What a difference a year makes. If someone had told me in 2007 that in a year’s time my son would be in and out of hospitals, my car payment would be overdue, and that I’d be looking two months ahead at Christmas with an already overdrawn bank account… I never would have believed them. But, there I sat, staring at a 6-inch pile of hospital bills that I could not pay, and the knowledge that every asset I had saved had already been depleted to less than nothing.
When my son became ill, I imagined taking a few weeks off until he was better, and then resuming my career. However, 9 months later, with Christmas around the corner, I had no choice but to do the unthinkable – attempt to call in favors from others. This process not only felt demoralizing as a mother who could always do for her children, but as a person who was always able to do for others. Moreover, while my son was fighting to stay alive, and Santa was on the verge of missing my daughter’s wish list all together, the people I hoped to be my life lines were suddenly too busy for us. Was this the year the magic of Christmas would be forever ruined for my youngest child? What would happen when she woke up to the nothing that I could afford to give her on Christmas morning? I was ready to give up. The one thing I had left was my life insurance, and I was giving serious consideration to the fact that my children would be better off with an insurance payment than me. According to the doctors, my son’s mind was lost forever, and he would never be able to be left unattended, thereby ending my career. I knew I couldn’t continue seeing the constant disappointment in my daughter’s face every time I had to say, “We can’t afford it,” or take something else away due to lack of funds. My daughter lived on the ice, and figure skating was her passion. Since her brother’s illness put a leash on our finances, I had taken all but two of the 10-14 hours she was used to training each week. Despite two of her coaches agreeing to defer their payments until my son was better and I could return to work, I knew then that this string of crises had ruined her dreams of becoming a professional skater. I also knew that if something didn’t change, her coaches’ families couldn’t expect them to work for a promise forever, and even Santa couldn’t make up the difference this year.
I struggled to explain to her that she hadn’t done anything wrong to keep Santa from coming, and I could only imagine how difficult it was for a 12 year old to understand that Christmas gifts like ice time, skates and coaching were all wants - not needs. How do you explain to your children that you don’t have money to provide necessities, so they must forego Christmas gifts along with most other wants? I knew that through all the uncertainty and disappointment that had forced itself into her world, what little time she had left on the ice was the only thing she looked forward to. It was the avenue that she used to cope with all the changes that had been thrust on her. I would do anything to keep that semblance of escape from her new reality, and maintain what normalcy remained in her life.
As a mother, I was no longer able to watch my daughter practice on the ice because her brother would not go into the rink and could not be left alone in his paranoid, delusional, and at times suicidal or homicidal states of psychosis. So, we would drive her to the ice, drop her off, and wait for her to finish somewhere else. Then, one day early that Christmas season, I noticed a twinkle in her eye and a smile on her face as she was walking out of the rink. She bounded into the car with an excitement I had not seen since her brother became ill. She said that when she came off the ice to put her skates away, there was a bag sitting on her skating bag with a note that simply read “From Santa.” Inside, there was a beautiful new skating dress. As she showed me the dress, which was gorgeous, it took all my effort to hold back tears of joy and emotion seeing my daughter’s excitement gifted to her from her mystery Santa. There was an envelope another day left in her bag while she was skating, again “From Santa”, with a card and a gift card for new tennis shoes. Apparently, Santa noticed that her shoes were wearing to holes over the past year while our financial situation deteriorated, and she had taken to training off-ice in tights. Later that season, Santa surprised her again when my phone rang one day and the person on the other end of the line informed me that Santa was providing my daughter with 12 hours of prepaid time on the ice. Shortly after, when I tried to make a good will payment to her coach, she said it was forgiven, “Consider it a Christmas gift,” she said. That year, despite our family’s battle with schizophrenia and it’s emotional and financial burdens, I was overwhelmed with grateful emotion each time I saw that smile on my daughter’s face. I watched a Christmas miracle unfold before my eyes as each act of kindness by her Christmas Angels revived her belief, hope, and faith in a world that otherwise must have seemed to be falling apart.
As I share this story, the memories still bring tears of joy to my eyes. I had given up hope, and then came the Christmas Angels, and not only did they prove to my daughter and myself that Santa is alive and well, but unbeknownst to them, their acts of kindness to my daughter gave me the will to continue to fight. I am eternally grateful and will never forget our Christmas Angels.
Photograph credit to Rebecca Fenderson