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For over a month my phone has been dying sporadically in the middle of calls and texts. Sometimes I pull it from my purse to find the black screen of death. When I turn it back on I find missed messages from days earlier. I’ve known it is past time to replace my old phone, but I don’t replace things quickly or easily. I justified my wait because my son’s phone is troublesome as well, and, as the administrator of our plan, I have to be present to sign when he purchases a new phone for himself. I reasoned that I would wait and get a new one when he came home. We’d get new phones at the same time.

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Christmas embarrassed me this year.  I feel ashamed even.

A couple of different friends gave us money before the holidays, so I was able to get caught up on the bills and “do” Christmas for the kids.  I was struggling to shop  for and wrap gifts because my mind was solely focused on last Friday’s court date.  But, I went through the motions and carefully planned how to make the most of what I’d been given.  I felt guilty spending someone else’s hard earned money though just so my kids could open presents.  I felt like I was frivolously spending.

The court date came and went in the midst of a snow storm and suddenly it felt like Christmas.  On the Saturday following my hearing I decorated, put up lights, played Christmas music, and relaxed into the holiday spirit.  Ironically, on Friday I received a preChristmas box from my best friend, which contained a Christmas tablecloth and other Christmasy household decor.

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My second son’s ex brought my grandson over for a nice long visit, and I got to watch him open gifts.  My oldest son flew in to Portland and spent a few days with friends in Seattle before driving down for Christmas Eve.  My oldest daughter picked up my second son and his girlfriend and their baby and brought them all to spend Christmas Day with us.  Those were the best gifts I could have received.  It was glorious having all seven of my children in my house at one time.  That literally never, ever happens.   My husband would not have permitted it.

However, those weren’t the only glorious Christmas gifts I received.  The local post office chose my little family and another single mom as their Christmas families this year.  On Christmas Eve a woman came to my home with groceries, personal items, a complete Christmas dinner, cash, and gift cards.  She arrived at my house shortly before I did, and she had already created a narrow path to the covered and now hidden dining room table.  It was overwhelming, but I didn’t cry at all.  There were no tears.  I was just so relieved to see the expensive instant foods I never buy; the kind that will make busy mornings and long days easier to get the kids fed.

She sat with me as I opened each bag.  I was embarrassed because I did cry when I found Love Spell shower gel among the many treasures.  I had longed for something feminine and sexy, something to make me feel like a woman again instead of a tired “it.”  I’ve only smelled Love Spell once, when my dad died and I found some in his bathroom, and I had wished I could have something so expensive and luxurious.  There were razors and shave gel and expensive, quality make up items tucked in the bags.  The kind of things I’ve never had and don’t need or deserve, just longed for.

Several friends sent bags of gifts for the kids and for me.  Between what I’d bought with the money my friends had given me earlier and the gifts coming in, our special little tree got lost.  It was buried beneath a wall of brightly wrapped presents.  I was embarrassed and hoped no one stopped by to see this ridiculous abundance.  We don’t deserve that kind of plenitude, and I was ashamed.

A local church had also given us cash and gift cards, so I immediately shopped for some warm pajamas for my youngest son and some clothes for my youngest daughter.  She has refused to take the one sweater off.  It is beautiful, and you can tell she feels pretty in it.  However, I’m a little embarrassed by the way she carries herself in public, dressed in her new warm winter boots and a lovely outfit, carrying her new purse from her big brother and the matching umbrella.  You’d never know by looking at her that her life is what it is.

On Christmas Day another friend emailed us a gift card in a large quantity for a nice dinner.  The gifts kept coming!

And, so I ate my decadent foods with all seven of my children in a sea of lovely and thoughtful gifts.  I washed my face and moisturized it with my new treats before bed and carefully hid my gift certificate to a local spa so that it wouldn’t get lost.  I counted the money; I’ll use it to fix my car and wanted to make sure it had not sprouted legs and walked off while we ate and opened gifts.  My children pulled on warm fleece pajamas and crawled into bed.  It felt weird, but I couldn’t put a finger on my discomfort.

My oldest son lavished gifts on his siblings, but he had nothing for me to open.  I felt that his gift to me was his presence.  I know it cost a lot of money to fly from DC and rent a car during the holidays.

The day after Christmas we decided to run into town.  The plan was that he would show his little sister how to use the real, big girl, rosy pink fishing pole he bought her and then we’d get phones.   We went to a local park where he patiently tried to teach her how to cast, and she squealed with delight, hoping to catch one of the ducks that swam by.  Then, we went to the local phone outlet.

My son knows the difficulties of my life.  He understands them well.  And, he tried hard to talk me into a very, very expensive phone that is far beyond my technological savvy.  He explained that I could blog and pay bills online with it while I waited for the kids at their activities.  That way, when we got home I could fix decent meals and get to bed on time.  I could even finish my book on it during the kids’ swim lessons.  This phone would allow me to follow my dreams and be more available to my young children at the same time.  I would learn the new, current technology; it would bring me out of my 19th century lifestyle.

But, it is too fancy I argued.  It is too sophisticated for me.  It will be too hard for me to learn.  It costs way too much money.  I don’t trust myself–I might break it.

He bought it anyway and grinned big as he said, “Merry Christmas.”

I felt heady.  I could feel myself shallow breathing, and I knew I looked unappreciative.  I wasn’t.  I was ashamed.  I was once again embarrassed by the extravagance, by the abundance.

Awhile later he asked, “Are you okay?  Do you feel excited yet?”  I told him that I just don’t feel like I deserve something like that.  It’s too much.  I don’t trust myself; I might break it.  As we walked in the chill of the evening he reminded me that I spent sixteen years being denied mascara because it cost too much while my husband spend hundreds, thousands, on exercise equipment.  My husband continually threatened to cut off my cell phone because the monthly bill was too high at $30, yet all the time he was satisfying his vices of daily energy shots and drinks, tobacco, and beer to the tune of about $300 a month.  My son reminded me that my sense of being undeserving stems solely from my husband’s attitude that I was and am undeserving.

A friend’s comment a few weeks ago immediately flashed through my mind.  I had shared with her that I feel funny because since my husband left and our income is so low the kids and I have done more than we did when he lived with us.  We have been to the Performing Arts Center and ballets and eaten at fancy restaurants and gone on special outings…..she responded, “Good!  You deserve it.”

Up through last week in court, my husband was still declaring, “You don’t deserve anything!”  But, I am surrounded by family and friends whose collective voices shout louder, “You are deserving.”

I may still be embarrassed, but I am getting excited now.

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