I didn’t get–as in comprehend, grasp, understand–Christmas until I was 28 years old. That year, the holidays found me eight months pregnant without benefit of spouse, and for nearly every day of those eight months, I had been “morning” sick. I was working full time, going to law school five nights a week, and fainting regularly.
I had not planned to become a single mom, but no form of birth control–even abstinence–works 100 percent of the time (just ask the Virgin Mary). With the help of a very good counselor, I’d chosen my path and was trudging along as best I could.
To say I was terrified is an understatement. I was catatonic with anxiety, what-ifs, and if only’s. I had never changed a diaper. Who was I to take on responsibility for a child, particularly when my nearest relative was hundreds of miles away, and my lifestyle–nose mostly to the grindstone–hadn’t resulted in much of a support circle?
I bounced from “I can’t DO this!” to, “Keep one end fed, the other end dry. How hard can that be?” to, “This will never work,” to “Fer cripes sakes, Grace, women have been having babies for zillions of years. Deal.”
And then along came Christmas, an exceedingly family-oriented time of year. I worked for a company that closed the last week of the year, so I had that one week to put the crib together, lay in baby supplies, and shop for those teeny, tiny clothes that nobody wears for very long. I have never felt so alone as I did shopping for onesies over Christmas break, eight months along, with no ringer on my finger.
But then I realized, that was the Christmas story: A woman expecting unexpectedly, feeling unprepared, unable to tell old Caesar Augustus that the dead of winter was a lousy time to saddle up the donkey and deal with some bleeping census. No room at the inn, no friends with a spare couch, and nothing going as planned.
Christmas isn’t shopping expeditions completed, perfectly decorated cookies, and a bow on every present. It’s the spirit of love that cannot be daunted by darkness, cold, fear, or misery. Unto ME a child was on the way, and if love counted for anything, the baby and I would manage.
Nearly thirty years on, the managing is still a work in progress, but I no longer feel like Christmas is for everybody but me. I feel as if Christmas is every day, because every day, love matters, love wins, and love is what will get us through. Keep the cookies, I’ll take the love.
Was there a standout Christmas for you? One that was particularly tough or sweet? To one commenter, I’ll send a $100 gift card, though I wish I could send one to the whole world.
It wasn’t so meaningful for me, but when I was a senior in high school, my grandma finally was able to get her wish of having all her children and grandhchildren together for Christmas. One of my aunts and uncles and a cousin live in Alaska and only got home every other year at that time and never during the winter so I know that it meant so much to her to have everyone together for one holiday.
I’m not a big fan of the huge reunion–I do better with relative one one one–but there’s something to be said for everybody getting to see everybody, cousins getting to compare heights, etc. I’m sure it meant a lot to the elders when the whole fam-damily was able to get together, too.
This article truly is inspirational, courageous and empowering especially for all of us who have had to face what we feel to be overwhelming life challenges. Your story is an example of how one
Identifies and taps into one’s own inner strength to grow, individuate and experience the ability to meet life’s major challenges.
AND how one learns to change a dirty dipe. The things they don’t teach you in law school!
Merry Christmas to you and your family. I cried when I read you story. I feel we are kind of friends by now through your books and our messages. With your story and how you handled it I am amazed at you what a dear woman you Re, and I know a good mother. No wonder you write such awesome books so full of love and demonstration of love. Even from animal. You are still my very favorite author. I bought so mAny of you books and can’t wait to read them. As to the $100 gift card, you already gave one a while back. You have such a good and generous heart. I was planing to send message to have a merry Christmas any way. So this comment is on me, you have already gave me the $100 forgive my errors as I was in a hurry. You are always in my thoughts, prayers, and heart as is your family. Love. Colleen
Thanks, Colleen! Have I ever told you that you have the same first name as my mom, who was the inspiration for Her Grace? Her birthday was December 30th, so the holidays bear a lot of her imprimatur, too.
My most memorable Christmas was the first after my mom separated from my abusive step-dad. I was 12 and my sister 11. We had very little money but headed to the mountains to stay in a cabin loaned by friends. We bought the last Christmas tree at a gas station on the way up (reminded me of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree) and decorated it with ornaments we made of styrofoam, glitter, ribbon and sequins. And cookies, of course. Our Christmas dinner was three Cornish Hens with all the trimmings. We had made gifts for each other. That was it. And it is the Christmas I remember the best.
Sounds wonderful! Family, love, a few cookies, some crafts… what’s not to love? Good on your mom for ditching the bum–biggest gift she could have give herself or her daughters.
One year my dad was desperately ill, and my brother and I debated if we needed to pack black clothes when we headed back home to see him in the hospital, in case of a funeral. That was a super stressful holiday. He made it out of the hospital, but it was touch and for a while.
Merry Christmas to you, Grace. I hope you have a blessed holiday season.
Almost all of my Christmas experiences are good ones. Even though we were very poor when I was a child, I remember Christmas as being a very happy time. The one Christmas that stands out was the first one that I spent away from my family.
I joined the Women’s Army Corps when I turned 18. The first Christmas I spent in the army, I was able to get leave to go home. However, the next year I was stationed in Frankfurt Germany and was not able to go home. We were all decorating a huge Christmas tree in the day room on Christmas Eve when I was suddenly struck with an overwhelming sense of homesickness. I just started bawling like a baby. I ran to my room and must of cried myself to sleep.
When I woke up the room was dark except for the small lit Christmas tree I had in my room. The only decoration it had was Christmas lights and Angel Hair (some type of fiber glass that was made to look like snow). The lights shining through the angel hair gave off a kind of halo affect. It is hard to put into words the sense of peace and well being that came over me while looking at that tree. I got up and washed my face and walked about five blocks to midnight Mass. It was lovely.
It wasn’t the last Christmas that I spent away from my family. but I never again had quite that strong an emotional response.
What a lovely story, and many of us can identify with that overwhelmingly painful hollow feeling that can hit when we’re far from home and loved ones. You remind me that our troops and their families accept that challenge when somebody puts on a uniform, along with all the other burdens and dangers of serving in the military. Thanks to you, for your service, and for sharing that holiday vignette.
So excited I found this article as it made things much quikcer!
That was such a lovely post, illuminating, comforting and empowering. Thank you for sharing your story. It made me remember my own terror at being a first time mother at age 40, living far from relatives. I did have an equally mystified and terrified husband (only child). He was tremendously supportive during the pregnancy and delivery, but had to leave the room at diaper time.
We made it – we raised happy, healthy, fairly well functioning children, and it has to be one of the most satisfying achievements in life.
To clarify, by ‘we’ I mean you and I and many of these other posters.
My husband and I were blessed with our only child, our miracle baby.
You will appreciate this: Vim, the hero in Lady Sophie’s Christmas Wish, is an older brother to three, two of them substantially younger than he. He likes babies, and knows what to do when it’s time to change a dirty nappy. One reader wrote to me that clearly, I should have done more research, and had never raised children. “Men don’t change dirty diapers.”
Well, m’dear, some men do (and some can’t). I thanked her for getting in touch, but I wanted to have a word with whoever had misinformed her.
Our family had been living peacefully in Beirut, Lebanon when civil unrest in the area shattered our world – literally. The building across the street was rammed by a car with a bomb in it and it shook the windows in our building. About a month before Christmas we were able to convince my mother that it was really time to leave. We evacuated to Malta. My mother’s plan was to go back to Beirut, however that plan was never realized. Christmas that year consisted of green tissue paper cut in big triangles taped to the patio doors of the rental we were in. The family was together, no one was hurt, and we were happy. We went out to dinner and were the only people in the place. The waiters hung around us, the chef came out with the owners and we had a grand time that meal. I look back on that Christmas as one of the most memorable of my childhood.
Wow… what a story. Glad you and yours headed for safety.
My sister and I had a Christmas-dinner-out one year, because my parents were on sabbatical, and she and I were left “home alone” over the holidays. The only other patrons were some sports team. We got great service, and left a legendary tip.
You story made me cry. I wish people would have the Christmas spirit all year long. It’s not about gifts, pretty wrapping paper and Yankee swaps. It’s about love and family.
Nine years ago my husband was laid off the week before Thanksgiving, It was a tough time– no tree, no lights and not many presents for our daughter. We had a nice dinner at a friends house. My daughters godfather and my brother stopped by with gifts for her She wa old enough to understand why we didn’t have much for her and old enough to understand that she had family who loved and cared for her as well. I was overwhelmed and lost my holiday spirit. A few weeks later, a position with more hours opened for me at work and I got a long term corgi boarder. Things started to look better.
Family and friends support each other during the good and the bad times.
Take care Grace- enjoy your holidays!
Merry Christmas, Happy Birthday Jesus and a blessed 2017! Thank you for blessing me with your wonderful books. I think our hardest Christmas was the year that my father died in 1993. We were all sad and busy working and trying to make it work! I am thankful for all those who were encouraging and compassionate to us. Now I am trying to do the same for others in my sphere – those who do not get many presents, those who are forgotten, those whose kindnesses are taken for granted, etc. I am thankful for your books and looking forward to more in 2017! I loved your Virtues of Christmas. Have a blessed day!
Merry Christmas, Grace!
I remember feeling terrified that I was in over my head when I was pregnant – and I was married with his supportive family nearby. I can only imagine being alone. In my opinion, bringing a child into the world and parenting it is one of the bravest things any of us can do. Doing it as a single parent takes more guts than I could ever have.
Along those lines, I can’t really think of one dark, depressing Christmas nor can I think of one single wonderful Christmas. However, the many Christmases have been the ones we’ve had since the kids were born. No matter how much money we had each year to buy presents, watching them enjoy the season made each day more enjoyable. There was the year I was finished with shopping weeks early and I took the kids to visit Santa. My son asked for a white kitty for him and a gold kitty for his baby sister. It took a long time, but I finally found 2 stuffed cats in the requested colors to put under the tree from Santa.
I gave birth to identical twin girls in August. In September we moved 250 plus miles away from my family.
I was terrified! I knew somethings about caring for an infant but I didn’t feel confident in taking care of TWO very tiny babies!
It took a while but I finally realized that caring for two wasn’t a great deal different than caring for one.
I look back on those first few months, including the holidays, as a tremendous learning curve. I think the successes of those months so many years ago helped to shape me into the person I am today!
I, too, was a single parent. I had a trade, courtesy of the navy, but even with a “good” full-time job, money was tight. My daughter was absolutely fascinated by model trains from the time she could walk…. And 2 years running she’d asked Santa for one. They were so very expensive, though, even for a small one, and Santa was having a hard time coming up with the money. She talked about them all the time, even tho I told her that Santa might not bring one… She’d go thru the Sears catalog and dream over the big setups they had there, and would spend hours looking at the setup the model train club had at the mall. She *believed* that Santa would come through.
A month or so before Christmas I was chatting with a coworker while we waited for a program to run and I mentioned the “train situation” just in passing.
And 30 years later I still remember the feeling when she said “really? My kids bought a train set for my husband years ago. He set it up to run around the tree once and it’s been in the attic ever since. I’d be happy to sell it to you for $20, just to get it out of the house.”
My personal Christmas miracle… That I could affirm for my little girl that Santa really does exist because he brought her a train set when she **knew** that mama couldn’t afford it.
Years later when she discovered that Santa wasn’t a real person, we talked about the spirit of the holidays and how magic things happen and how that magic produced a coworker who just “happened” to have a train set in her attic that made a little girl’s dream come true.
Merry Christmas, Grace. Your books have brought me much reading joy. Hope you have a happy, peaceful, and successful new year.
An absolutely lovely story! The strength you gained in that experience has stayed with you and helped you through a difficult 2016. Merry Christmas, Grace, and may you have a wonderful, happy 2017 and beyond!
One Christmas stands out for me-that is the one where I got my engagement ring. a big surprise but worth it.
I tried to add this comment on 12/25 and again last night. Hopefully, using a different browser will work for me.
My toughest Christmas was the one I spent with my family, but without my husband. He had announced a month earlier that he didn’t want to be married anymore and didn’t want to spend Christmas with my family either. It was good to be with my family but hard to tell them about the divorce. And, even though it “takes two to tango,” I still felt like a failure, especially since it was the first one in the family (we still haven’t had more than a couple and we’re a pretty big family–my parents are about to celebrate 68 years with 5 kids, 14 grandkids, 22-so-far great-grandkids).
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It’s hard to pick one over all the years – there’s my first Christmas being married, and the first with my first child and then my second, the year my husband had a special ring made for me after I had lost the stone in my engagement ring raking leaves but I think the one that defines me the most is when I got a wild barn cat when I was around 10. I had wanted a pet so desperately and my parents rarely indulged us being of the practical sort. Animals call to me and I think it’s my purpose in life. Due to other more unhappy circumstances that happened years later, I think it was ordained that I would help ferals/strays the most. Of course, they have helped me just as much 🙂