This year was supposed to be different.
We've had untraditional Christmases before, the girls and I, like the year Cath was ten and Sarah seven. They had watched so much television that year, with frequent pleas for help from Childfund (what used to be Christian Children's Fund), for underpriviledged children around the world. The marketing ploys of those commercials worked, because at the end, when the narrator asked, "Can you help?", Cath said, "Sure, we can" and came to find me and ask for money.
We talked it over, and I told Cath it was more money than we put in the collection basket at church, more money than we usually spent on most things. It was the same amount of money I usually spent on the girls at Christmas. So, my little girls made me a deal. If they were still committed to the idea one month later (a long time in the life of a child), we would adopt a child in need for Christmas. One month later, they still were, we did, and five years later, we get regular mail, photos, and pictures she's drawn from Binti Conteh. The girls still enjoyed a nice Christmas, with a few gifts from their dad and me, and gifts from relatives, nicer than Christmases spent by billions of children. But, it was a smaller, quieter, and less ostentatious Christmas than they'd had before and since, by choice. I was so proud of them that Christmas. I still am.
This Christmas was also going to be different. I looked ahead in about October and realized this was their year for Cath and Sarah to spend Christmas with their dad. Rather than have rushed gift openings each place they went, and make Christmas all about STUFF, I asked them if they wanted experiences instead. What if, instead of stuff under the tree, we went shopping in Minneapolis when we visited Kirk at Thanksgiving, and they spent their Christmas money early. Then, on Christmas Eve, before their dad came, we would as a family go skiing with the aunts and uncles and cousins. It sounded perfect.
But, their dad had other plans, is too busy to have them at all this month, including Christmas. I had an "Oh, shit" moment driving home with them, with Sarah texting her dad and passing this message along. What had I done, to try to make their Christmas better, and instead, made it worse? I had no gifts for them, hadn't even thought about it.
Here's the Santa Claus moment of this story. Each year, even the year we adopted Binti, something always came along to make the girls' holiday all right. Gifts, or money, flowed serendipitously from somewhere else. So, in the car driving home from MN, my mom patting my arm because I was upset I had ruined Christmas for my kids, Mark called. He offered to take us to Germany. The next day, our store manager posted the amount of our quarterly bonuses and Christmas money our company gives us. It was unexpectedly generous. It wouldn't matter that I let the girls shop and spend their money early.
So, the girls get it all this year, shopping with Mom at Thanksgiving, AND skiiing with relatives, AND stuff under the tree, AND we just got a recent photo and vaccination info from Binti. They are happy, I am happy to make them happy.
After Kiyaya and I decorated the tree, while Kyra put Sarah's hair in corn rows and Cathy watched a movie with Matt, I left the decorating stuff out for a few days. While I was at work, one of the girls found in the box and hung up a little chalkboard decoration which lets them count down the days till Christmas, and wrote on it, "13 days". They still count it down, still get excited about the holiday at twelve and fifteen. And so do I, at thirty-seven, but my focus has shifted, forever, to making things right for them and being a proper Santa Claus. Sometimes, I think I get help from the real one.