What a gift this holiday season has been to me so far! The part of Thanksgiving I treasure the most was the evening I sat around the dining room table with my 14-year old son, a 14-year old nephew, an 18-year old niece and her boyfriend - playing Balderdash and laughing so hard that we all ended up with headaches. Watching my son cracking up at something I'd written, shaking his head, wiping tears out of his eyes and smiling from ear to ear was worth every dirty sock I've ever picked up off his floor, every time I've had to remind him to brush his teeth, every moment of frustration during his early teens.
Everything was washed away in that moment of laughter - the kind of laughter that actually makes you tired, leaving everyone breathing heavily and just trying to catch their breath. Not everyone can become this unglued over a board game, I realize. I guess this year, I'm especially thankful that I was raised in a family where playing games was a bonding experience - where shared laughter gave us memories to hold us together during tougher times.
One of my fondest Christmas memories was also one of our families bleakest. We were just little kids, and my mom gathered us around to tell us that we needed to pray for our Daddy. He was very sick, and he was never sick. She told us, through tears, that this year, there wouldn't be any presents because all we really wanted was for him to get better. I don't remember anything else except four little girls huddling with my mother on our big green couch, and crying and praying for a miracle.
Right at that moment, a friend of my fathers, knocked loudly on the door. He was wearing a Santa hat and carrying a box full of presents. Trailing behind him was a merry group of soldiers from the Army base where my father worked as a minister. News had traveled that we were in trouble, and the guys knew we needed some cheer.
With all the hoopla, even my dad, wrapped in a blanket to keep warm, came down and sat in front of a roaring fire in our den to watch his children be entertained by good Samaritans. The presents were unwrapped, and we girls opened packages to find a doll each and four board games. I remember one sister received the classic game, Operation, and there was a big crowd of guys all hunched over that little guy trying to tweeze organs out of tiny openings without ringing the bell.
In another corner of the room, a crowd was playing Tic-Tac-Toe Toss with sand bags into a 3-story, 3-room per floor miniature building. The Twister map was laid out and people were falling all over each other to land their left hand on a yellow spot, and their right foot on a green. And in the loudest part of the room, a rousing game of Pit was being hollered - as the stock market trading floor was reenacted by pushy people trying to out-yell one another and score the perfect "Corner on the Market!"
What is odd to me is that I don't even remember what sickness my father was suffering under - or if we were ever told. He got better. I just remember an evening of laughter and happiness, where there had been sadness and fear only moments before. I cry every single time I watch the holiday classic, "It's a Wonderful Life," because we were on the receiving end, as little children, of that sort of outpouring of love. It didn't take much. There were no expensive toys - there were just priceless moments of friendship and fun given by young men who knew that a family was having a rough time. They gave their time and their attention to little children who needed to laugh.
A few years ago, I got to repay the gesture. My Girl's Night Out group heard about a family who had lost their home in a fire. We got the sizes of each of the children in the family, and split up their needs among us. We filled a car full of clothing, warm blankets, toys, soft-snuggly-teddy-bears, shoes, you name it and brought our contributions to the maternal grandmother who had taken her family in to live with her. Within a week, we received probably the most beautiful Christmas card I have ever seen - designed, colored, and written by three little girls we'd never met, who joyfully and exuberantly thanked us for all the laughter and tears of happiness we had given them.
When I think of all the things, and lists of things, and lists of all the lists we are trying to manage at this time of year, I wonder how any of us are able to keep any holiday spirit. These things threaten to steal our joy of giving, because we start to get trapped in a spirit of obligatory giving. In my youngest sister's kitchen hangs a sign, which reads, "The most important things in life aren't things," and I pause to let that sink in until I can remember what it means.
This year, I hope we all are able to be still for a moment and remember a priceless joy - a thing about the holidays that stirs our hearts, that isn't really a thing at all, but a feeling, a tradition shared, a favorite story, a favorite game, a bit of wassail or cider with a friend, or the smile on a child's face because we took a moment to hug or wipe away a tear. This year, in the act of caring for someone who desperately needs some care, I hope we all get to feel the unspeakable joy that comes with reaching our hand out and realizing we've just given someone a lifeline. This year, I hope we are able to take the time to play a game with a teenager, until the strong silent facade is broken, and laughter is bursting out of their every seam.
(This story was originally published in the Clovis Unified School District newspaper, the CUSD Today, back in December of 2006. I am reposting it here before Thanksgiving, because I love it so much!)
Photo Credit: from Morguefile.com
Liesl Garner, Fashion Marketing Writer for the FleeceFootwear UGG Boots Blog
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