The Truest Gift

Delta Winds cover 2011Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


The Truest Gift

Robin G. Hazelwood

It is so easy to get caught up in individual events that you don't fully recognize the results of life's constant changes. Every once in a while, though, you're lucky enough to get just the right perspective to really appreciate the collective effect of life's ebb and flow, and a moment like that is truly a present to be savored. The most touching Christmas gift I've ever received was seeing the measure of my children's maturity and thoughtfulness lit with the glow of classic Christmas lights.

Not so long ago our family dynamic was at times tumultuous. Our home was prone to spontaneously become a war zone, in which the main combatants were my daughter and I. She was liable to rebel against me at any turn, arguing sometimes just for the pure sake of argument. "I hate you" rang often and loud. I, in turn, fought to maintain control of just about everything that happened in our home in an attempt to establish my authority. Neither of us ever willingly gave up any ground to the other, and both fought frantically, loudly and shrilly to have the last word in any "discussion." A major bone of contention for her was the favoritism she felt was shown to her brother, 6 and a half years younger. This was not only grist for her mill but a gigantic wedge between the two of them. My son was an embedded observer of the hostilities, his voice unheard in the chaos. My husband was by turns referee and mediator, always stuck in the middle, always the lynchpin keeping it all together.

Mercifully, there were respites in the chaos, during which laughter reigned and adventures were undertaken with genuine camaraderie. One thing that brought us together was touring our neighborhood and critiquing all of the Christmas light displays each year. We all prized the homes accentuated with tasteful, color-coordinated light displays and graceful decorations set to maximize the beauty of the season and of the homes themselves. We would shudder over garish places decorated with apparently unrestrained zeal, where colors collided without rhyme or reason and cartoon-like figurines vied for dominion over riotous landscapes. In the end, all of the exhibits from either end of our perceived spectrum were appreciated for their warmth and creativity, and we were all happy for the companionship we'd shared.

Our own home was never a contestant in this unofficial Christmas pageant, unfortunately. When it came time to decorate for the holidays, I narrowed my focus to concentrate on interior decoration in keeping with some strange, unwritten gender-based chore allotment schedule, leaving any outside beautification to my husband's discretion. My husband wasn't inspired: we lacked the tools he would need to light the whole house and he wasn't keen on taking steps to remedy the situation. The kids and I would occasionally throw out a mild complaint, but the situation remained unchanged. It would not have been out of character for me to buy the extension ladder we lacked and instigate the execution of a lighting scheme, but understanding the enormity of the task for even the most enthusiastic of magicians, I resisted the urge to push my husband to perform this bit of holiday magic.

As the Christmas season approached this year, however, I decided that I would widen my own focus and light our house up for the holidays. I returned from the Delta Reflections parade in the mood to start decking halls and discovered that elves, in the form of our kids, had been busily at work in our absence. Our daughter, her husband and our son worked together as a unified, autonomous team and surprised us with a fully and beautifully lighted house. Our daughter, in close collaboration with her brother, originated the plan. Our son, no longer a spectator, not only assisted our son-in-law with the installation process but also set the stage for the entire production, ensuring that we were totally unaware of any plan. Completely without my prior knowledge, much less my direction, perfectly placed strands of beautiful red lights delineated the eaves of our home. I was stunned by the bright red lights whose crisp, clean outline gracefully accentuated our home. Classy, not garish, simple, not fussy, the lights were just right and entirely in keeping with our shared preferences. A rare snowfall graced us that night, and I found myself the next morning standing outside in the frigid, pre-dawn darkness staring in wonder at the lights glowing brightly against our snow-enshrouded house.

The lights themselves were the intended gift, but more important, they represented the newly evolved face of our family, so drastically different than it once was. Time apart and separate spaces have brought us all closer together. My daughter now has her own home nearby, and we've learned that we have quite a lot in common. These days she and I share opinions, interests and confidences. My son and daughter spend so much time together that they seem to have created their own unspoken language and have become quite the comedy duo, playing off of each other to provide the entertainment for family get-togethers. Our house now is filled with laughter instead of harsh words, and nobody is allowed to merely observe. My husband isn't called upon to referee these days, although he is still prone to assist whoever seems to be taking the brunt of the teasing. It's so tempting to block an unflattering past and see only the gratifying present-day that we've been enjoying the journey towards this jovial place without realizing the full distance we've traveled. And that realization is the truest gift.