By Theresa Thomas
I had a special project I was working on for my family for Christmas this year. I’d been mulling over the idea for a long time and finally this year decided to just do it. It’s a time-consuming and personal gift — I can’t give the details, seeing as I’m still hoping it can be a surprise at some point — and I was very excited about putting the whole thing together. I thoroughly researched what I needed to do, gathered what I needed to gather and gave myself plenty of time to complete the task, I thought.
It turned out life happened in an unexpected way this month, though — nothing tragic or particularly extraordinary, but just enough that I didn’t end up being as efficient and productive as I’d hoped to be in compiling this gift.
You see, eight of my nine children decided to come home for Thanksgiving, which thrilled me. It also entailed a whole bunch of home cooking. (My sneaky plan, since they have become adults and three have moved 2,000-plus miles away for work, is to put the effort into completing old-style, home-cooked, memory-inducing meals to reel them back in to this part of the country. So far it hasn’t worked, but I keep trying.)
When the kids come home I usually put together a little itinerary. Sometimes this is a Google document. Other times it’s in email form. I’ll outline proposed activities for the group, which is kind of tricky since the age range is so vast — 11 to 29. What happens is everyone writes back with suggestions for family-building group activities, times for such activities or mentioning something they need to do or someone they need to see. I’ve learned over the years to block out mornings for everyone to sleep, tend to personal goals and provide workout times. Dad usually cooks big breakfasts and people come and go to do their individual things. Planning ahead helps everyone in a big family to have this sense of togetherness without it being stifling, which is a real concern because A) There are so many of us, B) Four offspring are adults off on their own, who aren’t used to having someone else schedule their time, and C) Kids often perceive their parents to be controlling when really those parents are only trying to make things run smoothly. But I digress…
My point is, we had a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with hearty meals, good conversation and lots of bonding activity in the form of college basketball attendance, family bowling, a movie night and old-fashioned euchre games … but it also naturally took away from any sort of possibility of working on my Christmas project for them.
Then, dear husband informed me he had a work trip to Kentucky planned for the entire next week. I have an amazing and helpful husband, which means when he is gone I not only miss him personally, but I also miss the help he normally provides, including a great deal of driving and picking up kids in the evening. With this help not available, for the last week I have literally spent two hours daily at least, here and there, driving, just dropping off and picking up kids.
My daughters dance each year in their local ballet studio production of Nutcracker, and rehearsals were heating up. Often, the girls’ rehearsal times did not match. Then there were trips to purchase their needs for the show and extra trips back when pointe shoes unexpectedly “died” and black, not pink slippers were needed for the younger one just for one scene. A moment of panic ensued when reordering a shoe quickly proved impossible because of a manufacturer glitch. A revelation occurred that shellac would serve to stiffen the shoes in a pinch, so I squeezed in a trip to the hardware store to get that, then painted the insides of the shoes. Twice.
During that same week, one of my high-school-aged daughters had the nerve to start running a fever, then became hugely sick. The first trip to the doctor indicated a severe sinus infection, but the antibiotic didn’t work, so a trip back was necessary. Poor thing. All I could do is bring her tea and empathize while handing her horse pills. Then came extra helping with homework: “Mom, will you quiz me?” “Could you help me organize my thoughts on this part of my paper?” “I don’t get what Plato was saying here.” (Really.) “Do you remember Punnit squares?” One night, as the clock was approaching 10 p.m. or so, I had just sat down to work on the project and I heard a knock. “Mom, can I talk to you about something?” Of course.
And so, here we are. The deadline has passed for my project to be completed and arrive on time. To my dear children, I would like to say this:
I’m sorry you won’t have the amazing, personalized, handmade Christmas present that I planned and tried to finish for you this year. Maybe you’ll get it before the New Year’s arrives, or maybe not, but I’d like to think that the reason for my lateness will make your waiting worthwhile. I tried to give you my best when you needed it, moment by moment. I helped you, tended to you, simply loved you the best I could these last few weeks, and if that means I missed out on giving you the homemade surprise gift I’d planned, so be it. I hope you will understand.
Somehow I think they will.
Theresa Thomas is the wife of David and mother of nine children. Watch for her newest book “Big Hearted Families” (Scepter) and read more on her blog: http://theresathomas.wordpress.com.
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