Nothing quite like joy of Christmas on a shoestring

We needed to conquer Christmas shopping this year. Between wrestling matches, huge school projects and band concerts, this month had little time for holiday preparation.

I called a family meeting one Saturday morning and announced, Ž“By the end of the day, I want everyone to have their gifts bought. Go and make a list of everyone you need to buy for, get your money together and we will leave in 30 minutes.Ž”

The day was orchestrated perfectly. Well, almost. I had made sure everyone had their watches so we could split up and regather at healthy intervals. When we got to the mall, I was the only one without a watch, and the teasing began.

Ž“Who is going to go with mom so she will know what time it is?Ž”

Now, this did not fit into my fine-tuned plan. I wanted to Ž“help SantaŽ” by getting the stuffings for the stockings. That is difficult with a human-watch following my every move. SantaŽ’s shopping would have to wait.

At first, I was a bit grumpy. I am not good at crowds. I donŽ’t like to shop, and staring at everything along the way makes me crazy.

Each of the three kids wanted a turn with mom. I know that is a great compliment, but the kids were all enticed into the same stores. My ability to browse in the same spots dwindled greatly by the third round. I became more than grumpy.

In an effort to amuse myself, I started to reminisce. Like a freshly lived day, the memory of shopping as a child myself came to mind. I remember the long list of people I had to shop for: grandparents, Aunt, Uncles, cousin, parents, friends and the gerbil. A daunting list of a dozen gifts to buy and a meager amount of saved allowance to do it with. I never even noticed the agony of it. I can remember clearly the first time I saved my own money to shop with. I remember taking the list and dividing my money evenly by that number. It worked out to about 50 cents a gift.

I can still remember the gifts I purchased. Grandpa got a black plastic comb for his pocket. He always let me comb his hair so it would stick up. We would laugh and later he would smooth it back into place. He really could use a new comb. Grandma had dentures, and yet she loved to chew gum and blow bubbles with me. The only gum that worked was Carefree. She got one of those big pink packs of bubble gum. My other grandma played solitaire with a vengeance. What would be more perfect than a pack of pretty cards? Mom loved black licorice. Each gift was purchased and wrapped with love.

I could hardly wait for Christmas. The joy and anticipation ate at me. I wasnŽ’t really excited about the gifts with tags that read Ž“For Kerri.Ž” I was thrilled about the tags that read Ž“From Kerri.Ž”

My anxiousness was not left unsatisfied. As each gift was opened, I watched the smiles cross their faces. I soaked up their thank yous. Never has there been a greater Christmas than the one where I learned what it meant to give from the heart.

So, this year, as I stood in line and watched my kids proudly pull out crumpled dollars and change, the grumpiness faded. Yes, I had to wait while every votive candle was sniffed for the perfect scent. I had to be supportive while every single bumper sticker on the rack was read.

But, deep inside was a joy that could not be contained. I was witnessing the instilling of Ž“To give is better than to receive.Ž”

Kerri Hofmann lives in Federal Way with her children.

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