I’ve always been violently opposed to the adage that good things come in small packages; or at least that was so when I was a child. I knew a lot about the tricks adults could play on children and figured that axiom was just another. Eventually I recognized that those little blue Tiffany boxes could hold some pretty nice things. Still, there’s no doubt they weren’t part of Santa’s inventory when I was little. But age has a way of moving all those preferences around, and I eventually developed an allergy to the contents of even those little blue boxes. Now I’ve reached a point where not only is less more and small better than big, but ‘nothing’ is actually more desirable than ‘something’. I can’t stand stuff anymore.
So as you can imagine, I’ve become quite a challenge when it comes to my birthday or Christmas presents. Luckily, my sons feel as I do and are very comfortable rejecting the gift-giving traditions where I’m concerned. Although I must say it took a few years of practice before we all got it right. Waves of guilt and embarrassment seemed to wash over us at different times and we’d find ourselves buying backup gifts, ‘just in case’. But I felt that this year we’d probably mastered the art of restraint, and indeed I was right. Recovering from the shock of our first Christmas without my husband and their father, we were all relieved by the fact that we didn’t have to join in with those others who are still caught and held fast by the obligations that bind.
This year my older son returned with his girlfriend for a brief stay with me in New York, wisely package-free, as was I. There were actually no holiday decorations in the apartment, which nonetheless looked very nice as it always does. We were all heading up to Vermont for some skiing if there was snow, or fresh air if the precipitation hadn’t frozen enough in the atmosphere to produce the desired white crystals. I was in fact delighted to find there were no packages peeking out of their luggage since I, too, had honored the agreement.
We had only half a day to be in the city before starting off on our trek to New England, and fate delivered a blow at the eleventh hour just to see if we were able to play the game, I guess. Condensing events of the next few days until only the essence remains, my son ended up sitting in a New York City hospital waiting room with his girlfriend instead of a charming ‘farm-to-table’ restaurant in Vermont. We all spent Christmas Eve and Day learning that I had thankfully not had a heart attack, but had a virus that attacked the pericardium around my heart, causing an inflammation (termed Pericarditis) that was horribly painful and frightening before it was diagnosed. The irony of having an inflamed, or infected heart as the doctor put it, didn’t escape me. Everyone had warned me and the entire family of how difficult the first Christmas would be after my husband’s death, especially since his true battle started at Christmas last year. But no one could have known that there would be severe physical challenges again as well as emotional ones.