I knew I was in trouble when my husband questioned the pile of packages by the front door.
"I have a good excuse," I said.
One of his eyebrows went up. "Really?"
Both of my eyebrows went up. "Really," I said. "These are the Christmas presents I bought and wrapped for your mother to give to the kids."
"My mom got them stuff already."
Something in me twitched. "She did? Why?"
"'Cause she wanted to."
"But . . . this is how we always do things. She buys. I fly."
"Not this year."
Something broke inside me. My holiday spirit engine gasped. It shimmied. And then its chugging stopped. The Christmas carol soundtrack stopped playing in my head. The skippy spring to my step flattened. My shoulders descended a good two inches. Ah man!
And then, it happened again. We walked into my mom's house less than a week later and her hearth was covered in red and green packages with smooshed, pointy, pre-tied bows. Furrows plowed themselves into my forehead. The two shopping bags of packages I was carrying fell to the floor with a thunk and a rattle.
"Uh . . . Mom? Did you forget how we do things--you buy, I fly?"
She smiled. "I don't know what got into me. One day I got a burst of energy and there was this great sale at the mall . . . "
For the second time in a week, my holiday spirit engine went boom.
I stared at the fireplace for a few minutes--almost hypnotized by the blueish yellow flames licking out of the fake logs.
"They got double presents," I said, without moving my lips.
"Excuse me?" Mom said.
I went into the bathroom and washed my hands. And put on lotion. And tried on every shade of lipstick on Mom's vanity. I put the toilet lid down and had a seat. I counted on my fingers. "They got presents from my mom. They got presents from his mom. They got presents that I bought them from my mom. They got presents that I bought them from his mom. They got presents from us. They got presents from Santa."
My mom was happy. His mom was happy. He was happy. The kids were ecstatic. Everyone was high on holiday spirit but me. All the stress I'd put myself through--making the lists, checking them twice, shopping all over hell's half acre and the Internet, wrapping, hiding. And I didn't need to do any of it. Well, I didn't need to do half of it. I'd put myself out, way out, for nothing. All that Advil, for nothing.
And that's not all. The double presents thing? It fed the fear inside me. You see, I have this fear that all the stuff, the mile high stack of stuff that no one really needs, makes Christmas Day into Stuff Day. It seemed to me that all the focus on buying, giving, getting, repeat takes all the focus off the little Lord Jesus asleep in the hay.
My husband had compassion on me. He patted my back. He rubbed my shoulders. He murmured, "There, there, everything will be all right," as I shuffled around mumbling, "It's going to be Stuff Day, not Christmas." Resentment etched frown lines around my mouth.
A few days later, we headed out for a holiday party. One of our children dawdled and I growled at her, a little too loud, a little too mean. We stood in our foyer, the front door open, the cold night air coming in around the storm door frame. Then my husband said two of the words that are forbidden in our house, and then some.
"Shut . . . up!" he said. "You're going to ruin Christmas Eve for everyone!"
The kids looked at me, then my husband, then each other. I winced and looked at my feet. I knew I deserved it. Not in front of the kids, but still . . . My husband went out to start the car.
I slunk out into the freezing night. Bitter cold but no snow. Yet another reason to be a sadsack.
I climbed into the SUV. The silence was too quiet, even on the Silent Night. I turned the stereo on. Charlie Dodrill sang to me. "I am under the impression that it's all for me." I looked at my Granny Smith apple green gloves and waited for someone to say, "Hey, they're singing your song."
Before we got out of the car to go into the party, my husband put his hand on my sour green apple gloves. I looked at him cautiously, like a whipped dog. He looked sad. "Sorry." He mouthed the word. I blinked slowly.
As I remembered that night just now, I figured out something. That Christmas Day was not Stuff Day. That Christmas Day was Grace Day. Three kids got way more than they expected, way more than they deserved. The half-empty glass person might call it gluttony. The half-full glass person would call it grace.