I've gotten a lot of great presents over the years. With four kids now ranging in age from nineteen to twenty-nine, I could probably string a paper chain made of gift wrap and ribbon and cellophane tape around the globe once or twice from unwrapping the Mother's Day presents, and birthday presents, and Christmas presents over the years. I'm sure that in the early days, their Dad had a lot to do with picking out...and buying...and wrapping. To tell you the truth, I'm embarrassed to admit that there are some gifts that I cherish...but can't remember who they came from. Past forty, is it the eyes, the memory, or the knees that are supposed to go first?
Still, there is one Christmas that stands out for an assortment of gifts from my children. It was perfect, and unexpected, and surprising, and touching. And it told me that my children not only knew me through and through...they loved me through and through as well. Not that I have ever doubted that...but that day can still bring tears to my eyes.
I had recently started my second career. For many years while they were growing up, I had combined full-time motherhood with freelance writing. Then, following a serious accident, I shifted gears and went to law school, starting out as a part-time student so I could still be a full-time mother. I was fortunate after I graduated to land a job in the field I most wanted--criminal prosecution--as a part-timer as well. Often when I came home to make dinner or drive to a soccer game, I arrived bearing tales from the front, from one of the most interesting and high-pressure jobs you can have as an attorney. There is no such thing as "down time" in the understaffed office where I work, given the never-ending nature of human foibles...and much worse...that kept the justice system brimming with customers.
And as I talked about my work, I talked about my workplace too. Of the wonderful people I was privileged to stand beside, of the tiny office furnished with cast-offs that I had been assigned, of my difficulty keeping plants alive there, of the fact that in wintertime, my only choices for keeping warm were to let the maintenance staff open the heating vent bringing the temperature in the room into blast furnace range...or to wear long underwear under my slacks and drink a lot of tea and hot chocolate. I opted for the long underwear.
And so Christmas came. I've never been one to make a list (unless really pressed for one) as to "what I want for Christmas." My usual advice has always been just, "surprise me!"
And so they did, in a fashion that still makes me feel warm and tingly at the memory.
To relieve the stress in my pressure-cooker job, my oldest daughter gave me...the gift of serenity. Specifically, a desk-top water fountain to soothe my jangled nerves. It came complete with a spot in which to insert a favorite photo. It now hold a picture of her in snowboard regalia from when she was still in her teens.
To brighten my surroundings, my younger daughter gave me...the gift of beauty. Knowing my ability to kill ALL plants entrusted to my care, not just the ones in my office, she gave me a lovely bunch of silk white lupines with green leaves. They still sit in a vase atop one of my file cabinets, next to my hand lotion and some dried pink roses.
To ward off the chill in my office, my older son gave me...the gift of warmth. There was a portable space heater hidden under all that wrapping paper. It came back to the office with me the very next day that I worked, and kept me toasty on many freezing mornings. When I finally wore it out, I bought another.
And to honor the fact that I'm a life-long dog lover, my youngest son gave me...my dogs. Somehow, somewhere in the universe, someone had thought up a tapestry pillow with three dogs sitting by a marsh--a yellow labrador, a black labrador, and a chocolate labrador. And he saw it, and he bought it for his mother, and he knew that it would be perfect. The black dog on the pillow was a stand-in for Shadow, our family's first retriever. Technically Shadow was a "flat-coated retriever," a breed noted for its long and silky black coat. But after a couple of shedding seasons, we took to having him sheared like a sheep several times a year. You'd never have known he wasn't a black Lab from looking at him. The large yellow one would have been Rocket, a gigantic and beautiful labrador/Golden Retriever mix that was a dead ringer for Marley of movie and book fame, and who died of the same problem as Marley when he was only a year old. Our hearts broke when he passed. And the little brown one, smaller than the other two, would be Bandit, the chocolate lab mix making his way right then through the piles of wrapping paper under the tree and looking for another bow to chew on. Just as his counterpart on the pillow, this little guy was a runt compared to the other two.
"Look, Mom," he said proudly, "it's Shadow and Bandit and Rocket!"
Christmases and Mother's Days and birthdays since then have come and gone. I have been showered with gifts, some clever, some tasteful, some funny, and all thoughtful and appreciated from the bottom of my heart. Some have been expensive, some have been unique, all have been bought with the knowledge that it's a sweet sound a mother makes when she opens a wrapped package and goes "oooooohhhhhhhh!" with delight.
But that single Christmas day lingers on in my heart. Because on that morning, I felt entirely, completely, wrapped like a cocoon in their love.
Causes Mary Wagner Supports
Washington County, Wisconsin Human Society
Crohns and Colitis Foundation
Chicago Writers Association