The Christmas Party That (Almost) Wasn’t
I sit here this evening, ever so grateful for every blessing I can think of in this moment. Like, the kind of moment where even the clean sheets and warm air blowing through the air vents make my heart fill to overflowing. Half of my kids are tucked in to bed, clean and warm and peaceful, while the older ones are waiting downstairs to hang out with their Dad, piano tinkling and faded laughter from siblings drifting up the stairs.
Christmas is my favorite time of year, with traditions from such a happy childhood combined with the empowering of an adult and parent that gets to make the magic come alive for others. This year, with the addition of our first grandbaby as well as our first official foster kid, the whirlwind of excitement in Christmas prep has had me overjoyed so much more than overstressed… I thought.
Christmas is also my favorite time to show our staff just how much we love and appreciate them. I try every day that I see them to let them know how blessed I feel to have them on our team, but I rarely feel that it is enough. Add the holiday and a great party, and then I can try to express some of my thanks as best as I can.
The past few years, we had moved the party to an outside venue and had a nice dinner and desserts. I eventually added a slideshow of the year in review, and a chance to let everyone know how much we appreciate them with a short speech of sorts with Christmas cards and gifts. Once you added Bingo and a few other ice breakers, I felt like I had it nailed down to a science.
This year, with a growing team and a bit of a tight budget from lots of expansion and some unexpected expenses, we felt like we should bring the party back to TNT. Add an inflatable, and I could easily cook for about 30 people, and we were ready for some great fun and even greater memories. We booked the date, posted signs and sent invitations, picked out the menu, and got ready to make it merry and bright.
The funny thing about plans though, is they rarely carry out the way you “plan” them, if you will. I had an idea in my head of what would be a great night. I shopped and prepped and wrote list after list, and tried to explain to my husband and closer staff what my thoughts were to make this the greatest Christmas party yet. They nodded and listened, and watched as I collected groceries, decorations, and more lists. I was also juggling a few other hats, as many people often do in the game of Life. Christmas shopping for my kids, regular work duties and several extra court dates and meetings for our foster buddy kept me running a little harder than usual. I tried to pay attention to times when I could rest; tried to listen for that Still, Small Voice if and when to let something go, or let something slide… so I kept going until I got stopped.
Friday night before the Christmas party I had prepped as much of the food as I could think of, set out the dishes and ingredients for the next day, and tried to go to sleep. I actually laid down for a bit in the dark, but my thoughts were swirling so strong I knew better than to try and fight it: I got back up and headed into the kitchen and put it all down on paper, listing everything from what foods needed to just be plugged in to pulling cases of soda out of the back of the van to set in the drink stand… it was all there, ready for the morning.
Well, the morning came, and with it, the change of plans. Before I opened my eyes, I felt the headache so strong, I was planning my immediate fight: straight to the shower with a cocktail of painkillers and allergy meds as fast as I could stomach it. This only happens a handful of times per year, so I was hopeful that it would eat up my morning, but I could get back on track by lunchtime, enough to function with a little help from my kids. Not so. By the time Tim came back in from a walk outside, I was laying in bed with tears running down my face without my even realizing I was crying. I was more concerned about the crushing feeling in my chest: this was a new complication I had never experienced before. I couldn’t breathe.
I hate the ER. Every time I have ever had to go, it has never been a pleasant experience. (Shocker statement, right?) The times my kids have needed stitches or casts, I am grateful that there IS an ER… I just wouldn’t choose to go there voluntarily on a Saturday morning for fun. When Tim took one look at me, he asked what he could do to help, and all I could manage was, “I think I need to go to the ER.” He walked straight out the door, woke up our 14 year old daughter, gave the kids a run down, and got me in the van. I couldn’t stop crying, I felt so helpless. I am not a crier by nature. Growing up, I was an extreme drama queen, and an emotional teenager to boot. I cried so much then that I apparently didn’t need to as much when I became a wife, mother and business woman… or maybe just too busy, but either way, this was a new thing.
Even after we got checked in to the ER and waited to be seen, there I was, heaving sobs in the waiting room, too much pain to care who could see me, even if I could see them anyways through the pain the light caused. The logical part of myself was humiliated to behave like this; the physical part of myself was hurting so bad, it was no holds barred. What a sight I must have been. It seemed like hours, though it was probably less than one hour before they took me back. They took me so seriously and were so kind; I just wanted someone to help me breathe again, and take some of the pain away. All I remember was how cold it was back there; even Tim was cold, and he is never cold. Once they started the IV, I froze even more, the saline and electrolytes helping in one way, making me miserable in another. They kept bringing me more blankets, but there was no fixing it. I laid there shaking, holding my arm out straight from the IV, miserable from the cold in the room… and there was nowhere I could go.
I am ashamed of the things I thought of as important as I laid there. I thought about the crock pots that needed to get plugged in, the confirmation time I hadn’t gotten from the bounce house people, and the slideshow that was so obviously not getting finished. I thought about the frosting I had not made, if anyone would know where I put all the paper plates, and if they would all look good together.
Eventually, the medicine they gave me started taking the pain away, so I could drift off to sleep a bit better. It seemed that every time I could nod off and forget about my prison cell, someone else would come along to wake me up for blood pressure, IV check, or another patient’s cries would bring me back to this cold, harsh reality. It was horrible for those hours, really. I heard other people’s conversations about being admitted in to the hospital, or others being discharged, but concern of them going home alone, and even in my prison, I recognized these things: I was probably going to be able to be with my family for Christmas, and I did not ever have to worry about not having someone take care of me once I was discharged.
They recommended an MRI to be sure there was not another reason for this headache, and once they took me back, the waiting game began. Tim tried to persuade me to cancel the party, but I refused: I knew we had to have this party. The food, the inflatable, the team schedule and anticipation of it all… it was not about me, and I knew putting a few people on alert could pull this off.
So Tim sent out a few text messages, and within an hour we had enough team members mobilized to take care of the decorating and next stage of food prep. I listened to a few phone calls and Tim’s instructions, and heard as my fourteen year old daughter single-handedly babysat our two five year old boys while prepping the rest of the food, as our eight and twelve year old boys pitched in with set up, decorations and fun.
It was amazing and humbling, to say the least. It is one thing to say yes, the show must go on, and it’s completely another to watch it happen from the sidelines as you can do nothing to help it go on. Tears of gratitude and thankfulness just kept pouring out of my eyes, with only a scratchy paper towel to catch them when I felt like moving my arm through the cold.
When the MRI was cleared and I was able to gleefully throw it in Tim’s face that nothing was wrong with my brain, we got out of that place as fast as he could guide me with my half-closed eyes and loopy self to the van. Several friends and staff had seen our not-so-discreet TNT green Transit van in the ER parking lot and texted or called their concerns. Tim kept handling it all with a strength and calmness I was in awe over. I mean, I was a hot mess, and I am usually not a hot mess, and he just kept doing the right thing. I’m still impressed when I think about it now.
We blasted the heat on high all the way home, where I hugged every child that needed to know I was okay on the way to being grounded to my dark and quiet room. Warm pajamas back on and IV no more in the way, I cried all over again as I snuggled into my own bed in my own house with my own kids and my own amazing team. Through my sleep and dreams, I heard the clatter of pans and laughter and shenanigans of putting on a Christmas party. Team members coming in and out of the house, for set up, decorations, food, checking on kids miraculously behaving… it was incredible. They were doing it, and they were doing it well, and they were doing it with joy, following My List I had so unknowingly scribbled out the night before. My heart was overwhelmed.
I half wished, half hoped in the back of my head that I would be well enough to be able to go to the party, if only to hug each person and thank them and wish them a “Merry Christmas”. After one of these headaches, I usually can get myself together enough to function by dinner time. But this one, this one was a doozie apparently, and I knew that by the time I tried to cover over my broken-blood-vessel eyes and put some “real” clothes on, I would be toasted. It wasn’t even an option.
Through my Do Not Disturb phone, the FaceTime rings through, and though it is pitch dark (gratefully!) on my end, I answer the phone. It is Tim at the shop, and he just wanted me to see all my hard work and effort pulled off. It was more beautiful and better than I ever could have done. As I am admiring everything all set up and every one having a wonderful time, he walks past everyone one by one, just so they can say “Merry Christmas” and tell me that they miss me. The fun and laughter from everyone was contagious.When we say good bye and the house goes quiet and I am left to my thoughts alone, I think back to my hours in the ER, and think about my thoughts of what I deemed important in that time. I don’t condemn myself for what I thought of, because I know that is partly just a busy mind stuck in neutral, spinning in the cold walls of that room, begging to do something productive to accomplish Christmas…
But I know better than the food and decorations and plans, what the True Meaning of Christmas is after all. And I thought about that old Grinch Who Stole Christmas, how he sat there waiting for the broken hearts of the Whos that he had just taken Christmas from, but instead, they sang out a song of hope, a song of joy, and a song of thankfulness. Christmas doesn’t come in the presents or packages, or even the slideshows and bounce houses, even though they certainly make great memories. It comes in the face of a team that pulls together when they need each other, and show love in the seemingly darkest of times. It comes in the face of a husband who will take care of his wife when they get home, and a young daughter who stepped up to do her best to pull off the cooking and babysitting. The technician who told his wife what happened, and she showed up to decorate while he tested out the bounce house with our oldest son, for safety’s sake, of course. My accounting manager who babysat until 2am and got her duffer out of bed in order to make sure everything was set up just the way she knew I would have wanted it… Christmas came just the same for me that day.
I didn’t really have to worry about spending Christmas in the hospital, when there are so many wonderful people out there who will not be able to say this same thing. And I certainly don’t have to worry about not having anyone there to help me at home, should I ever need it. Those crazy kids in my crazy family and my crazy staff and crazy team… if any one of them could drive me crazy on any given day, it is just as much a blessing to have them here in my life as I could ever begin to count them all.
And so Merry Christmas, to every one of you as well. May your Christmas come just the same, whether the packages and bows look perfect, or whether the wrapping paper matches the decorations. And may you know that you are not alone, should you need a helping hand, our TNT Team and Family is here to lend you a hand and a prayer, and a word of encouragement: that even when it may seem too dark and too cold to bear, there is goodness and kindness and love, if you just hold on and reach out. Merry Christmas! We love you!