It’s the middle of March so naturally I will write about Christmas when I was growing up.
Like many, I had a complicated childhood but if I had to choose one area where my mother showed the most resiliency in her relationship with my father, it was as she prepared for Christmas. The dynamics between the two of them were far too complex for a little girl to understand, but as I have grown to look back on these memories with more perspective, I can only admire and love my mom for all her efforts to ensure we had the holidays we did.
My dad often exercised control over my mother through finances. He, the breadwinner, would withhold budgeted money for back-to-school clothes until the last minute, for example. Or for Christmas shopping. My father knew how much my mother loved to give to her children, so this was especially painful for her. This trait, by the way, has persevered; nothing makes her happier than giving to her children and grandchildren.
However, my mother is not one to be deterred in any way. And so, using her creativity and her many talents, she would get to work from around September until November, handcrafting hundreds if not thousands of items to sell at holiday boutiques and bazaars. These boutiques and bazaars are not like how they are today when most of the booths are filled with products that are pre-made and the vendors are just subcontractors. When I was little girl, they were filled with 100% handmade items and sold primarily by the women who handcrafted them. Nobody sold their Mary Kay or Avon. You wouldn’t have seen any of the fingernail wraps or body wraps or anything else that people sell on Facebook today.
I can still recall the odor of hot glue on felt and Styrofoam. When people talk about sharpened pencils being the smell of back to school, I shake my head. Craft paint and freshly sanded wood is what smells like going back to school to me. The dining room table would be covered in what ever New Trend my mom thought would be a hit that year, and she was always right. She always knew what would sell right away at every single boutique or bazaar where she had a table.
My mom also knew how to play the game with my dad. She would pretend to be so worried and stressed about not having the Christmas money in time, and my dad would think he was winning that battle. But mom always won the war. He would see her making her little Christmas ornaments to sell and think she was only making a few dollars, because that’s what my mom would let him think. You see, she would just leave the smaller change in her money box and take the bills to the bank to deposit into her own account. This would become her Christmas money (in addition to whatever money my dad finally gave her) and we usually got everything – or nearly everything – on our lists.
However, there was always one area my mother seemed to forget about: the Christmas stocking. Santa Claus seemed to bring amazing things for all of my friends’ Christmas stockings; they would find treats and little toys or trinkets — along with the obligatory Christmas orange. We would receive an orange, too; but for some reason, the Santa Claus who came down our chimney only ever brought with him toothbrushes, underwear, Band-Aids, cotton balls, and fingernail polish remover… suspiciously all the same items that were in the pantry in the kitchen. Why on earth did we have Walgreens in our stockings?
Every year we would put all that stuff back in the pantry and we would get it all back at Easter in our baskets. My poor mama… so tired from crafting for Christmas money, she couldn’t even remember stocking stuffers. Vitamins would just have to do, and that was okay because we were happy to have what was on our lists. And of course our Christmas pajamas.
When I was younger, there would be times when I would be angry with my mother, feeling like instead of working so hard crafting she should have confronted my dad, or forced him to give her the agreed upon and budgeted money. I was angry about a lot of things, and sometimes I still am and don’t know where to place that anger; so it just floats in the air around me like dust mites ready to settle until another breeze sets them loose again.
I realize now she would not have ever done this; that just wasn’t her style. Why confront my dad when she could just solve the problem herself and provide for her children? Yes, that’s exactly what she would have thought, and wouldn’t I have done the same?
Yes, I would have done exactly the same. Why fight the undertow when you know it’ll make you drown? When I call her now feeling overwhelmed with life, crying and telling her that I can’t do something, she says, “Okay, cry it out and then let’s figure out how to take care of it.” I see now that she understood then the futility of confronting or fighting my dad over the money. She must have simply cried it out and then figured out how to take care of it.
My mother always sold all of her inventory, but kept aside one of each ornament she made for me to be my inventory that year. I still have them today to hang on my tree. I will always admire my mom for ingenuity. We always had a Christmas because of her. Not only that, but because of her I know how to make things. I know how to figure out how to do things. I can do things with a glue gun and felt that would amaze you.
My mother was and is not a perfect mother, but none of us are. However, I can truthfully say that I admire her for the woman she is and the strength she has exhibited in her life. She has shown me what it means to have dignity when your life seems like it is falling apart.
Most importantly to me, as her daughter, I can say that I have learned what it feels like to have a mom who put her children first and I hope my children will be able to say the same.