We gathered around Mrs. Iverson’s piano as she pounded out Farmer in the Dell. Our off key faltering voices attempted to sing the familiar song that we had gone over since starting kindergarten with her that fall. It was her way of getting us to settle down and to capture our full attention. When we finished the last note, she said,
“Children, I have something that I need you to take home to your mom and dad today. ”
She held up green and red papers that were folded neatly.
“We are going to be having a class Christmas party and this letter will tell your parents what you need to bring.”
This news brought on an uproar so she quickly ran her fingers across the keyboard to begin the song again.
After another rousing chorus, and peace had been established, she assembled us into a line to hand out invitations to the first school party of our young lives.
I was thrilled to have reached such a pinnacle. Being the youngest of six, I had observed my older siblings celebrating events to which I was not privileged to attend.
The instructions were that each child was to bring a boy/girl gift and in doing so, we would receive a gift in return. Over the weeks leading up to Christmas, our classroom became a blizzard of handmade construction paper snowflakes, endless Santa coloring sheets and a tree adorned with red and green paper chain garland. Each day, more presents appeared as the kids began bringing in their offerings.
My mom bought a card game that was suitable for a child in that age group. She and I wrapped the gift and affixed a tag that was addressed to a girl from me. I was so excited to contribute to the pile under the tree. Many of us often looked across the room at the various sized boxes and pretty bows wondering which would make its way into our little hands.
The day before the party, I came home to the delightful smell of spritz cookies and a tray that my mom was putting together for me to take to school. The days of waiting were almost over, and I could hardly sprinkle the colored sugar on the cookies in the right direction as my exhilaration grew.
I woke up in the middle of the night fully aware that something was not right. My stomach felt like a washing machine that was stuck in the spin cycle. Chills ran up and down my skin, yet, I felt heat coming off my forehead.
“Mom?” I called out weakly.
Being a nurse, she was at my bedside in seconds with a basin. I guess by the time you have six kids you recognize a distress call even when you are in a dead sleep. It was a good thing she brought the bucket.
After determining I was running a fever, she said,
“I don’t think you are going to be able to go to the party,”
I reluctantly fell back to sleep with tears brimming in my eyes at the thought of missing out on something I had waited my entire life for. I slipped into the black abyss of stomach flu dreams.
By morning, I was not any better so I resigned myself to the fact that I was not going anywhere.
“I will have your sister walk up to the school later this afternoon and get your gift,” she said trying to console me.
I sipped on clear carbonated beverages and took small bites of saltine crackers as the virus worked its way through my body. Falling asleep off and on during the day only made time seem to go slower. I would wake up after a five minute nap feeling as if hours had gone by only to see the clock not advancing.
Finally, I heard my sister return and voices talking in the kitchen. I propped myself up in bed. This was the moment I had been waiting for.
My mom came into my room with a package that looked similar to the one I had brought.
“Hey. This looks like our paper we used.”
I looked up at her and saw a tinge of sadness.
“This is your gift. The teacher forgot to put it into the exchange.”
I unwrapped it and put it aside. The game that was supposed to bring so much merriment to another child now represented disappointment, and I would have rather thrown it into the trash.
Years later, I found the deck on a shelf in my parent’s basement unopened. I opened the box and took off the shrink wrap and read the instructions. I realized that I had let someone ruin something for me so long ago. As a child, that is understandable. I had felt rejected, unwanted, unworthy. All these things that I felt in my heart that I could not express at the age of five. I had decided that I would take it out on the gift that had an intent to bring happiness to the receiver.
As I played the game, I forgave this particular authority figure. Had she done the right thing? No. However, what was the point of hanging on to the pain? The only thing it accomplished was to keep me chained to my past. The moment had come and gone for her, I am sure. She probably isn’t alive today. So, the only person I was punishing was me.
It is a well known fact that holidays with family and co-workers can be miserable for some. There can be awkward silences, or suffering in silence and then later rampaging and venting about how we can’t stand Aunt Gertrude or that demanding guy who has an office next to ours. The reality is, we can make this time of the year be what we want it to be. We have a choice about how we react to situations and how we feel. I am not suggesting that you ignore your emotions. Just don’t allow them to overtake you and find yourself in a drama of grand proportions. Don’t allow your joy to be stolen by a dysfunctional problematic Grinch. Eat. Drink. Be Merry. Pray. Forgive. Ask for forgiveness..because you are somebody’s Aunt Gertrude…and let the season be light. As you forgive, you are forgiven. All of this adds up to playing your cards right.