It is December.
If your household is anything like mine right now, there’s a flurry of planning and orchestration going on in which gifts are purchased, hidden and wrapped. Food is planned, prepared and ordered. Large boxes of sparkly (and frankly rather odd) items are hauled out of the corners of the basement and distributed gaudily about the house. In short, Christmas has invaded and it’s a time of chaos that you can either relax and enjoy or feel sweep over you with a wave of dread.
I enjoy this season very much now. I like the sparkle. I like much of the food. I love the friends and family.
The most prevalent emotion for me at Christmas, however, is gratitude.
You see, it wasn’t always this easy. When we made the decision that I would stay home and raise Katherine, we knew that it would be a rough haul with financial consequences. When you have a young lawyer starting out in a career with a young family, there is precious little money. With my work being dependant on sales and, frankly, time to work snatched between diapers and disasters, well…. Let’s just say that Christmas was a hard time of year. An articling student in Newfoundland in 2003/2004 made around $25 000 per year, to give you a rough idea of numbers. That’s only ten years ago.
There were years when finding money for a turkey was a real stretch. John and I were often like those two people in The Gift of the Magi, with each of us scrimping and scrounging to find money to buy the other a present. Christmas was a time of stress and worry. When you are dreading the rising heat bills of January, spending money in December feels a little like sticking your head in the guillotine. When you have children, the pressure to hide this stress is immense, which exacerbates the sensation. Joy is difficult when you are short of money and high on worry.
Happily for us, now is different. I can buy groceries without worrying. The bills are paid. The gifts get bought. There will be a turkey. I can take time and money to buy John a nice gift that is, in part, a thank you for those years in which he worked like a slave for us.
Every year, since the year we first had enough money not to worry about how we’d make January’s mortgage payment if we bought December’s groceries (a slight exaggeration, but not far off at times), I have been grateful.
I am grateful that John and I are able to work hard as a team and that our efforts have paid off.
I am grateful that my husband was tenacious through those years of long days and long nights of work.
I am grateful that family helped us stand up when the world threatened to drive us to our knees.
I am grateful that we are all three of us very healthy.
I am grateful that the gamble we took, of me staying home to raise Katherine, was a good one and has worked even better than anticipated.
I am grateful that those years allowed me to work as an artist.
I am grateful that now we have enough.
We have enough. And this is where the challenge comes in, a challenge that I offer to you as an example, but you can make up your own or modify this one to suit your own life and means, should you so desire.
Each year now, I look at the financial things that caused us stress in years past and give according to my gratitude (and what we can afford).
I give a mortgage payment to the Salvation Army, because we have a roof over our head. Many don’t.
I give two weeks’ worth of groceries to the food bank, because I will eat plenty of healthy food this Christmas. Many won’t.
I give a car payment and a utility payment to the Single Parents’ Association, because I don’t have to choose between paying the bills and buying my kid a present.
I donate pet food to a local animal charity, because when you have no money, a bag of decent dog food costs a fortune in December.
Precisely what I give and to whom varies from year-to-year, but those are the big ones.
We have enough.
And for that I will always be profoundly thankful.