Saturday, January 13, 2018

It Wasn’t Exactly the Christmas I Wanted…

By Karen McCullough

But it was the one I got, and it was terrific in its own way. Just not the way I planned.

It’s always a better Christmas when there are children around, so I was elated when my daughter said
she, her husband, and four little boys would be able to come to our place for the holiday. That meant a lot of packing for them, and a ten-hour drive with the four boys (ages 6, 4, 2 ½, and 6 months) in car seats in a mini-van. It’s a pretty big venture for them.

The three older boys playing at the kitchen island.

But come they did. I had things mostly ready – guest rooms, toys for the kids, high chair and portable crib for the baby, plus all the Christmas decorations. Gifts were bought and wrapped. We had plans to visit several relatives in the week following Christmas and to take the boys to a few of their favorite places. The back yard was ready with toys so they could play outside, since winters are generally pretty mild in central North Carolina.

My daughter warned me on her final phone call the day before they left that she and the baby weren’t feeling well and seemed to be developing colds. I assured her that wasn’t going to be a problem.  Little did I know…  (Writers love to use that particular cliché, and it’s so appropriate here.)

They arrived a few days before Christmas, and things started going sideways almost immediately.  The weather took a turn for the bitter, making it too cold for the boys to spend much time out-of-doors. In fact, temperatures remained ridiculously low for this area throughout their visit, making any outing an adventure in endurance. I’m talking daytime highs in the 20s and lows at night in single digits. Biting wind at times.

But I had a good supply of toys, crayons, markers, scratch paper, and books to keep them entertained. They’re good about playing on their own. Until all three of the older boys got sick as well a couple of days after they arrived. Then their Dad caught it. And my husband and I came down with it the day after Christmas.

This wasn’t the normal, garden-variety cold either, of the sort that makes you sniffle for a couple of days. We don’t think it was the flu, since none of had the achy muscles and joints, bad headaches, and nausea that go along with flu, but it was a really ferocious cold that made people feel generally icky for close to a week, then left us all congested, coughing, sneezing, and running for an additional week to ten days.

We had to cancel all the planned visits to relatives, forego the church services we wanted to attend, and forget some of the other places I wanted to take the boys. The kids were frequently, and understandably, cranky, mopey, and whiney.

On top of that, the bug exacerbated a continuing throat problem in my son-in-law, which forced a trip to the emergency room – right as we were getting ready to sit down to Christmas dinner. And a day or two after that the bug set off the six-year-old’s asthma. Fortunately they’d brought along his medicine and a friend lent us a nebulizer, but his parents didn’t get much sleep that night. In fact, sleep was in short supply for them for most of the visit with four wheezy, snuffly, stuffed-up children who all had trouble sleeping.

We blew through (literally) about 20 packages of wipes (for diaper changes and cleaning up runny noses) and several boxes of Kleenex for the adults.

And yet, amid all the chaos and changes of plans, there were some wonderful moments and great blessings.

Present-opening on Christmas morning went well for the most part. We do stockings first, and each of the boys got a foam play sword stuffed in the top. The two-year-old was so excited about the play sword, he went off brandishing it, and Christmas could have ended right there for him. We had to call him back and remind him there were other things in his stocking.

And there was the moment when the six-year-old unwrapped a present and found a book he desperately wanted. He literally shook with excitement and his face lit up with the kind of joy that, if bottled, could solve many of the world’s major problems.

The assistance of my older daughter, who lives nearby and has grown children of her own who were spending the holiday with their other grandmother, was invaluable during the chaos of Christmas day, and my sister-in-law Page was also helpful and understanding when dinner didn’t go according to plan.

At the end, they had to extend their say here a few days because of ice and snow clogging the roads back home on the day they’d planned to leave. That, too, was a blessing in disguise. With the boys finally mostly healthy again, we were able to do some of the things I’d wanted to do earlier, including outings to Safari Nation, a terrific indoor playground, the library for story time, and the Greensboro Children’s Museum.

Perhaps the biggest blessing was contained in something my daughter told me shortly before they left. In thanking me for all the help (though I still don’t feel like it was that much), she said that if they’d been at home with everyone sick, Christmas would’ve been pretty dreary. Being with us meant she didn’t have to handle everything herself, could grab a few extra naps she might not have had at home, and had extra hands to help with caring for the children. That made a huge difference for her.
And I realized I was glad that she and the family were here, illness and all. Together we all had a better Christmas holiday than any of us would’ve had on our own.


  1. Sorry you and the family were sick for the holiday, Karen. I love the way your family works. Maybe not the perfect Christmas, but the perfect family (or as close as is possible). Who knows? This may turn out to be one of your most memorable Christmases. Your grandchildren are beautiful.

    1. Thanks, Sandy. It's certainly a Christmas we'll all remember.

  2. Oh Karen--
    Not at all what any of you were expecting, but what a blessing you and your hubby were to the family! I hope everyone is back to health, and it was certainly a Christmas to remember... but not one you want to repeat. Thank goodness you did get some fun times in with the grandbabies before they left.

  3. Karen, so sorry your family was sick, but it's easy to see that you have a close family for them to drive so far with the children. Hope everyone is feeling better now. Cherish those memories. (Love all that curly hair!)