It was early last January, and I was thinking of all that had gone wrong with Christmas.
A car thief injured my 71-year-old mother while stealing her Toyota, forcing us to postpone a family get-together at our house. A snowstorm blocked our visit to my wife’s parents’ house. I developed bursitis in my knee — at least that was a bit festive, since my kneecap looked like a Clementine.
I decided that trying to have an idyllic Christmas is like trying to maintain a robust fire: you poke and prod, but sometimes the warmth you seek just doesn’t materialize.
Then again, sometimes it does.
There was the afternoon my wife, Beth, and I took our son, Nicholas, to the local mall for his first meeting with Santa Claus. We faced at least an hour’s wait. It could have been just another letdown. But it wasn’t. Santa spotted Nicholas and waved. Nicholas was thrilled and waved back. That was all we needed.
It was a small, special moment. As the holiday season progressed, these moments added up. All I had to do was look for them.
Two-and-a-half-year-old Nicholas helped decorate the tree for the first time. He called one of his gifts “beautiful.” Only six months earlier, we had been concerned that his speech was delayed. We took him to speech therapy. Gradually yet suddenly the words came out like an avalanche. We read “The Night Before Christmas” and he finished the rhymes. He spewed words like “Santa Claus,” “Merry Christmas” and, of course, “presents.”
Nicholas presented us a gift every time he spoke.
We celebrate St. Nicholas Day on Dec. 6, and I told Nicholas the story of his namesake saint. It was also a reminder to me of the small acts of charity shown hundreds of years ago by Santa’s forerunner. Beth and I were realistic enough to know that our son didn’t yet grasp the full meaning of the story, but I figured we could start small.
Because I believe in tempering my expectations and seeking out simple pleasures. To temper can mean to soften, but also to harden. I believe in softening my expectations by finding joy in things as small as my son’s words, instead of chasing The Perfect Christmas. I believe in hardening my expectations by making them resilient to outside forces. I won’t be brought down by hopes as excessive as a lawn overcrowded with decorations. Nor will I fall victim to the Christmas cynicism of too many movies.
A few weeks after Christmas, my mother was on the mend and she and my father were headed to our house. Nicholas looked forward to the visit, when he would be able to play in their car. “We could sit in Omi and Opa’s car … or maybe not.” Nicholas looked small, but quite happy, playing in the front seat.
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