This month I will post a short piece of fiction in honor of the season. It’s written in first person, but it is fiction. Mostly.
I Let the Kids Help
by Amanda Hamm
We started our Christmas season by decorating the house. I had visions of a picturesque front porch when I got out the lights, good enough to miniaturize and put inside a snow globe. I let the kids help decorate. In fact, they eagerly did most of the work. When it was dark enough to appreciate our efforts, the scene didn’t look like a scene from a snow globe so much as some sort of lopsided explosion. The kids had swapped out flashers in every string and left a clump of lights where they’d gotten tangled in the bushes. I shrugged off the gaudiness because I figured the neighbors saw how much the kids helped.
I love Christmas cookies. I use the same recipe that three generations of our family have used. I let the kids help with the cookies, too. They fought over which color to add to the frosting and ended up with an ugly shade of brown. Of course, it was barely visible under the coating of sprinkles. Those cookies were crunchier than dry Corn Flakes. My sister-in-law nearly dislocated an eyebrow when we unveiled them. I made sure she knew how much the kids helped, but the knowledge did nothing to restore her eyebrows.
Then it was time to wrap the gifts. Again, I let the kids help. When I used to do this all by myself, the gifts were like snowflakes with no two alike. Each one had a unique combination of pretty paper, curled ribbon and neat tags. Now they were still like snowflakes, the paper kind that leave a disaster of tiny scraps in their wake. There were torn corners, patched wrapping paper, tape over everything and so much ribbon. I could already imagine my dad whipping out a pocket knife to get his open.
There was a tree at church covered in gift requests from families in need. I told the kids they could help me pick out one or two tags. They’re all really good at math so I can’t explain how they were unable to count to “one or two.” They brought me eight tags. I was too embarrassed to put some back so I went shopping for eight more gifts. The kids helped. They knew exactly what everyone would want and were unconcerned with cost. Our bank account would feel a pinch.
Christmas finally arrived and we looked at the options for squeezing church into the schedule. There was a Christmas Eve mass at 7 PM, perfect for an early dinner and getting everyone to bed more or less on time. Or one late on Christmas morning with no need to rush breakfast. The kids wanted the least convenient option. They wanted midnight. My husband didn’t want to drag himself out of the house in the middle of the night any more than I did. But we couldn’t remember the last time the kids were so excited about going to church so we let them help with the schedule.
It was around 12:20 AM when I was listening to a gospel reading about the birth of Jesus with heavy eyelids. The lights in the church were dimmed and the candles shone brightly. The calm reading, the semidarkness, the arm of my husband on which I leaned… these things wanted me to close my eyes. My mind began to replay our preparations for the holiday. I saw colorful flashing lights and ugly but still delicious cookies. I saw my kids with big smiles holding presents that were not for them. I saw the stockings they’d tried to use as a behavior ranking system and the Christmas cards they insisted on signing with code names.
I realized that my daydreaming was in danger of turning into real dreaming. I would not allow myself to sleep through the very event we’d been preparing for. I sat up straighter and forced my eyes open just as the reading finished. It was followed by a moment of silence, a moment so quiet and still that I felt God’s presence more clearly than I had in years. It was a moment I would have missed at a more convenient time, a time when I wasn’t trying so hard to pay attention. The kids brought joy and enthusiasm to everything we did that season. And they brought me to that moment of peace. I’d never been happier that I let them help.