Christmas and I have a love hate relationship.
I curse throughout the entire process of decorating, but I love the end result. I hate wrapping presents, but seeing the recipients reaction is worth it. I am a very impatient person. I don’t like fucking around with the tediousness of it all. But I do it. Mainly because of the kids.
Growing up poor, Christmas was always a little uncertain. We never went without on Christmas, but I do recall that one year a teacher of mine provided our Christmas. I wasn’t supposed to know, but I did. I also recall a year where we wrapped tinfoil around boxes for our tree. Our step mother played it off as being artsy and creative. But I suspect it was more because it probably cost a few bucks to make the tree. Growing up in trailers with dad, and mom living in apartments, it wasn’t logical to have a real tree, anyway. As far as I recall, we always had artificial trees. And having lived in apartments the majority of my adult life as well, I also have only had artificial trees. Most of our decorations were handed down from Grandma. For Matt’s first Christmas, his father and I spent hours cutting lights off a pre-lit tree because the lights no longer worked.
For the first Christmas as a single mom, a small miracle happened. I had stubbornly quit my job at Subway and we were living off of my one day paychecks from my assistant management position at the apartments where we lived, along with an excruciatingly small check from the state. I had enrolled in classes to begin getting a degree in social work, but those didn’t start until January, and therefore I wouldn’t be getting my financial aide check until just before classes began. I was struggling to pay the bills – one month I would pay the electric, the next the phone bill, to keep them from cutting them off. My income was less than $1000 a month, so as Christmas neared, I was becoming anxious.
One Saturday as I was working my short five hour shift at the apartments a resident came in. She was a young foreign lady, and I struggled to understand her as she tried to explain a problem she had. Finally I figured out that she had hit a car in the parking lot but didn’t know who’s vehicle it was or what to do about it. I explained that since it was private property the police wouldn’t come out, but that she needed to call her insurance agent. In regards to who the vehicle belonged to, I gave her a sticky note and instructed her to leave her contact information for the owner under the windshield wiper. I didn’t bother to ask her what the vehicle looked like because I didn’t know who’s vehicles were who’s. As I sat there after she thanked me for my help and left I became curious, and also wanted to make sure that she had understood what she needed to do. I locked the office up and walked out into the warm but gloomy November afternoon.
And found the woman putting the note under the windshield wiper of Christine, my 1994 Buick Park Avenue.
Mine was not nearly as nice looking as the one pictured above, as I had wrecked her and didn’t have the money to fix the missing chunk of the front fender, or keep up on regular maintenance and car washes. But yes, I drove that beast, my first car in my own name that I legally drove. And this woman had somehow managed to hit her as the vehicle sat parked in a parking spot in front of the office building, as she drove into the driveway, ramming Christine into the Cadillac parked next to her. There was a dent one each side of the vehicle, one from her vehicle and one from the Cadillac.
That little accident paid out almost $1500.00. On a broken ass vehicle. I’d never seen that kind of money in my entire life. It was roughly two months worth of income. And while I should have put the money into the car, as it probably would have made her tip-top again, I didnt see the logic. She was pushing 15 years old, had a fuckton of miles on her, and I wasn’t a huge fan of the vehicle. Sure, she could hang. She’d jumped a ditch and survived, got me back and forth to where I needed to be, and was super reliable. But I saw that huge check and saw how it could help get me through this rough patch until financial aide kicked in.
What I also saw was a good Christmas for my little boy.
That year, I got out the old hand me down Christmas ornaments, and the same tree that Matt’s dad and I had spent hours cutting the lights off of, and as I put it together several of the branches broke. That money was in the bank, but I wasn’t touching it, saving it for bills should I need it or emergencies, and for Christmas. And it occured to me then as I held the third broken branch in my hand. It would be great for Matt to have presents, but it would be even greater for him to have presents under a beautiful tree. So I woke him from his nap, and excitedly told him we were going to go Christmas tree shopping. At this time, Matt was 4 years old or so, and everything we did was awe inspiring still. Excited, we bundled up and headed to Wal-Mart. We found a cute little tree, and I told him we were going to start a new tradition. We would each pick out a special ornament for our tree to commemorate the year. I picked out a guitar, since that year had been the year dad bought me my guitar and I had began to learn how to play. He picked out a beautiful gold and purple bulb with a pirate ship on it, sailing through the ocean mist.
“Momma, this is so pretty. Can our tree be these colors?” Purple had become his favorite color recently, and as I looked at the beautiful bulb and thought of our new ornaments hanging on our new tree, with the old hand me down ones. . . how off they would look . . . I smiled down at my son. “Let’s see what we can find,” I told him.
And that’s how our gold, purple and black themed Christmas tree came to be. I was as excited as he was to get it home and get it put up.
I remember that feeling of triumph all too well, but also feeling a little guilty walking out of Wal-Mart with $90 worth of Christmas decor that would only be up for a month. I called Grandma and told her what I had done, and she reassured me that what I had done was important, that I hadn’t paid too much, and that there was nothing wrong with making a good Christmas for my son. “You could die tomorrow.” Was her justification for me. And she was right. So we joyfully put up our Christmas tree, in our apartment, and hung our decorations. And in that moment, as I placed the star on the tree and my little boy clapped joyfully, I thought maybe, just maybe, I could swing this single parent thing. Maybe I wouldn’t fuck it up too badly.
Here we are now, 8 years later. And we’ve moved out of apartment living, and Grandma insisted on a real tree. So today I told Matt we were going Christmas tree shopping. For a real tree. And he’s 12 now and a video game hermit. So he grumbled and tried to come up with reasons against the whole idea. The needles, searching in the cold and snow, so on and so forth. As grandma and I traipsed through a local tree farm with Matt’s dad and their family, all six of the kids laughed and threw snowballs at each other. Matthew included. And I thought about how far we’ve come. And how different things ended up. I ended up pursuing property management instead of social work, and Matt’s dad and I get along, very well actually. . . And we’re not talking about a 4 foot $20 Wal-Mart special, we’re talking about a beautiful Colorado Spruce that stands damn near as tall as my brother.
Tis the season to be grateful for all that you have. And I am definitely that.