Monday December 29, 2008
One of the greatest gifts of grandparenthood is watching the children who grew up in your house take their parenting seriously. Something is born in them – just as it was born in you – that accompanies the birth of that little child. It’s an innate longing to create a home in which this little person can thrive; to learn and grow and capitalize on the capacity for intelligence and stoke the fires of wonder and prepare for a world of challenges. This parenting thing is a most demanding role, if you stop and think about it.
When your own children take on the mantel, it becomes a your reward for aging. Let’s face it: there is a downside to growing older. You’ve got to experience it to really understand. We older guys don’t expect you young folks to appreciate the challenge. We didn’t grasp it either back when we possessed the blinding glow of youth. But the offset to the aches and pains and physical limitations that grip us these days comes at Christmastime when you re-united with your own children and see their devotion to keeping the traditions of the season alive in the hearts of their own offspring.
We heard the news as the day approached: our oldest daughter purchased an eleven-pound standing rib roast for Christmas eve dinner. Prime rib. All the associated trimmings. Mmmm.
They moved into their new home just after Thanksgiving. Decoration of the new place took a back seat this year; unpacking boxes, painting walls, ripping out old carpet and laying down a truckload of travertine on the first floor, well, it meant there was a little less time for outside lights. But even so, the house was ready for Christmas.
Gifts wrapped. Tree decorated. And over the fireplace, a stenciled greeting – Christmas – the most wonderful time of the year. Kris is a determined lady. Not only was the new house prepared for the family, all of us – Grandma and Grandpa, her two siblings and their spouses and all the little ones (all seven grandchildren) – but she also scheduled in their church’s Christmas Eve celebration mid-afternoon.
The whole extended clan would arrive after the service. But for now, Ben would leave the clinic where he worked all day and meet Kris and their four kids at the church in time for spiritual orientation. There would be the singing of carols and lively worship and heartwarming drama and a stirring biblical message and that would set up the Christmas Eve of 2008 as one for the memory books.
Kris dressed her four kids (ages 6 to ten months) and they all piled into the van in time for the opening of the program. Ben wished his colleagues a “Merry Christmas” and raced to his car in the lot. He checked his watch.
It was on the freeway that Kristyn thought about the roast. “Uh… how long does it take to cook an eleven pound prime rib?” she thought. “Better call Mom.” When Carolyn checked her sources and relayed her findings – three and one half hours – Kristyn’s heart sank. She made a quick calculation, and tried calling Ben. No answer.
Everything else dropped off the radar. “Oh no,” she thought. We won’t eat until nine o’clock! No way. These thoughts consumed her. As she herded the kids into the sanctuary, she hoped to find Ben and send him home to get the roast in the oven. But the entire Inland Empire arrived at the same time for the same service. Crowds gathered around every entryway. Kristyn got to the main floor entrance, but could not locate her husband.
A few minutes before, Ben arrived, too. He snatched an open row of seats and dutifully reserved them for his family. He stood guard at the end of the aisle and time after time, informed ushers and families that these seats were taken. He never saw Kris on the other side of the back entrance.
Nor did Kris see Ben. An usher blocked her entry and directed her to the balcony. Kris tried to explain her situation. The usher, fresh from his staff meeting, repeated the rules. No. We may not allow you inside, he stated flatly. He did his duty. The tone of his voice made the point: there would be absolutely no exceptions even on this day of generosity and giving of gifts. That’s when the tears welled up in Kristyn’s eyes.
She and the four kids missed the Christmas Eve service. She loaded them back up in the van and headed out the parking lot driveway and home to the meat still in the fridge. Ben sat through the whole program with five empty seats next to him. On the way down the freeway, tears streaked down her cheeks and she told her kids she was alright and that it would be a great Christmas in spite of it all. She put the Christmas CD in the stereo. She tried to sing along.
When I heard about what happened, I went straight to the market on the hunt for an appropriate bouquet of flowers. I don’t know why, except that my heart filled up with such enormous pride over our daughter’s planning and the cruel encounter with Murphy’s Law and the well-meaning but Pharisaical usher who would rather state policy than help a young and harried Mom caught in a Christmas dilemma and Ben, my terrific son-in-law sitting there on Christmas Eve in a nameless crowd next to five premium seats, all empty. The remainder of the big hall was jammed.
But a short time later, when we all arrived at the new address to the aroma of prime rib filling the house and stuffed mushrooms and chilled Martinelli’s and the children squealing with delight to be a gathering of cousins around the fireplace and music filled the air and we hugged and the burst of flowers became the centerpiece of a beautifully set table and we held hands and offered our thanks to God in heaven for his indescribable gift, well, the empty seats and the gruff usher back at church faded into oblivion and this Grandpa looked around the room and the seven grandchildren and the three children and their spouses and woman he’d married nearly forty years ago and felt a swelling up of gratitude that came from somewhere deep.
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You are a leader. And on this Monday morning, in a world as unstable and unpredictable and filled with turmoil as ever, a new confidence emerges. The God who dispensed that Greatest of all Gifts so long ago, still gives.
Be anxious for nothing is what he said.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp, 2008
ADDENDUM – Kristyn shared one more incident that flared up on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. (“No one knows this part,” she said.) When she got home, eager to get the prime rib going, she fired up the oven and then the stove to sear the meat. The flame inadvertently ignited a dishtowel. Thankfully, she managed to put out the fire before it triggered the smoke alarm and interior sprinkler system. This story used by permission.