The Breadcrumbs widget will appear here on the published site.
My mother loved Christmas.
She found joy in window displays and red sweaters of Rudolph with blinking battery noses and forgot about what had happened the rest of the year.
She had the silliest ceramic snowmen and elves, stuffed Santa Clauses and wreaths made of sleigh bells. She sang Jingle Bell Rock along with the radio and made whoever was in the kitchen with her to stop what they were doing and dance along. My mother died right before Thanksgiving in 2008. It took me about seven years before I was able to find joy in Christmas again. December still has an outline of sadness around it. I see the shadow of her absence when I am buying gifts or sending cards.
Every Christmas Day, I go to her grave to catch her up on the year I had. There are often a few other families in the cemetery putting poinsettias or wreaths on the statues or headstones of their dead family members but I feel alone. My mother's spot is near the top of a slowly sloping hill that looks down at pine trees and blue jays. There are often deer at the bottom of the hill. It is the quietest place in Cincinnati.
This past Christmas, I stopped at a gas station to get something hot to hold. My hands were frozen even though it was sixty-six degrees. I had just come from the cemetery, from giving my mother the recap of my busy 2019. There was a long line inside the gas station carryout. I turned and stared out the glass doors to distract myself. An old man walked through the door with a little girl, maybe six or seven. She didn't have a jacket on. They had walked up to the gas station, not driven like the rest of us.
I held my coffee, waiting to pay for it, felt my fingers warm around the Styrofoam. I turned to see if there the line was progressing toward the cashier. I heard the man yelling behind me. He had a thick Eastern Ohio accent or maybe it was a speech impediment, that made it hard to understand him. I kept my gaze on the coffee cup in my hands, I didn't want to look at him, afraid I would garner attention I did not want. The girl was clear in her plea: she wanted another candy bar. I felt a tight heat at the back of my throat. There were so many candy bars I wanted to yell. I knew why he wasn’t letting her have one, though he never said it, never explained it to her.
I thought about paying for their items as an act of Christmas charity. People posted those paying it forward clips on YouTube. Sometimes the stories ended up in the local news reports. When my turn came to pay, I looked at the cashier, who smiled and said Merry Christmas without any teeth. I thought better of it. No one wanted my charity. No one wanted to see that I had a credit card that could pay for all the candy bars the girl could eat on Christmas day and the day after.
I felt the guilt of having but also the shame of not sharing. The girl continued pleading as I put my coffee on the counter. She sounded confused about why she couldn’t have more. She knew she deserved more for Christmas. Even though I couldn't make out what the man said I was scared by his sharpness, imagined him yanking her by the collar away from the candy in the aisle next to us. Their interactions hadn't offered any clues about their relationship, how this man, maybe my age but aged by life circumstance and alcohol, or maybe he really was old, and this girl, maybe eight years old.
Someone somewhere had cared for her this morning, put her hair in braids, given her that first candy bar. Maybe she really wanted her mother, but the candy bar was the only available offering, left by Santa in her stocking, taped to the radiator, I imagined, as my mother had done. I wanted to scoop them both up in my car and take them to where ever they had walked from, to deliver them back safely to a sparkly tree with dozens of shiny packages underneath it. Maybe they had somewhere else to go together that was better.
I paid for my coffee but kept my eyes down as I walked to the door. I lingered, once back in my car and watched them talk to the cashier with no teeth, pay, and turn toward the door hand in hand. They may not have had money to get whatever they wanted, but they had each other and that was more than enough. I watched as they turned onto the sidewalk in the direction I wasn't going into the low December sun.
I can't stop thinking about the girl, who I only got a glimpse of from the candy aisle. I couldn't tell if she had a mother, but I hoped she did. A grandmother, an aunt, an older sister. Someone who could show her the softness she deserved, who could give her something to find joy in on Christmas Day. I wouldn't love Christmas as much as I do without my mother showing me how to find light in the holiday, even when we didn't have much to celebrate.
2019 was a dark year.
I finally accepted, after almost fifteen years, that I would never be a mother, not a biological one, anyhow. It was a long road to love the me I am instead of twisting and churning my body and my life into one it wasn't supposed to be. Accepting myself as motherless and childless has been a parallel road. I am still on it. I am learning who I am, not who I thought I was going to be. Without a child to devote all of my motherly attention to, I give it away to everyone. I am reckless with it, doting on my students and my friends' children, offering tea and cold medicine to my sick co-workers, saying "bless you" to whoever sneezed on the subway and offering a Kleenex from my purse. There is no staunching the flood of mother instinct. It flows whether there is an object to receive it or not.
From my car in the gas station, holding both the girl and the man in my imaginary, giant-enough-to-wrap-around-them-both arms, I gave them all the motherly love I could, all the joy, all the goodwill I could summon.
Two strangers, like me, who didn't get what they wanted, who deserved more than they got. I did get a Christmas gift that day that was more than enough. A reminder that acceptance is not just seeing myself as I am in the world, but seeing the world as it is. Glimpsing these strangers as they were, wanting but whole, lights shining in the darkest month in a dark year revealed to me my own wanting, my own wholeness.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.