… our family received this holiday season.
Today is the Feast of The Epiphany. This day usually marks the end of the holiday season for me and as I look back on a very eventful holiday season, I realized I have received more gifts than ever this season – all because we lost our electricity.
Let me rewind…
An ice storm hit our city and 3 days before Christmas we lost power.
And we didn’t get it back for 6 days.
6 days. (Yeah, we were one of those people.)
Christmas is a super-festive time in our house. We even decorated early this year because the kids were so excited about the holidays. We even tuned in to radio stations already playing Christmas songs in November. Christmas lights and Christmas music all day long. Every single day. We planned to celebrate Christmas morning in our holiday PJs, just the 7 of us in our little house together, in between family Christmas parties on the Eve and on Christmas night. When will I learn that even when I am most prepared, plans always go awry?
When we first lost power early Sunday morning, on December 22, I completely thought it would be only for a day, 24 hours max. The kids came down for breakfast and we told them that the power was out. At first it was fun. It was an adventure. We “winter camped” in our living room. We told stories by candlelight. We went to the bathroom in pairs – one holding the flashlight while the other one, well, you know. We held each other under the covers to keep warm – Ever-Patient and I on the floor with the 2 littlest ones while the other 3 snuggled on two sofas.
(Sorry for the blurry photo…candlelight + flash doesn’t quite cut it.)
Good thing my children LOVE candles…we had no problem finding enough…however, I wouldn’t suggest lighting all the scented candles at once. I can still smell the nauseating combo of “Frosted Gingerbread” and “French Garden”…
24 hours was fine. A one day challenge. Perfect. We bonded and felt good about not leaving and toughening it out.
But then we woke up the next day and the power was still out.
Kids: “So what’s for breakfast?”
Me (proceeding to list things in the fridge I wanted them to consume) : “Milk, bread, fruit, carrots, cucumber, kale, jerky, cheese, pepperettes, tabasco… ”
Kid: “How about eggs and bacon?”
Me: “Nope. Power is still out.”
Kid: “So no hot chocolate?”
Me: “Nope. No hot anything.”
Kid: “No Christmas lights still?”
Kid: “Awww..and no Christmas music?”
At this point, I notice one of my children eating something at the table with her back turned to all of us who haven’t left our cozy sleeping bags because it started to get really cold in our house.
Me: “What are you eating?”
Kid (who I now sense is in survival of the fittest mode): “Nothing.”
The other 4 now all jump up, also realizing it is survival of the fittest, and rush to the table and groan. She has just finished the last of the homemade sweet buns that my mom had given us to give us a bit of comfort.
That’s when the bickering officially began. It was a full-on debate over individualism and the greater good. “You should have shared with all of us!” “We all got one last night and there was only one left – finders, keepers!”
I pull the covers over my head.
Kid (The observant child who sees me hide): “Have you had your coffee yet?”
Ever-Patient, hopping out of the sleeping as if someone lit a fire under his you-know-what: “I’m on it. I’ll be back!”
Me: “I’ll call our parents. It’s time to abandon ship.”
Long story short, we travelled far and wide looking for “room at the inn” – completely taking over homes, schlepping our sleeping bags and other baggage (ha!), and apologizing profusely for the imposition. We ended up staying in 3 different places over the course of the 6 days, because even our parents lost power for a bit.
I learned a lot during those 6 days and at the risk of sounding sentimental, for the first time in 35 years, in the most authentic way, actually felt what Christmas is really about.
Here are the 12 unexpected Christmas gifts that the power outage gave to us:
1. The gift of warmth. Although we lost physical warmth at our house, we found such spiritual and emotional warmth from my family and friends that offered warm shelter and company for us too. There was an outpouring of love and support.
2. The gift of kindness. Christmas became a celebration of the unexpected kindness. Kindness that surprised us in the most subtle and intense way. We had neighbours and friends that kept us up-to-date on the happenings on our street. When we stayed with my cousin and her husband, she gave the girls and I a manicure. I would receive texts from friends asking how we were doing.
3. The gift of release. I learned to let go. Christmas soon became less about the tradition of keeping our little family space like a sacred bubble for just the 7 of us to be together. I am sure there will be those Christmases again where we will return to the tradition of Christmas morning at home but this year, there was something else that needed to happen.
4. The gift of childhood. When I was a child, I remember sleepovers with my cousins. I remember running through my aunt’s house playing games. I remember playing card games with them. I remember sleepovers at my grandparents’ apartment and spending time with them. Once I let go all the “adult” worries of being uprooted temporarily from our home, I remembered how much fun I had as a child during family sleepovers. I was able to step back into that space for a moment especially during the days we had spent time with cousins during the power outage. Even though we are all grown, some married, some with children, when we get together, we are children again – laughing, being immature, doing pranks, teasing, playing games.
5. The gift of gratitude. I know this seems obvious but I think it’s an underrated gift. I wasn’t just grateful for my family for taking care of us. I was grateful that we actually HAD options for a warm place to go. People didn’t hesitate offering up their home the moment they knew we were in need. I discovered people WANT to help and be needed. I put away those thoughts of not asking for help and doing things on our own. Yes, I felt vulnerable but it was a lesson in gratitude.
6. The gift of less. I was reminded again of how we can live with less: three outfits (one of them “fancy”), books, a couple of boardgames, a few Christmas movies, and time with family. The kids were happy. That’s all we needed for 6 days. The kids loved being able to sleep over and just hang out with cousins, aunts and uncles, and their grandparents. As for exercise, Ever-Patient picked up a kettlebell for each of us from home and that’s all we needed to maintain our regimen.
7. The gift of the present moment. By day 5, I really missed my home and my bed and my kitchen. This led to the kids feeling homesick. When I stopped feeling sorry for myself and focused on the present and feeling grateful for even having a place to stay, I would see the kids joking around with each other, eating meals together with family, laughing and smiling, and knew that this had to happen to us. Again, I was reminded how my disposition affects the kids’ disposition and my degree of willingness, openness, and flexibility is mirrored right back at me.
8. The gift of relaxation. Even being out of the house and having our rhythms thrown out of whack, I found time to sit and read. Without a home to care for and with the kids preoccupied with new surroundings and people, I lost myself in books and in writing.
9. The gift of nourishment. Staying with our parents also led to the gift of the home-cooked meal. Most of these were Filipino comfort foods that made us feel right at home. Ever-Patient and I were also able to have meaningful conversations with our parents and family for hours.
10. The gift of reciprocity. This holiday our family, especially our parents, spent so much time with the kids. My mother-in-law lamented that her house would be so quiet after we left. As Christmas presents, we give each set of grandparents a photobook of what our family has been up to in the year. It is their favourite gift. They sit with the kids and the kids talk about the pictures and share their memories of the year with their grandparents. I have never seen them all so full of joy.
11. The gift of community. We have nourished, sustained, and built these circles of community. Yes, we were born into a large family that still lives in close proximity to each other. But we make the commitment to spend time with all of them and attend family gatherings. We organize family events like hikes and a night out with all my cousins; and we invite for holidays and parties. With the large amount of people, it can be overwhelming but we do it to maintain the relationships. We have our community of friends who we reach out to and spend time with as if they were our own family. We have our neighbourhood community who look out for us on a day-to-day basis, these extra eyes looking out for my children. Over the holidays, even after our power was restored, we strengthened these circles. There are times when I want to sequester my family and keep them all to myself but now that the kids are getting older, I know it’s important to expand the circles.
12. The gift of deeper connection. Christmas was about family and being together and about raucous and noise, about old and young together, about catching up and conversation – and not just a couple of hours at a holiday party – but hours and days of talking…yes, you gave us shelter, but you cared enough to spend time with us too. I would sit with my coffee and watch the kids have one-on-one time with an aunt getting their nails done, an uncle challenging them to a game on the Wii, an aunt reading them a story, a little cousin sitting on their lap while they became the caregiver, a child helping grandma in the kitchen, one of them sitting curled under grandpa’s arm as they tried to stay up late, another one braiding an aunt’s hair, the oldest one catching up with aunties and listening to their silly stories. Each child received individual attention while I sat back and watched and felt so appreciative and grateful. That is the greatest gift anyone can give a mother – loving her children.
A last note of gratitude:
Thank you ice storm. Thank you for giving us one of the most magical landscapes of crystal trees and branches frozen mid-sway. Thank you for the reminders of the delicacy of life (especially our way of life) and the awesome strength of nature.
Carrie from The Parenting Passageway quotes from the book, All Year Round:
“The star that the Wise Men followed led not away into the widths of the heavenly worlds but to a house, an earthly dwelling, and an inevitable part of their journey was their encounter with evil in the person of Herod. We, too, may be following a star, seeking the abode of our highest aspirations. This is always to be found on the earth – set firmly in the ground of daily life, earthly tasks and responsibilities. On the way, we meet unforeseen difficulties, disappointments, even dangers, which may force us to change direction. But on all this the star shines: on the success and the failure, on the good and the evil, and in the clear light of its rays we are guided ever forward.”
Thank you to all who are like stars shining in our path, lighting our way, providing warmth when we need it.