I brought up the decorations and the tangled tree lights from the basement and faced the huge stack with melancholy. Neil loved Christmas and overdid it every year. Not an inch of our house was void of Christmas cheer; from bathroom to basement, it was all decorated. And when he ran out of decorations, he put bows on everything, including the pets and the dining room chairs. I sat on the floor staring at those boxes and remembered another time long ago when I found myself sitting on the floor.
It was the night of our small town’s Christmas parade. Gina was five or six at the time, and scheduled to walk in the parade with her Brownie troop. We left her at the assigned drop-off spot right on time, with her little antler headband safely bobby-pinned into her hair, and headed out to Main Street. I was pregnant at the time with our middle daughter, and although she wasn’t due until March, she had already started trying to burst into the world causing intermittent contractions. Despite that, I was excited and happy to be out, sipping hot chocolate and chatting with friends and strangers who lined the street with us.
Neil and I hooted and whistled as Gina proudly skipped by with her troop, and then waved at a neighbor in one of the many EMS vehicles that rolled by. Sirens rang, trucks honked, the school band played, and the enthusiasm was contagious. I was having a great time! As I bent down to pick up a candy cane that had been tossed in my direction, I noticed one of the girls in Gina’s troop standing with her parents.
With a jolt I remembered that parents were supposed to pick their girls up as soon as they got to the end of the parade route. It was easily a mile away (though fortunately downhill) so fueled by panic, Neil and I pushed through the crowd on the sidewalk as fast as my pregnant belly would allow.
When we got to the end of the route, there was no sign of her or her friends. One of the moms who had lingered to watch the rest of the parade reported that some of the girls had gone to the Presbyterian Church for hot chocolate. That church was a half a mile back up the hill! I made Neil stay where we were in case Gina showed up, and ran back up Main Street.
I was breathing hard, and had a stitch in my side, but I hardly even noticed. In the basement of the church a party was in full swing, with music and pizza and plenty of parents keeping everything under control. I scanned the crowd of little girls, dressed in their identical brownie uniforms with matching reindeer antlers on their heads, and couldn’t find Gina anywhere.
Panic was coming back when suddenly I was hit by the strongest contraction I have ever had. I slumped down onto the floor and started crying – not gentle quiet tears but wailing so hard people thought I was in labor. A worried acquaintance quickly reassured me that she would find Gina, that I should just stay put and calm down, and that she would be right back. Sure enough, a few minutes later she returned with Gina, who was balancing a piece of pizza in one hand and hot chocolate in the other.
That was where Neil found us a few minutes later after the parade dispersed, me on the floor with my tear streaked face, Gina rambling on about the fun she had. With a sigh of relief he plopped right down with us. And when people saw us that night, they saw the love of a husband, the joy of a child, and the tears of a mother.
As I sat on the floor in my living room, remembering that night twenty years ago, I was reminded Christmas is about another husband who loved and accepted his pregnant wife even though he didn’t understand; another child whose joy is for all time and for all the world; and another mother whose tears of labor and love fell onto the newborn son in her arms.
Once I remembered that, the rest didn’t matter so much. The boxes of decorations didn’t seem so insurmountable, the tangled lights weren’t so daunting, and with a grateful heart, I got to work. Neil would be proud.