos of hiding presents in bags, packing the car, getting to church on time, and driving away to celebrate a most treasured holiday, we had forgotten the box with the one item that was supposed to be the big surprise to await my son on Christmas morning.
By now it was 2:00 am. We weren’t even finished with the rest of the set-up and there was a very important box that sat alone in our garage 70 miles and a 90 minute drive away. “I have to go back and get it” I thought. “Sleep be damned.” There was no question as to what the right thing was to do. I wiped my tears, grabbed the keys, and told Vaughn and my parents that it was important that I go get that box.
Without hesitation my husband, who too was burning the midnight oil assembling gifts, grabbed my hand and said, “I’ll go with you Swede. We will do it together.” I told him that he didn’t need to lose his sleep too, but he insisted.
So off we drove, exhausted from a long day of making breakfast, opening presents, packing, going to church, driving a long drive, celebrating for 6 hours and preparing for the one day of the year that gives us so much joy. We rolled down the windows and blasted music to help fight off the weariness that was starting to set in. We talked about everything under the sun and before we knew it we were pulling into the driveway at 3:30 am. As the garage door opened we were relieved to see that the package was still there.
On our way back to my parent’s house I looked over at my husband and thanked him for stepping up and being the best partner even in the most trying of times. He smiled and said, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
At 5:00 am we walked back into my parent’s house dreading the unfinished project that awaited us. All the lights were turned out except for the mini lights that bedecked the little tree that my father had finished decorating while we were away. We were elated to see that the Barbie play house was completely assembled, another gesture of kindness extended by my father even at the sacrifice of his own rest. We finished setting out the presents and stuffing the stockings and were able to finally get to bed by 5:30 am.
A few hours later I woke up to the sounds of Bing Crosby and the smell of a freshly-brewed pot of coffee. I slipped out of bed and went to join my parents who were busy getting the house ready for the arrival of all of their children and grandchildren. “Proud of you kid,” my Dad said as he wrapped his arm around my shoulder with a knowing hug. He could empathize with me because he had gone to bed at 4:00 am and had been in my shoes many times before.
It was finally time for us to give the green light for the kids to come out of their bedroom and see what Santa had brought . With coffees in hand my parents, my husband, and I-each with our own level of exhaustion and sleep deprivation-relished in the moment that was infused with magic and anticipation. The kids ran past us and found the spots where they put their stockings the night before. My daughter squealed with delight as she poured out the contents of her stocking and opened her presents. My son on the other hand, is much more quiet and stoic. He carefully opened the coveted gift-the one he wished for the most, and unbeknownst to him the very gift that we had just spent three hours driving for to retrieve from home. He immediately looked over at me and my husband and flashed us a boyish smile that showcased the deep dimples that ever enhances his smiling face. He looked at us and quietly whispered with a gesture of warm gratitude, “Thank you. I’m so happy I got the one thing I wished for the most.”
In that one moment my heart swelled with so much happiness and relief. It was confirmed once again that it was far better to give than to receive. The sacrifice of sleep and the gift of time, by not only my husband and me but my parents as well, was a small price to pay for the love and happiness that was bestowed upon my family that Christmas morning.
I think about this story often because it reinforces the value of incorporating the precepts of generosity and sacrifice into each of our lives. It has helped shape my approach to life and the situation we’ve been faced with in the past few years. I’m reminded by the message of this story that sacrificing one’s own needs for the betterment of others is fuel for the heart and soul. Choosing the path of sacrifice will always leave you feeling full, and without a doubt it is far better to give than to receive!