December 26, 2009

Christmas at McDonalds

Not the drive-thru variety. But Ronald was still there.
Fabulous Christmas plans:

Go to the cabin for our first cozy Christmas there. Go tubing on the 2 feet of freshly fallen snow. Cover the entire kitchen island with dough as the girls roll out some homemade cinnamon rolls. Gather by the fire in the evening as Alan reads from Luke to the children and relax with him after all the children are in bed and the gifts are placed under the tree. (being the ocd type "a" that I am, all of the presents were already wrapped and hidden up there. I love my ocd-ness.) Cuddle up in the loft to watch "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" after the gifts were opened. Fabulous plans. This falls under the category of "Plan A".

Plan B: Nothing.

We had to find Plan B at the last minute. Bridger had a cold that the pediatrician was following. We went in on Monday, x-rays were perfectly clear. We went in on Tuesday and he had full-blown pneumonia, strep, and some gastro-intestinal issues. They immediately transferred us from the local hospital via ambulance to one a little further away that specializes in children. I know what you are thinking -- how FUN is it that I got to ride in an AmBuLaNCe!!! I asked the driver if we were going to get to go fast. Nope. So it was somewhat anticlimactic.

We have been in the hospital for New Year's, President's Day, Martin Luther King Day, Spring Break, Bridger's birthday, and nearly avoided Easter. But Christmas? How was that going to work? How do you make Christmas wonderful at the last minute for 5 little children that were excited for a snowy cabin getaway? You add some wonderful friends, generous strangers, redirected priorities and a whole lot of Christmas Spirit.

Since Alan still had to work, some kind friends and family took time from their busy holiday preparations and cared for my children. My mother drove Eliza to me at the hospital every 3 hours so I could nurse her. Some other friends, with their snow shovels in tow, drove out to our cabin and shoveled their way up there to retrieve "Santa's stash". A couple delicious side dishes were delivered to be coupled with the roast chicken my mom left in the fridge. Christmas Eve, while Alan was with Bear at the hospital, the kids and I sat down to our wonderful dinner. We hadn't decorated our house since we weren't going to be there, so after dinner I pulled out our box of ornaments that were retrieved from the cabin and the children and I decorated our "tree". (I use that word loosely because it is a 3 foot tall front porch decoration that I placed on top of a child's desk covered by the tree skirt to make it look taller). Eva told me that she didn't care about going to the cabin, that she wanted Christmas to be what was closest to Bridger. That nearly melted me. My worry was that Christmas wouldn't be the magical day that parents always try to make for their kids. After she said that, I began to believe that ours was going to be even more.

My mom stayed at the hospital during that night so Alan and I could have the morning with the kids to open presents. We did that at the usual 0600 hours that all kids wake up at on Christmas morning, made our smorgasbord and I got ready and rushed to the hospital to relieve my mom.
Shortly after I got there, Santa arrived as well. The hospital had learned the ages, interests and abilities of every child that was going to be there on Christmas and had prepared a huge bag of toys selected just for him. Behind Santa's sleigh of bags came a half dozen elves pulling red wagons, piled high with toys. They had me come out and choose gifts for my other children who were going to be coming to celebrate with Bridger later on. There were also handmade stockings, stuffed for all 5 kids. They tied balloons to Bridger's crib and Santa visited with him for a while. Later they came back to give me a couple other bags of gifts that they said had "fallen off of Santa's sleigh." Included in these toy bags were 2 homemade blankets for Eliza. I was overwhelmed. That made two of the elves cry too.

The kids came to join us and this was the first time that Bridger had seen his siblings in days. This was the greatest gift to him. He lit up when he saw everybody, especially Eliza and he kept signing "more, baby."

After we visited with Bridger, I took the kids over to the Ronald McDonald House where we had been invited to dinner. Alan rocked Bridger to sleep for a nap and then left him sleeping and came to join us. There was a group of people there cooking up a feast that would leave even Martha Stewart impressed -- corn souffle, sweet potato puffs, honey glazed ham, turkey, green bean casserole. . . Alan and I hadn't eaten that well in a long time! They cooked their dinner and went home, leaving us alone in this cozy dining room. The other two families that were supposed to attend had been discharged from the hospital that day and we had the house all to ourselves. We laughed and talked and completely pigged out. It was one of the most delightful dinners we have ever had. In the kitchen cabinets of snacks that we were invited to eat from, were two cabinets exclusively devoted to Girl Scout cookies! That is not including other varieties of cookies, which were in the neighboring cupboard. Now that is my kind of kitchen! After dinner the house manager invited the kids into the "toy room" to choose a gift. From the outside it looked like a closet, but when she opened the door our jaws dropped -- an entire conference room FULL of toys. She told the kids to pick out a few things. At first my kids thought that they were choosing some toys to borrow and play with while we were there. When she clarified to their little minds that they got to keep what they chose they just froze in place in disbelief. Again, I started crying, which made her cry too. Was I just wondering 48 hours prior how I was going to make Christmas magical to these little ones?

We went back to Bridger and found him still soundly sleeping. Alan stayed the night there and I went home and had the most wonderful conversations with the kids. Sure, we were all dumbfounded by the amount of gifts that were given to us. But it wasn't the gifts that was hitting me so hard, it was what was behind the gifts. I got to explain to my children about where those gifts came from, about the hearts of the people that purchased them, about the hearts of the people that took the time to deliver them. I got to tell them about the people cooking that dinner -- about the importance of this holiday to them, about the gifts and families they left behind in their homes to come here and do this for strangers like us. I got to tell them about that magical conference room and how it came to be. I even got to tell them about the origins of the Girl Scout cookie cupboard.

There was such a quiet warm spirit in the hospital that day. One that is hard to put words to. Despite crazy schedules, canceled plans, and a lot of worry for Bridger - there was more of Christ in this Christmas for us than ever. The first night I was with Bridger in the hospital, he just was writhing and crying in pain all night. Because of his extreme discomfort, he didn't want me to hold him. I stood by his crib for the entire night rubbing his hair trying to sooth him. During the dark and otherwise quiet 2:00 hour I found myself thinking of some lines of the last verse to the carol, Away in a Manger:

Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me I pray.
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care. . .

Bridger wasn't in my care, I couldn't help him. He was in our Heavenly Father's care and those lines of that carol became the prayer in my heart that night and I felt the significance of Christmas.

Alan and I, still somewhat shell shocked as to how Plan B came together, agree that this was our best Christmas ever. And that is also what the children said as they went to bed last night.