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A Christmas for Them

Christmas is a few weeks away, and I already have surprises stuffed in closets and alerts set on my phone to check websites for discount codes and restocks. But it's more than just the stuff; all the time commitments add up as quickly as my Target receipts this time of year. There are parties, school music programs, scout meetings, happy hours, cookie exchanges, and a million other things that I wouldn't think of missing because, in my children's eyes, that would make me the most neglectful elf in all the North Pole and Lord knows we can't have that. So, what do I do? All of it. I do every damn bit of it every year.

And who do I have to blame for this propensity to overachieve? My mother. She was the queen of Christmas when I was a child. This woman won a holiday lighting award in 1990, long before the days of computer-programmed displays. She positioned white deer on our postage stamp-sized front lawn on a St. Louis City block that made kids stop like it was a department store window downtown. Maureen Dilthey not only baked the most delicious cookies, she puff-painted a sweatshirt depicting a picture of her four children gazing out the front window of our home onto the snow-covered to wear while baking these magical holiday desserts.

That sucker had hand-sewn bells, one of which my brother put up his nose that she surgically removed with an embroidery needle as her gingerbread cooled. Urgent care/smurgent care.

My mother was pregnant and exhausted in the throngs of savages amid the 1980s Cabbage Patch craze, but still managed to walk away victorious. Sherry Amelda was there on Christmas morning and still sits in my daughter's bedroom today. She stayed up for the midnight release of the New Kids on the Block Step-By-Step album and waited in line for two hours so that I could listen to all five steps on the way to school the next day. He-Man, G.I. Joe, Ghostbusters action figures, Tops Baseball Cards, and a Barbie Dream House all made their way into the family room on Christmas mornings in the eighties and nineties to the delight of some shocked kids. You bet your life that my mother ensured her kids' dreams always came true.

And while it may seem like we were spoiled, that wasn't the case. We weren't the kids who got a toy every time we went to Target, and we were always ordering off the kids' menu no matter how old we were. We split sodas and popcorn at the movies and always snuck in the candy. Holidays and birthdays were big deals, and I want them to be big deals for my four children. I unabashedly emulate my mother's style and have stolen a few of her tricks.

Even though I am in my mid-forties, she still does her best to make my dreams come true. When I got married, she gave me a beautiful crystal cake slicer that my husband and I used at the ceremony. I dropped it a few weeks ago, and it shattered into a million pieces. It's a thing, just a thing, but it was a special one, nonetheless, and my mother knew it. She is the pie maker for Thanksgiving and makes at least five varieties for her children, their spouses, and grandchildren to enjoy. I host the day's festivities, and true to form this year, she showed up with a pie per every request. She also had a box for me with a brand-new Waterford cake slicer to help serve the delicious desserts. Why? Because that's what she does. That is who she is. My mother always thinks about other people and makes their dreams come true. She deserves some of that magic herself. All our parents do.

I once had a friend tell me that she doesn't buy gifts for her parents because they don't need anything, and even if they did, they could go out and get it for themselves, so what’s the point? Reading that back, it bothers me even more than it did when she said it. Not one part of me needed Tretorn tennis shoes or a Liz Claiborne crossbody bag; my mother sacrificed because I wanted them. No, she will never tell me she wants anything, but there are definitely things she desires, and you better believe I will go out of my way to ensure she gets it all. This has nothing to do with money. It has everything to do with sentiment and love. I am 44 years old, and my brothers are 42, 41, and 38. Since my first Christmas in 1979, we have never missed a picture with a mall Santa Claus. Ever. Not when we were in high school, not two days after I had my tonsils taken out, not when I was pregnant, not even during Covid. Nope, we stood six feet from Santa Claus with masks on to ensure my mother's dream of having her annual picture of her four children and the man in the red suit wouldn't be crushed. Our reservation for 2023 is already on the books. Why? Because she deserves it. That's why.

Do you know what else she deserves? Every other damn thing she wants. So does my dad. He worked 70 hours a week so that we could have the life we wanted. He wore a suit to work every day for 50 years. Today, he likes to wear sweatpants and Birkenstocks with socks. He's straightforward and simple, and they make him happy, so we keep him stocked. And he wants our mom to be happy, so if the four of us get that picture taken, it's enough for him. Now that I am hitting my mid-life stride, I realize that life is really so short. And now more than ever, I want my parents to realize how grateful I am. Friends, think about your mom and dad as you begrudgingly hop out of bed at 3 a.m. to move that godforsaken elf throughout the next few weeks. There may not have been elves way back when, but they spent hours waiting in line, got paper cuts from glitter wrapping paper, and there were days when you had a Happy Meal and didn't even notice they settled for a Coke and a smile so that they could afford those Guess Jeans everyone was wearing.

During the rush of the holiday season, I implore you to listen to your parents as intently as you listen to your kids. Book a photographer when you notice your mom gazing at her friends' big family pictures. When your dad compliments your meatloaf, remember it and invite him over the next time it's on the menu. Buy them those sweatshirts with all the grandkids' names on them, and let your dad wear it every damn day if he wants to. Those names are their legacy and their life's accomplishments, and they are so proud. You’re making the magic anyway, spread a little dust on the OG miracle workers. They made all our dreams come true our entire lives, they’ve more than earned it.


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