Friday, 23 December 2011


I sit here, shopping done, house decorated, gifts wrapped, Christmas dinner prepped and ready to go in the oven at dawn (or whatever the hell time it is that cooking starts- Jason does all that. I serve booze and make gravy). I am ready. Bring it on.

Given a few minutes of down time, I have a chance to appreciate what Christmas is and how grateful I am. I think a lot about gratitude at Christmas. Our kids are spoiled rotten every year, always getting a few things they desperately want, a few things they didn't know they wanted, and a few things they didn't really want (Underwear. Every year. Love, Santa.) Jason and I usually get each other a bunch of stuff we don't need, and we can shop for our relatives without having to worry overly much about the budget.

It wasn't always like this.

Our first Christmas after Isaiah was born was hideous. He was an August baby, and I had gone back to work at the beginning of December. I felt like the worst mother on the planet. Jason was doing on-call snow removal at $127.50 every two weeks. He wanted to pick up a few shifts somewhere else, but since we couldn't predict the snow, we couldn't always predict when he'd be available for other work, and that generally doesn't go over well with employers. However, the money he made in the summer from that landscaping job was good enough to make it worth sucking it up in the winter. When you added Jason's income to my $165 unemployment cheque every two weeks, it meant I had to go back to work. On the up side, McDonald's was close to the house, so I didn't have to scrape up money for a bus pass.

We were miserable. We were 19, COMPLETELY broke, and had a new baby we couldn't afford. Formula was too expensive, so I was pumping bottles for him before I left each night for work. We could barely afford diapers, had been to the food bank more than once in the last 4 months, and aside from the McDonald's leftovers at the end of the night, had no real source of protein.

We resented each other, and (this was the worst part) we resented Isaiah. We were barely speaking, and if we could have afforded to split up, we would have. I hated that I had ruined my life, that I had been trapped by pregnancy in a doomed relationship, and that my mother was disappointed in me. I despised that when I was out walking with Isaiah, people stared (I still looked about 13 years old), but it didn't matter, because I couldn't stand leaving the apartment anyway. I hated that Jason and I were spending Christmas apart (not knowing how to fix the tension or figure out the arrangements for Christmas with my newly single mom and his widowed mom, we decided to go to our separate ways for the holidays), because I figured it would probably be our last Christmas together.

We had no money for gifts. None. We had no money for food, rent, cable, phone, or electricity, so Christmas had sunk so far down our list that it didn't even register. We'd each scraped together something so we could buy our moms some crappy gift, but that was it. The only small consolation was that Isaiah was too young to remember how bad this would suck. I tried to keep it from our friends and family how truly, disgustingly AWFUL things were, but it's hard to put on a brave face when you're screaming inside.

Someone figured it out.

On the 20th of December, our doorbell rang. There was no snow that day, so Jason was home. He was in the living room, avoiding me, and I was in the bedroom with the baby, avoiding him.

I answered the door, and there was a box. A giant, big box, and my mom standing behind it. She couldn't possibly have carried the thing in there herself.

"I don't know what it is," she answered when I asked her what was going on, "they just needed a key to get it to your front door. I know who it's from, but I'll never tell you, so don't ask. Merry Christmas!" And off she went (scampered?).

We dragged the box into the apartment and opened it up.

Oh. My. God.

The top layer of the box had a new shirt and sweater for Jason, a new shirt and sweater for me, and a set of sleepers and some outfits for Isaiah. There were baby toys, a package of diapers, and baby wipes. There were new books for both of us (we are HUGE readers- it was like giving an addict some heroin- our eyes kept drifting back to them), and a set of dishtowels. And underneath, there were cans. Cans and cans of BRAND NAME food- not the crappy stuff people donate to the Food Bank. There was a frozen turkey, and boxes of Stove Top stuffing (we have used it religiously since- it will for ever and always be my favourite stuffing). There were fruits, and vegetables, and boxes of juice. There was a carton of milk, and a tin of coffee. There was a thing of eggnog, and a frozen pumpkin pie. And at the very bottom, there was a $50 gift certificate to Safeway. Fifty dollars. I had NEVER spent that much on groceries at once.

We stared at the contents of this box, stunned at the generosity it involved. We had new clothes, which we hadn't been able to buy in a year. Isaiah had a gift to open, even if it wasn't from us, and we have that silver rattle to this day. We had more food that we knew what to do with (even though we had no idea how to cook any of it), and we had the guarantee of MORE groceries in the near future (we intended to save the gift card, but the excitement of shopping overwhelmed us and we went first thing the next morning).

I started to sob. I'm crying now as I write this.

It wasn't just gifts and food. It was enough generosity to take an increasingly heavy burden off our shoulders for a few days so that we could breathe. It was the reassurance that although people wanted us to succeed on our own, that we would never be completely forgotten. It was a reminder that however badly we screwed up, someone still loved us. It was recognition that we were trying as hard as we could, and appreciation for the effort.

It was a giant box of hope.

I looked up to see Jason putting things away in the cupboards (some of them had never actually held anything before), tears rolling silently down his face. He would never have admitted it, but that box meant everything to him too.

We set aside our tension, and bitterness, and anger. We put everything away, and cooked a giant (with some telephone advice from both moms) Christmas dinner. We sat in the living room afterwards, full, and happy, and watched our 4 month old ignore his rattle.

We sent a thank you card, signed by both of us (and chewed by Isaiah), and mom promised to deliver it to the right people. We still don't know who sent the box, but we're grateful. Maybe we would have made it through the holidays anyway, and maybe we would still be together today, but I truly believe that moments like that forge bonds that may never otherwise exist.  We have celebrated 17 Christmases since then, and have added three more children to the circle on the floor around the tree. And that first Christmas is the one we talk about.

Not knowing who was behind it made it even better. When you're that low, and that broken, the last thing you sometimes want to do is look into the eyes of your benefactor, no matter how badly you needed the help. It's a reminder that you aren't measuring up. I know that's how I would have felt.

So this Christmas, help someone. Give something. Give time, or money, or food, or love. Pay off someone's Christmas layaway plan. Shovel the neighbour's walk. Put your paycheque into a Sally Ann kettle. Buy the coffee of the guy behind you in line. Do whatever you can, in whatever way you can. But do it anonymously.

And to the person or people who put together that miracle for us so many years ago, that 3 foot by 3 foot box saved our Christmas.

And it probably saved our family.

Thank you again.

1 comment:

  1. Stalking a little. Crying a lot. This was beautiful.