This holiday season took me by surprise. For some reason I was stuck in the month of October and ignored the Christmas displays in supermarkets. In fact, I did not frequent brick and mortar establishments unless I absolutely had to. It was only when I received notice that property taxes were due on December 10th, for both our home and business, that reality set in.
I wept when the checks came in the mail; grateful that one of our biggest business customers actually paid on time. I don’t need an economics degree to see that we are not out-of-the-woods from a recession in a pre-election year; our vendors taking longer than the thirty days to pay. Manufacturing is at the bottom of the totem pole to receive payment. The months of November and December are always our slowest and the mass marketing frenzy that marks the season was a reminder of how little our bank accounts had.
I lived day-by-day. When people asked if I was ready for (any date in the future) my answer remained the same. I was trying to get through today. There were due dates, scheduled events and the ever present Christmas looming. I had no gifts for my family and it is our turn to host Christmas eve. The tree was not up. Black Friday and Cyber Monday came and went and I crossed off one day of the calendar at a time. Begrudgingly I asked the hubs to get down our Christmas decor after our kids continued to ask where they were.
Where is our tree? What about the gingerbread house? Why aren’t you playing ‘White Christmas’ on the piano? And when are you going to bake, Mom?
Today I, unexpectedly, found myself in front of thirty plus teenage girls. I am the person that handles student finances in the large booster organization I serve. Inspired by one of the songs that define me, Sing Your Life by Morrissey, I had been dressed in jeggings and my Doc Marten boots thinking I would not cross paths with many people as I ran last minute errands. I had only come to receive checks from a fellow parent and found myself standing before these teens listening to an instructor sharing his story. He had lived in a garage and poverty and shared how he couldn’t afford to participate in a high school trip to Hawaii. And so he got smart and saved for twelve months to make things different the following year; to follow his passion to perform. The girls only saw his high-end import car parked at the curb, not the kid who struggled. He and I stood before these girls to ask for funds to allow them to travel to an out-of-state national competition.
I remembered being on the other side. My mother was prideful and would remind me to not mention that my father’s medical bills usurped all of our funds; that we relied on Medicaid. I was eligible for free school lunches but she pinched pennies to hand me a weekly allowance of twenty dollars for gas and lunch. I was sixteen, having obtained my license on my actual birthday, since my father, diagnosed with colon cancer, no longer could drive. My high school was fifteen miles away; the closest “city” nine. I drove my parents for doctors’ appointments and myself to school and extra-curriculars. My parents never were in the stands during games or performances. My father was dying and my mother remained in our home to care for him. Music had been my salve. In high school I had always longed for the Dr. Martens boots I currently wore. The irony of my situation struck me; empathizing with these girls.
As small business owners we realize the foundation can be pulled out from under us at any moment. Many of our former customers have chosen to go overseas, to buy bulk for cheap. Small businesses lose to cheap, subsidized imported goods. But our selling point is always in our relationships with our customers. We follow-through and deliver. We provide quality and if there is a problem, we readily fix it. We are custom all the way and the feedback we receive is that our vendors trust that we will do things right. I will never have large bank accounts. Every dime we earn is solely based on what we put out and it has to be quality every time.
In the past week I realized trust, transparency, follow-through and hospitality are the big things that count. I don’t care if someone can offer me gifts or favors. Money and material things mean little. I want the friends who surround me to be the ones whom I can trust not to break confidences, who will tell me what is on their minds without worrying about offending and who will open their homes and hearts to my quirks and imperfections. I have to trust that they will follow through and reciprocate. This is HUGE for me. People can appear to have it together, to have nice things, titles or look like a million bucks. But it’s what’s on the inside that truly matters. I am affirmed by those who are true to who they are.
My sons have surprised me this year. Most Christmases I am the driving force of all merriment as I command my elves to happily comply with my decorating whims. This year they were the ones urging me.
If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff. ~ Catherine M. Wallace
Eventually the hubs put up the tree. Normally he is the bah humbug one in our household; the grinch who steals our Christmas joy. This year he placed the boxes inside and over the course of the week, strung up garlands and lights with the help of our ever growing sons. I found myself unwrapping a few ornaments and rearranging them on the tree. The Advent wreath finally was placed on the coffee table and the poinsettias from the fundraiser arrived and were placed on the piano. Slowly, but surely, it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Tree. Check.
Three years ago I had decided to never do gingerbread houses again. Because I had been an only child in a quiet household I wanted to create my own traditions with my three sons for the holidays. When they were toddlers I began purchasing gingerbread house kits imagining hours of Christmas creativity and cheer. But I had been too worried about the mess, the arguments over the candies and frosting. In 2012 the boys fought so ferociously that I put the camera down; feeling like a fraud. I was attempting to capture a picture moment that was forced. They didn’t want to build gingerbread houses and I didn’t want a mess. I vowed I would never do this activity again.
So I was shocked at the boys’ insistence, this year, that I purchase a gingerbread kit. After a week of constant reminders from my sons, the quote above came to mind. I found myself purchasing a gingerbread village so each one could build their own house without argument. Three years ago it had been the eldest who ruined our experience. This year he was the one who kept championing it. Gingerbread house. Check.
I had no words to type, no images to share. I observed people saying one thing and doing the other. Longtime friends parting with irreconcilable differences. People who lacked transparency, broke confidences and lacked hospitality. The thoughts were stuck circling in my mind and I struggled to find peace with all of it. I heard my middle son struggle with a jazz riff of ‘Here Comes Santa Claus’ and it was only when he placed the saxophone in my hand, with my mouthpiece, that I realized the unifying theme of 2015.
Music breaks through all economic, social and cultural barriers.
He asked me to help him, to play alongside. We sat together at the piano bench with our saxes; my chops sore. Soon my fingers were running over the ivories and the bars of ‘White Christmas’ echoed in fits and starts within the walls of our home. It took a few more practice runs for my hands to remember the keys from memory. I am always amazed that I don’t need the sheet music, even after all of these years. Eventually the songs of the season reached me; bringing me out of my reverie. White Christmas. Check.
The hubs and sons grabbed the baking items needed for their favorite cookies: snickerdoodles, peanut butter blossoms and chocolate chip. Time was starting to get away from me with all of the preparations needed to be done before the 24th. I laced up my sneakers and forced myself outdoors in the drizzly morning; knowing that my intake of calories would exceed what I would expend. There was nothing on my schedule and I had everything I needed. No more procrastination, baking day had arrived. As the whir of the mixer and smells from the oven filled our home, the younger sons emerged from the den to assist with unwrapping Hersheys’ kisses. Some were for cookies, others for their own consumption.
It was then that I remembered my song and I quickly found it on YouTube as I waited for the timer to chime for my next batch of chocolate chip cookies.
Others sang your life
but now is your chance to shine
and have the pleasure of
saying what you mean
have the pleasure of
meaning what you sing
oh, make no mistake, my friend
all of this will end
so sing it now
all the things you love
all the things you loathe
oh sing your life ~ Morrissey.
I cranked up the volume on my eldest son’s laptop. He emerged from the den with his portable speaker for better sound quality. The middle son listened as I sang the words loud and clear. I began to type furiously on the laptop, the thoughts from the last few weeks finally being able to be put into words. The youngest grabbed milk from the fridge to happily eat the cookies straight from the oven as I tapped my booted foot to the beat. Cookie baking. Check.
somewhere in the wasteland of your head
and make no mistake, my friend
your pointless life will end
but before you go
can you look at the truth?
You have a lovely singing voice
a lovely singing voice
and all of those
who sing on key
they stole the notion
from you and me so sing your life ~ Morrissey
It’s because of a baby that we celebrate this season in the first place.
Have a musically merry Christmas and a rockin’ New Year. Sing the big and little things of your life.