31 January 2005

Single...With Children: Merry Christmas Tree!

Single With Children: Clothes shopping results in tree purchase

By Susie Parker

I recently gave my son money to go to the mall to replace the torn T-shirts and ragged pants he proudly wears. I specifically asked that he spend the entire amount on replacing the shirts, shorts and pants with something that didn't come ready-made with tears and rips. His initial reaction was that I might as well have asked him to take the cats to the shelter, so I gently told him that I thought the winter weather might make his current wardrobe a bit...chilly.

I left for a few hours, sure I would return to a new array of clothes, but when I got home I was told the cost of new clothes was now exorbitant. I already knew that. My son had bought three new shirts, a pair of pants and a new hood, but I thought I'd given him enough money to buy more than that. What had he done with the rest of the money?

I walked a few steps farther into the living room to find my answer.

There it was. A Christmas tree. A "real" one, he gleefully announced. It stood in a Christmas tree stand filled with water. I must admit I was a bit confused - I couldn't remember asking him to go and buy a tree. I quickly realized that he found the need to do so, and so I bit my parental tongue.

"It was only $50! Isn't it perfect?"

How could I say anything? Never mind that we had a decent artificial one in the attic. I stifled the impulse to point this out. He was proud of his purchase, and it was my job to be proud of him.

I had to confess it was a finely shaped tree. Then I took a few minutes to examine the heart beating inside my son that took money destined for clothes that somehow made its way into the hands of a Christmas tree salesperson. It was the act of a gentle soul.

And maybe that's part of what Christmas is about.

A friend wrote me and told me how particular she had become over the years, decorating for the holidays in a style that would make a showroom envious. She took such care in delicate and precise touches to make things look pleasing to the eye. She was always proud of her displays and found joy in creating eye-pleasing creations.

Her 4-year-old had different ideas. She spoke of how he had planted several ornaments on the same limb. She lamented the spots his eyes couldn't see and said how bare the top layers were because he simply couldn't reach that high.

This Mom, however, was dealing with something more serious than that small problem. Her son had just completed his second stem cell transplant in the hopes of curing a rare malignancy. She recounted how last year her tree looked picture perfect, while she battled the anxiety of wondering if it would be his last Christmas with the family. This year, blessedly, he was still in remission.

How grateful she felt that he was around to make the tree look so lopsided and bare in spots.

I realized then that it shouldn't take a catastrophic illness to rejoice in a teenage son who took the initiative of gracing our home with a live Christmas tree, even if he is still wearing T-shirts that I feel belong in the rag pile. How in the world could I be angry? I've lived 17 wonderful years with this young man, and if he chose to take some of that money to buy a tree, well, what a great memory for me when he's 20 or 30.

Most of all, how blessed I am that he is healthy, safe and happy.

There was no need for a disagreeable speech from me. All I needed was to share a hug.

As we walk by the tree, he comments, "Mom, isn't that just a perfectly shaped Christmas tree? Didn't I pick out a great one?"

Yes, Justin, you truly did.

Moments like this must be why the word "grace" was created. According to Webster, grace is an "unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification" and also "a virtue coming from God."

I think I have realized exactly what Webster was talking about. I can't honestly think of a better definition of Christmas.

My hope is that each of us finds grace in the many surprising forms it will present itself this season. And most of all, may we have the wisdom to celebrate it.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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