“All difficult things have their origin in that which is easy, and great things in that which is small.”
– Lao Tzu
Most people believe that simple and easy are interchangeable terms. I know these two words are worlds apart and because it’s almost Christmas, I’m going to share the story which taught me a very valuable life lesson; what’s simple is almost never easy.
Back in the days of my single parenthood when I believed it was still possible for me to be all things to all people I refused the advice of the older wiser people around me, refusing to “slow down” take it “slow and easy” to be kinder to myself and to the child I was raising alone. I wanted to show all the people who warned me not to marry young or get too involved with someone who was inconsistent or self-centered and only wanted what was good for them alone.
So many Christmas’s at our house were spare and lean, while I finished graduate school and tried working full-time while raising a child without the support of a second parent. Times were often hard, money was always tight, and I saw much of the trouble that came our way as rudely unavoidable. Once the TV set broke and we had no money in the budget for a repair or replacement, so we started the nightly tradition of reading a book together. It was a wonderful choice. We dove in, the two of us, with trips to the library and to the second-hand book store, and advanced the adventures in our heads with many classics, Robinson Crusoe, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, and my personal favorites, The Hobbit, followed by the Ring Trilogy. We read each and every night, curled up next to each other on the sofa, and no interruptions. We never answered the phone while reading, unless I was on call at the hospital.
This simple substitution gave rise to even better traditions for us, books were always on the gift list for the following Christmases and to this very day we are both avid readers across all genres.
One specific holiday, I simply didn’t have any money for gifts or treats of any kind. There was no extras for the holidays. There would, of course be a huge holiday feast spent with my large and loving family. My child would receive gifts, albeit small remembrances from all my grown siblings. But I didn’t have any money for gifts. It had been a tough year. My ex wasn’t paying child support, and we’d had more than our share of growth spurts and unforeseen draws on our meager resources. Fortunately the year before I’d bought an artificial tree, which was housed in the attic. Sadly the attic leaked, (did I mention tough year?) and the decorations were moldy when we brought them down to see if a little decorating might improve the mood.
Now I am the child of depression parents, so I keep my own expectations fairly low (so I’m not often disappointed), but that year I knew I needed to come up with something special to get us both through the holidays. I sat down in my kitchen on the verge of tears, angry at the situation, angry at the ex, angry with working so hard and so long so often that my creativity was all but gone. I wanted to be able to go out and buy my child whatever it was he wanted for Christmas without worrying over the bill coming due in January. I wanted him to have all the things his school friends had, skiing trips, time with grandparents, new ice skates, and toys galore. I wanted to buy him every book he’d ever asked for instead of constantly schlepping back to the library to return the books he wanted to keep on the shelves in his room.
Of course, the worst thing happened. My son caught me crying in the kitchen. I know it made him feel worse about the Christmas we were having but I couldn’t help myself. The more I tried to stop the harder I cried. He hugged me and tried to comfort me, and asked if making some cookies might make me feel better.
So I got up, dried my eyes and started a new tradition with my son. We made gingerbread men, caramel corn balls, sugar cookies and candy. We wrapped our wonderful homemade goodies in cellophane and tinfoil. We used the bits of ribbon we salvaged from our moldy, damaged decorations box in our leaky attic. These wonderful homemade goodies became the decorations for our pathetic artificial tree.
My son knew his school friends would be exchanging small gifts, and because I didn’t want to see his excitement spoiled by having nothing to share, I began to write short four line verses on plain white cards, which he decorated with hand drawn holly. I added the childrens names, and writing the annual Christmas story became a favorite tradition. His friends came to our house to see how we were celebrating our holiday. They were so excited to find their gifts were part of our tree decorations! But the real treat came when they cards were all put together and the Christmas poem had each and every name in it.
The following year, we fared much better financially and found ourselves less stressed by the approaching holidays. But also, that year starting at Halloween, each child stopped by the house to remind us they’d been part of the “Christmas Story” and wanted to remembered again this year. For the next several years each child came during the holidays looking for their own special gingerbread man or popcorn ball. They all wanted to be with us for story time during the holidays.
For many years afterward his friends would recall the special times they’d spent with us, our tiny artificial tree laden with homemade goodies.
So that’s how I learned that sometimes the simple things which make life special are not easy. I’m sure sometimes life is meant to be hard so that we remember, simple although not easy, is always better.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays
from my home to yours!