The Man Who Hated Christmas

The story below showed up on my Facebook feed this week and as someone who has a similar sentiment to Mike, I felt rather than share a story for Christmas I would share his. Hard to believe that this was from 1982, especially the part that says: “overspending and the frantic running around” — I guess some things do not change. I cannot remember the last time Chris and I exchanged gifts for Christmas (maybe those first few years of marriage). Now we do something together, or decide to do something for our home, but we are done with trying to find that perfect gift, especially when there is little we need.

If we do celebrate Christmas next year with our little man (and the jury is still out on how we are going to decide to navigate the holiday with our son) there will be a white envelope on the tree. Read on to see what I’m referring to, enjoy, and have a wonderful holiday with your friends and family.

December 14, 1982 Women’s Day

“It’s just a small, white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past ten years.

It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas. Oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it – overspending and the frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma – the gifts given in desperation because you couldn’t think of anything else.

Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties and so forth. I reached for something special just for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way.

Our son Kevin, who was 12 that year, was on the wrestling team at the school he attended. Shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church. These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes.

As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without headgear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect a wrestler’s ears. It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford.

Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly, “I wish just one of them could have won,” he said. “They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them.” Mike loved kids – all kids. He so enjoyed coaching little league football, baseball and lacrosse. That’s when the idea for his present came.

That afternoon, I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes, and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, I placed a small, white envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done, and that this was his gift from me.

Mike’s smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year. And that same bright smile lit up succeeding years. For each Christmas, I followed the tradition – one year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas, and on and on.

The white envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning, and our children – ignoring their new toys – would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents. As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the small, white envelope never lost its allure.

The story doesn’t end there. You see, we lost Mike last year due to dreaded cancer. When Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree. And the next morning, I found it was magically joined by three more. Unbeknownst to the others, each of our three children had for the first time placed a white envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further with our grandchildren standing to take down that special envelope.

Mike’s spirit, like the Christmas spirit will always be with us.”

For the Man Who Hated Christmas
By Nancy W. Gavin

Yes.

We all have things we want to change in life. It is why so many individuals decide to make New Year’s resolutions. Sometimes that means that some need to add more adventures in their lives, and others might need to cut back to make room for space in their lives.

Last week I finished reading: “Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person” by Shonda Rhimes. At first I did not want to read it. While I watch all of Rhimes television shows, I do not know much about her as a person, and sometimes books that come from the Hollywood bore me. I was happily surprised. Shonda Rhimes is a badass.

She talks you through her experience from no shows to having 3 shows on Thursday night at once and what it is like to be so successful, have a family, and be a black woman in Hollywood. And yet, want to hide from it all. Year of Yes is her year to start saying yes to life, yes to what comes her way, and quit hiding from the world. We could all probably use a bit of “yes” in our life. On discussing the 100 pounds she lost (from saying yes to how she approached food):

“Did I not just say it was never going to be easy? Never going to be quick, would there be anyone left out there who talked about struggling with their weight? Now, I’m betting all of these big-time programs you see advertised and recommended by your doctor work. But only if you decide that YOU are going to do the work to make the programs work. Meaning, nothing works if you don’t actually decide that you are really and truly ready to do it.” Page 157

The key is “decide that you are really and truly ready to do it.” Applicable to so many decisions in life. Making the choice to really be in your marriage, to be the parent you want to be, to give your job your all, to stay fit and healthy. Decide to do it. It is that easy. Yes.

Get rid of the junk

Chris and I are minimalists. We only want to have the bare necessities around. Now that does not mean the items in our home are not nice. Everything is very specifically chosen, but as minimalists we only have what we need, cherish, and truly want around. We are the opposite of packrats and hoarders. I just finished reading: “After a While You Just Get Used to It: A Tale of Family Clutter” by Gwendolyn Knapp — which made me think of my own childhood.

Knapp is very descriptive about her mom’s home, but in a nice way. You get the point that her mom is a hoarder. It is funny how you do not really know the world you live in until sometimes you are far away from it. Growing up I do not remember our house having a lot of crap in it. We did not have nice things, but there was not crap every where. The couch we had was gross, had many holes (thanks to the dogs), and was not what you would think of if you were looking at a couch. My mom would cover it with sheets, mostly because she did not want anyone to see what it really looked like.

We were not hoarders, but I think looking back that my dad was a packrat. If you came into our house you would not see it. He kept it in his “office.” He had an office in the upstairs of our house. It was his area, and there were lots of papers. He kept everything. He also had an office/garage of sorts for his flailing business. There his packrat tendencies were with “tools.” My dad was a contractor. He had 100’s of every type of tool, and always found a reason he needed another. His garage was filled with money in the form of tools — money that should have been used to buy food to feed his family. Alas.

I remember when he passed on and we had to go through his possessions. We filled storage units that equaled the size of a two-car garage. This was not for furniture or clothes or belongings. It was for his tools and files. We took inventory of everything and had to go through it all. Sadly, most of it went into a dumpster (the files) and the tools given away or sold. There wasn’t anything that amounted to much. Sharing all of this brings me back to the point of: What do we keep and why do we keep it?

Chris and I have carefully selected the items in our home, we discuss together the merits of keeping or getting rid of things. We think through “why” we are keeping something. Does it have meaning? In a time where people want to feel like they belong, do you think that people use stuff to find meaning in their lives? That maybe surrounding themselves with things (whether trivial or meaningful) helps them feel less lonely and that they have more in their life? I often wonder that about my dad. What did all that stuff mean to him? I would rather hold the memories inside, and get the clutter out of my life.

What do you think?

Fostering Dependence vs. Independence

I have not read the book, but I am fascinated by the concept. How often do we baby our kids? How do strategically set them up for success?

A friend shared this article: “If Your Kid Left His Term Paper at Home, Don’t Bring It to Him” and it hit home. The article refers to the book: The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed by Jessica Lahey. I have added it to my reading list. Of course I have yet to birth this baby, but that does not mean I do not think about how we want to raise him and how dependence can happen so early, and often without parents really knowing it is happening. The author mentions parents who go back home because the kid forgot their homework assignment or lacrosse stick — teaching kids what?

“Over-parenting or fostering dependence, as she describes bailout behavior, has the potential to undermine children’s personal confidence and robs them of the grit they’ll need to succeed in the real world, after they’ve left the safe bubble of home.”

I will tell you, I never remember my parents bringing something I forgot to school. They were at work, at one point in elementary school my mom was teaching at my very school. She was not going to leave to bring something I forgot. As my dad would have told me: “Tough luck.” He was not going to go out of his way to take care of things that were mine to remember. That was my responsibility. He never thought of it as “letting me fail.” He just knew I would learn the hard way to remember — whatever the consequences of my choices.

Food for thought.

Generosity: Anonymous or not

Sometimes we all want to hear a story about humanity that reminds us that there are good people out there. I have two for you today. Hopefully it helps to make the world feel kinder, especially with all the crap on social media today between the Presidential candidates, Syria, and oh I could go on.

This story is about a woman who quickly got on an American Airlines flight (with her 3 month old baby) to see her mom, who had a stroke and was told by nurses she might not wake up. After sitting on the plane, they were told that due to maintenance, the flight was cancelled. The woman on the plane next to her heard her talking and crying to her husband, and told her she was not going to leave her until she was on a plane to Orlando to see her mom.

After finally figuring out that Southwest had a $400 flight to Orlando, the woman who would not leave her was adamant that she was going to pay for the flight — that it was her Thanksgiving and Christmas gift to her. Wow. A perfect stranger. The woman was able to get on the flight and see her mom that night. The Southwest agent also sent her an email checking in on her and giving her the contact information of the woman who purchased the ticket. So amazing — it warms my heart to know that there are people in this world that are so kind and so generous. Read the full story here.

My next “wow” moment this week was reading about an anonymous donor paying $106,000 in layaways at 2 Ohio Walmart stores. The article states: “Items on layaway included toys, 70-inch televisions and even a pair of socks.” I did not know that stores still offered layaway, but it makes it so that someone can dote on others in a big or small way, much like someone might pay for the car behind them in a drive thru Starbucks.

People really are kind. They really do care. Whether you end up meeting the person that is generous or whether it remains anonymous, it brings all the goodness front and center to the muck that sometimes permeates the news and social media. Pay it forward.