Christmas is my all-time favorite holiday. Yes, I’m one of THOSE people that listens to Christmas music all year round, I have my decorations up practically after Halloween, I go broke at the end of every year because I spend every penny I have so that people enjoy my gifts. I love everything about it.
The reason why I love Christmas so much is not because it was a season that provided the best gatherings and moments, but because it provided some of the worst.
As a child of two divorces, Christmas with a single and working mother and autistic brother was very tough. When my brother’s dad left, my mother barely had money for Christmas dinner and presents. I remember vividly that I only got a VHS movie and an off-brand board game on year. Earlier that year, I would go to school wearing old clothes that couldn’t fit but they were all that we had. All of our extended family lived in Puerto Rico, so it was only ever my mother, me, and two brothers. There were plenty of years that it was quiet – I kept to my books and we watched How The Grinch Stole Christmas on TV and even though she never said the words, I would look at my mother’s face and knew that she was praying, praying for the days and years to get better. Even as a pre-teen/teenager, in the midst of depression and anxiety already, there was no need to complain. To me, I saw it as we made it through one year, we could surely make it through the next. That was a gift in itself.
Our family is in such a better place right now – we came up from the ashes and we thrived. Between us children, we’ve succeeded in education, careers and just keeping a level head. My mother is about to become a grandmother for the first time. My youngest brother is about to leave the nest.
To this day, between our immediate family, we still only ever get each other a couple of presents a year. The real gifts were, and still are, each other. The real gift was the struggle. Because in all of its wretchedness and wrongness and unfairness, it shed away to shape who we truly were and who we would become.
As a parent-to-be, I often wonder: we don’t want our children to struggle or go through the experiences that we have gone through. We want to give them everything we didn’t get a chance to have. But as a firm believer of struggle and empathy defining who you are, how do we shape our children to become well-rounded, compassionate and kind individuals who simply understand suffering? To help those that need it? Of course no child or family is perfect. I have known people on both sides of the spectrum – that had everything and not a care in the world but still managed to strive for a better community and love for one another, and the others who ended up being, well, very Trump-like.
So what are some ideas to help our future children grow to be model citizens who are equal in intellect and compassion? How do we get them to succeed in both life and love?