A Christmas Story 2008

With two teenagers on the brink of college there isn’t much money left over for holiday shopping. Although I’ve never conveyed my concern to my daughters, somehow they know. They’ve seen me glued to the news reports following the nation’s economic crises. They’ve watched their dad grimace over the checkbook and credit card bills. They’ve seen me take items out of the grocery cart that we didn’t absolutely need. They’ve witnessed me scrimp like never before. They are smart kids. They’re also exceptionally thoughtful.

   I was on my way to the mall to do a little Christmas shopping. With my short list in one hand and car keys in the other, I asked what they wanted for Christmas. I braced myself waiting for their reply. They looked up as if praying to God for enlightenment on what to say. If I were their age I’d ask for a curling iron, a cell phone, an i-pod, gift cards, movie tickets and new clothes. They looked me square in the eye and said, “We’re good.”

   I stared back in disbelief. They were teenagers with final exams and SATs only one week away. The college application deadline was dangerously close. They had choir practice, volunteer obligations and parties. They had concerts to prepare for and school projects to complete. How in the world could they be “good?”

   “What are you really thinking?” I waited nervously for a reply. “There must be something you want.”

   They quietly deliberated and Juliana, older and wiser, swallowed hard before answering. “We don’t need a thing.” They nodded. “Seriously,” she reaffirmed.

   I stared at her in disbelief, waiting for her to smile or crack a joke, but she was dead adamant.

   “We’re really good, Mom,” Andrea said. “We have everything a girl could want. You and Dad have given us everything. We’re happy,” she said motioning to Juliana, “just to have you.”

   I felt my heart skip a beat as time stood still. Her words reverberated in my head as my eyes welled with tears of joy. Both girls wrapped their arms around me and hugged me long and hard. The truth was that we didn’t have much money left over for unnecessary gifts. We could barely afford the things we really needed with sky-rocketing college cost looming on the horizon. But that moment was the most tender and sweetest. Their words were all I needed. I didn’t need a present under the tree. I had something much better. Words spoken from the heart of the children I have built my life around for the last 18 years lift me to a much higher place. They couldn’t have given me a better gift. I cherished their warmth and reaffirmed my love for them. “I insist you let me get you something. We can afford it.”

   Juliana pulled back and her solemn voice took over. “Then get us something we can share.”

   “We’re really good at sharing,” Andrea chimed.

   They were killing me with kindness. I looked at my daughters in awe and silently thanked God for blessing me with two great kids. How could I be so lucky?

   I put my car keys away and assembled the Christmas tree in the family room in its usual spot. It was the one job I detested and usually pawned it off on Patrick, my easy-going husband. This year I cherished the time together. Next year they would be on a college campus and the thought of not having them around me all of the time scared me. I appreciated each strand of lights that we wrapped around the prickly branches. I loved every second of it.

   Andrea opened the box of ornaments and dangled one on a branch near me. I remembered it fondly — a heart-shaped ornament I bought for Patrick the first year we were dating.

   Andrea gave me an endearing smile. “This ornament sums up the way I feel.”

   Juliana peered over her shoulder and read the inscription. “Love really is the best gift of all.”
   
   (The author, Barbara Canale, writes a Word of the Lord column for The Catholic SUN. The Canales are parishioners of Holy Cross Church in DeWitt.)

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