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Chandra's Blog


Entries in Christmas (11)


Pay it Forward

My sister and I typically do our weekly grocery shopping together; it is environmentally friendly to take one car, and makes things infinitely more pleasant, especially with kids along. Today was no exception and we had two in tow, her Harper and my Pip, home with another ear infection. Harper was wearing a chunky knit cap over her blonde wisps, her formal Christmas dress and running through the aisles singing Christmas carols. Pip had her hooded sweatshirt pulled up like a red gnome's cap to disguise sickbed hair that neither of us had the heart to tackle before we left and a little more shuffle to her step as the ibuprofen kicked in.

It was a typical Tuesday and we were planning menus for upcoming events, searching for a dropped coupon, debating the merit of trying dairy-free or gluten-free first to help prevent Piper's ear infections, and chasing down Harper, when something surprising happened. 

Harper (photo credit: Nick Nowak)

I was off tracking down cocoa for our upcoming caroling expedition, and as my sister tells it, an older gentlemen who they had passed several times was watching Harper's antics, and Pip's gentle big-sisterly shadowing. Harper had started toting around a stuffed reindeer from the seasonal section and by the time they got to the dairy department, the man finally approached my sister.

He handed her a twenty dollar bill, and asked to please buy Harper the stuffed reindeer she was carrying, and to go back for something for Piper as well. My sister told him it wasn't necessary (he had no way of knowing how, unlike her older sister, Harper has no trouble parting with toys before leaving stores) and tried to give back the money. The gentleman was joined by his wife, who explained that they had no young children, and even their youngest grandchild was 25, and there was nobody to buy gifts for. Harper, in her party dress, exuberantly caroling throught the Giant Food Store, was the epitome of the Christmas spirit. 


My sister asked for their address, to share a card, or express thanks, and they shook their heads.

"Just, what is it you young folks say, pay it forward," they said, and then they were gone, smiling at the girls clutching their new reindeer and stuffed moose toys.

I find myself so heartened by this tiny act, excited to discover the opportunity to give back, and still moved to tears by the story the cashier who witnessed this shared--about the stranger who paid for the $500 dress uniform for a dedicated marine whose credit card wouldn't go through, and asked only for him to write her every year and let her know he was okay in return. 

These threads of kindness create the fabric of our humanity and feed our innate desire for goodness and connection. If you have an idea on how we could repay this touching, very unexpected kindness, or a pay it forward story, please feel free to share it here. 


12 Days of Christmas (Cards) Day 2 -- 2001

Announcing this year's miracle -- 2001

2001 -- I have written plenty on our firstborn, Hayden, and how his unexpected arrival and the medical hoopla, diagnosis and uncertainty colored so much of that time. But we weren't alone in reeling when the holidays rolled around, December of 2001. I feel compelled to write about that almost every anniversary. 

At the time this photo was taken, we were feeling pretty grateful to have him home at last, to have his first surgeries behind us, to have avoided others, to have finally ditched the feeding tube over Thanksgiving, and to be feeling like we might even be finding our parenting groove. 

I remember the certainty that the worst case scenarios some doctors predicted for Hayden would not come true, and knowing this tiny person in a way I never expected to, and knowing him to be a fighter, someone special. So many people, both back then, and later, have remarked on Hayden's 'old soul'. You can see it even here in his eyes.

I remember also a sense of optimism that our larger world would recover from what had happened the previous September, and we were all forging new connections, finding strength we didn't know we had, and appreciating the small things.

It was certainly true at our house that year. 

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12 Days of Christmas (Cards) Day 1

As my favorite holiday, I take Christmas very seriously. I have written odes to my favorite books of the season as well as my favorite songs.

And every year I try to tone it down a little more, so that I don't miss the magic in the moment. The first and most obvious cut to go should be cards. It's not like the old days--we have social media to keep us connected, for better and for worse, throughout the year. So why do I keep creating, sending and cherishing the dying artifact of the annual holiday card, preferably with photo, with or without letter? I wrote this post about Christmas cards a few years ago. But I find I cannot let them go, and I keep circling back to the idea that the series of cards tells the story of a family in flip-book time lapse style.

My mom saved every Christmas card our family ever received--she actually made whole albums each year of our received cards, and sent out over 500 of our own every year. (In fact, if your family was tight with ours in the 70s-90s, and you want a good archive of cards, come see what didn't get destroyed in the great fire of '91.) I can still picture my mom dutifully inscribing and hand-addressing and calling out commentary to my dad--"Did we get one from the Fraziers last year? What about so-and-so at the office?"--over the second half of every Thanksgiving weekend. 

Whenever I try to scale back Christmas prep and stop myself from making a card, I imagine our growing collection of annual cards that tell the story of our own little family over the years. I'm scared to miss one year in part because what might that gap say about our family narrative? For example, though 2011 was pretty shitty and I almost didn't care to capture it , still we did a card, if only to say, we're still here. Still standing. I don't want my kids to look at the display of our own cards and see the space, and notice what's missing. Maybe that is how all traditions become entrenched?  

Regardless, I thought as we head into the 12 days of Christmas countdown for this year, it would be fun to go through our cards over the last 12 (13) years.

Christmas 2000


Our first Christmas card was handmade. Not coincidentally, this was also our first and last holiday without kids underfoot. We had recently moved from Breckenridge to the town where we live now, and in a vain attempt to save my parents' marriage, had just started renting the house my father had bought for himself in anticipation of moving out. I was starting my own event planning company, and J was working for a venture capital firm, and we rattled around in too many rooms, in a house with historically bad ju-ju, with one dog and one cat, and tried to find our stride in this new chapter.

Back then, I had endless hours to handtie raffia knots on vellum overlays, and I wanted our first cards to be special, reminiscent of our wedding program, which also involved a lot of raffia, vellum, handmade paper and muslin. I was really into raffia and vellum. 


I love this photo, even though you can't see it very well under the vellum here, it had a little lift-the-flap feature. Our expressions, that rise in J's chest, as we exit the church on our wedding day earlier that year, look very much like we've sucked in a quick breath before diving into the unknown. In fact, seconds before this was snapped, I remember J leaned down and whispered in my ear, "Here we go!" 

The youth in this picture strikes me, of course. J looks like he is about 12--the kids can't believe the CURLS he had. But I also think with the gift of hindsight about all the things we didn't know were coming. Good and bad. When I see this picture, all I can see is radiating optimism, everything unfurling in front of us. I love this young couple, in all their breathless hopefulness. 

2000, the new millenium--the first and only year when we would simply be Mr and Mrs. Hoffman. 


Still a believer

Max, (middle) downing today's 2 cups of green veggiesLast night, Max (8) crawled into my bed and asked me to hold his hand. In the dark he whispered, 

"Mom, are YOU Santa?"

He's too old and clever to lie to, so I turned the question back on him.

"What do you think?"

There was a long pause. 

"Nah," he said, somewhat shakily. "I mean, there's no way you and Dad could afford to buy all those presents, and the ones under the tree too."

I was a little taken aback by this, because while J and I try to instill the value of a dollar in the boys (and those who know about Max and money are aware this is not lost on the middle son) we don't want them to think we can't stuff a few stockings. 

In the dark, I weighed my options. Hayden learned the truth about Santa from a classmate four years ago and has worked hard to preserve the notion for his little brother and sister. As he told me this year, "You know how I felt when I found out? My stomach went like this," and he made a fist and squeezed it until it trembled. We've talked often about how short the years are when you get to be on the believing side of the magic, instead of the making side. While I welcome Hay's help keeping our Elf on the Shelf on the move and even let him sneak out on Christmas eve to help with a few tasks, he has told me sometimes he wishes he didn't know. 

So I said to Max, "Honey, there are all kinds of miracles and magic that happen around Christmastime."

"That's what I thought," he said drowsily, and rolled over and fell asleep.  

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It's a Christmas miracle. Again.

Let's be honest. Every Christmas is riddled with miracles, not the least of which is that we pulled it off, again. Moms and Dads (and grandparents and generous aunts and uncles everywhere), we did it. This was what J said as he raised his mug of late night coffee to me. We did it. This time last night, we were creeping upstairs knowing the kids were waking up to this:


Christmas eve 2012

I don't just mean the STUFF--the tree and the nativity, the advent stockings, the Elf, the wrapped books and art supplies, the coveted goalie pads and iPads.

As my favorite holiday, I take Christmas very seriously. I have written odes to my favorite books of the season as well as my favorite songs. I carefully consider the impact of gifts, from every aspect. Equitable, environmental, developmental, and of course, the WOW factor.

So when I say we did it, I mean that we followed our family rituals in hopes of creating tradition and maintaining a sense of the magic. This year, that felt extra miraculous. And not for the obvious reason that we hit the ground running from our Utila Vida Tranquila three weeks ago. 

In a whirlwind short span of time, we went from lazy days of hermit crab races, slow snorkeling and boat commutes to fast food, a dozen hockey games and a tank of gas in two jam-packed weekend days. 

Piper, back on the ice

The first wrench in the holiday works was Sampson, who must have gained twenty pounds (fifteen of it fur!) under the loving care of Aunt Kim and Uncle Matt. What's Christmas without a little dog blog drama? 

A week ago, we experienced some unseasonably warm weather and hockey practices were canceled, so the kids took Sampson fishing. What is more idyllic than kids and their dog, fishing? I put down the presents I was wrapping, opened the window and snapped a photo. Shortly after the below photo was taken, Hayden came running to the house and confessed tearfully that as he was changing his tackle from catfish bait (hot dog and hook) to bass lure, Sampson lunged and swallowed the bait--literally hook, line and sinker. 

I'm going to give away a little free veterinary advice, in case this horror happens to any of my dog-loving friends: if your dumb dog swallows a fish hook, you do not rush him to the vet for emergency surgery as we were imagining. Instead, we were instructed to feed Sampson a dozen cotton balls slathered in peanut butter. And bread too, if we could get it into him, also with the peanut butter and American cheese. The idea being that these items would form a protective barrier around the hook and it would pass through safely.

freshwater fishing--kids and their dog




Then, you wait. And watch. And sift hopefully through every cottony turd. Hayden took on this task with me, and sometimes as we shivered outside with a flashlight and some plastic forks, mouth breathing from the steaming stench of it, he would say that this was all he wanted for Christmas, for Sampson to be okay, for the hook to pass through without damage. A Christmas miracle. 

As of Christmas eve, the last time we officially looked, we had not found the hook, (non-chrome hooks can actually be dissolved by a dog's stomach acid) but it looks like Hayden may have gotten his wish, freeing us up to enjoy Christmas. 

This morning, when the kids crept up the stairs and into our bed to wake us for stockings-breakfast-presents, Piper did not say, "Merry Christmas," but instead, "My stomach hurts." We led her down the hall, video camera rolling, to show her the big gift, what had kept me and Mr. Claus up banging around and socket wrenching until all hours of the night, taking the king size family bed out of her tiny room and assembling her new bed. The boys, who were in on the surprise, threw open her door for the big HGTV reveal, and in what is destined to become a home movie classic, Piper promptly threw up.

From then on, Christmas took a slight veer off the predicted path of our usual ritual. Instead of stockings-breakfast-presents, everything was punctuated with vomiting. Poor Pip insisted the show go on, with her bravely participating. She would open a present, give a weak smile, and then yak a little more foamy barf into her bowl. Midday, the two patients retired to try out her new bed. This is how they spent the rest of the day:


The three boys went off to play some family hockey, and I rattled around the house, reflecting and cleaning up. Peeking in on the two of them, counting my blessings that Sampson and Piper both seemed to be resting comfortably, I said a small prayer of gratitude.

We did it. Again. Another year; Christmas miracle. 

* *** *