Christmas 2003 was what I call my first Christmas as an adult. I was 37 years old.
Mom had always made Christmas a huge occasion for giving, and she gave everything she had. A bonus at Christmas meant she could buy more gifts for all of us. Dave and I had always been spoiled at Christmas. Following in Grandma’s footsteps, Mom wrapped even the everyday essentials that we needed at that time of year so there would be gifts spilling out from under the tree in mounds! That continued after Tori and Rina were born too. I think Dave and Dee needed an extra car to get the toys home Christmas of 1994! That was Mom’s way. Santa had incredible reindeer to haul that much. Of course, we thought every good little girl and goy got a haul like that – clothes, school supplies and cool toys, poor reindeer!
We lost Mom in September of 2003. I knew going into the holiday season that it was going to be a rough Christmas, but I also knew there were things that could not be permitted to fade away. That would be such a dishonor to Mom. There would still be Christmas dinner on Christmas Day and there must still be the Christmas Eve feast with John and Scotty. Most important of all, Santa brought the kids’ gifts under the tree and filled everyone’s stocking, kids and grownups alike. My 9-year-old nieces still held the magic of Santa in their hearts. It wouldn’t be until a month after they turned ten that the told me they “figured it out.” (and at ten they’d only figured out that Santa didn’t actually do “the ride!”) Santa didn’t die with Grams. I knew I had to take over for Mom as far as Santa was concerned.
It wasn’t easy. I learned a lot from Mom about shopping sales, looking for the better quality stocking stuffers at the dollar store to afford a couple of nicer things for the stockings. But this year I had to stuff that underside of the tree! I had to shop way past drop for two nine-year-olds! Oh, I’d always spoiled the girls as if they were my own. I was the single aunt and they were my joys to spoil, but they were Mom’s only grandchildren and for the last eight Christmases they were her chance to be Santa again, to lavish children she loved from the deepest of her heart with that magic Dave and I had as kids. That was the benchmark I had to keep if I was going to keep the magic alive!
I discovered the joy Mom had buying anything she wants for her grandkids. It broke her. It had to. After I paid bills, everything I had in November and December went to gift buying and holiday trimmings buying. By a week before Christmas, I was done. I had carefully budgeted the final list of food stuffs that needed to be bought fresh for the two feasts and bought enough to make the tree explode with packages, plus stockings for the girls and Dad and Grandma for Christmas morning at our place.
But someone was missing. I had always filled Mom’s stocking, but, along with everyone else, she had done mine. I had NOTHING for my own stocking. Remember, that Santa brings gift for everyone who is good and at our house he filled the adults’ stockings. I HAD NOT BEEN BAD!
By 2003, Grandma had hung up the shoes with the pointed up toes and gave Christmas checks and Dad never did the gift buying or wrapping; that was Mom’s thing. Dad took me out with him so he could shop for Mom! I didn’t at all have money to spend on myself left. I had bought the coffee mugs, but the box was too big for the stocking. I had picked up a Frank Sinatra CD I found for six dollars while I was shopping that I couldn’t resist, but hadn’t opened yet because during Christmas, I listen almost exclusively to Christmas music, so I wrapped that. I had one gift in my stocking. I also grabbed a few Baci chocolates out of the bowl of imported Christmas chocolates on the table. Pop gave me $20 to put some other things in my own stocking. I got some lip balm, a stocking staple since I was a kid and a pack of bubble gum, also a standard, a note pad and a fantastic sale at CVS afforded a small bottle of White Diamonds perfume. That was how Mom did it. She waited for the “right” sale before she bought pricier items.
After dinner with John and Scott on Christmas Eve Dad and Grandma came back from my cousin’s house and we talked a bit before the guys went home. That’s when Dad brought up the next morning. They’d pick up the girls for the week and be back by a little before noon. The tree would look different this year without all of Mom’s work. It was after Dad and Grandma went to bed that Elfavonna did her work.
At midnight, I placed the baby in the manger in my nativity and took my break from the party part of Christmas. I have a CD of religious Christmas music that I listen to while I have my prayer time when I wish the baby Jesus a happy birthday and meditate. The song Candlelight Carol contains the line “How do you measure the love of a mother?” The tears poured out as I told the baby in the manger, “You can’t. Help me understand.” After about an hour alone, I dried my eyes and came back downstairs. The house was silent, and I still had work to do.
I put all the girls’ gifts under and around the tree and filled all the stockings. Even my own didn’t look too anemic. There is a photo in my album from that Christmas of me putting the last gift under the tree. Thank you auto timer on my old 35mm point and shoot! I showed it to the girls and told them that Grammy and Papa fell asleep before he got there, but Santa took this one of me helping him. After I filled the stockings and loaded up the tree, I pulled out the 2003 M&Ms mug and poured a cup of Starbucks Christmas Blend coffee, another of Mom’s traditions.
I sat quietly and stared at the tree. It was bountiful and beautiful. I realized it was Mom’s way of trying to measure her love for all of us, but she never stopped adding gifts to that measure, even still picking up a couple of things on Christmas Eve. The answer was that Mom couldn’t even measure her love. It never ended. After walking in her shoes for a Christmas, after finishing that journey, I got the understanding I’d asked for. Love is beyond measure and as long as you’ve left that love, it will keep growing through those you left it with and you will always be home for Christmas.