I'm participating in an online writing group hosted by Ann Dee Ellis. She gives a prompt and encourages 8 minutes of uninterrupted writing. Here's the most recent exercise:
We were spending our first Christmas in our new home after our house burned down. We'd spent the summer living with different friends and had settled into our own house as the school year started. My mom was supporting four kids and herself on one income. Which, come to think of it, isn't much different than how she lived when she was actually married to my birth dad.
Money was always tight. And as an adult, I now feel badly that I once told my mom I couldn't handle her talking to me about us being poor. I was 12 or so, and I just didn't want to hear it. It was hard enough feeling so different than the other kids who lived more comfortably; I didn't need it confirmed that I was living a life they wouldn't understand. But she needed someone to talk with, and I could have handled it better.
In what I didn't realize then was an effort to save my mom money, time and trouble, she told me and my siblings that we'd be putting up a big paper tree for Christmas that year. She taped huge sections of green tree-shaped paper on the wall, and we were to decorate it with statements of gratitude. It's actually something they would go CAH-RAZZZZY on Pinterest these days, right?! Well, I was devastated. It was not how we'd spent Christmas in the past (my dad was a chronic shoplifter and probably stole a tree in addition to all the presents we received) and it was heartbreaking.
I mentioned to some friends how lame it was that we wouldn't have a Christmas tree. It shouldn't have mattered, but when life turns upside down, it can be hard to adjust. Letting go of the tradition of having a tree wasn't easy.
One afternoon the doorbell rang and there stood Melissa with her dad. With them on my porch was an artificial tree for our family. The magnitude of that gesture wasn't fully appreciated by me at the time (although I was grateful), but now it brings tears to my eyes. And not just because they were generous and brought my family a tree; I'm conflicted regarding how it affected my mom, too. Was she embarrassed or upset that we (her children) couldn't be grateful for all that we did have? Why couldn't I keep my mouth shut and just be happy my family would be together for the holidays, in our own home? It's a complicated memory for me.
I hold on to the fact that the tree was given in the true spirit of the Christmas holiday. It was meant to uplift my family and show that others cared for us. It gave someone an opportunity to be charitable and it continues to teach me to this day.
I hope my children can appreciate the things I do for them, and that it will be enough. I hope they won't get caught up so much in material things, and that they'll understand traditions can continue on even when circumstances change.
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