Monday, December 20, 2010

On giving, and receiving, and gratitude.

This is the time. I have to say, unlike many of you who are reading these words, this time brings less bitter heartache and more joy to my life than I'd imagined it ever could seven, or six, or even five years ago. As my living children have grown I have come into the immense joy I get from making them and acquiring for them things that I know will make their cheeks split with smiles I can't wipe away. As a mother who never, ever gives material gifts to my children outside of Christmas and birthdays, I save up all year with ideas and thoughts of how to make them giggle with delight. It is a culmination of ideas and

love and hope all bundled up. I want to show them how much I love them; show them, and everyone else. I actually love this time now, now that some of the emptiness feels less echoey (this is some seriously creative use of words here, but this is how it feels to me).
As a woman who personally derives great joy out of making things myself, always in the fall I begin concocting lists in my head of what I'm planning on making for whom. I'm going to make Christmas banners for the mothers and sisters and in laws, I'm going to make matching twirly skirts lined with pink tulle for the girls, I have plans to applique designs on t-shirts for Liam. There are things I could

knit, endless creations to be made from the piles of wool felt on my sewing table, and the half-knit blanket for Fiona in my knitting basket under the table in the living room. When I start to plan, it's usually early October, and things feel managable-- it's not a huge list, and I've got time.
This is when, without fail, nine weeks fly swiftly by and I suddenly find myself a week into December. The raw materials still lie ready and waiting, but the clock is ticking.

So I have been a whirling dervish of late; whipping up felt food faster than I can see it coming, appliqueing octopuses and sharks, and making banners until I think I will go cross eyed. I love, love, love all of this-- but I do harbor the hope that some day, I will enact these wonderful ideas before the calendar hits the month of December. It would bring me more pleasure to take my time with these things than to sit with them late at night as my eyes sting with the exhaustion.

Tonight, I said, tonight I am going to begin the wrapping for the kids, and then I'll work on the projects for my mother and sister and law. But when I came downstairs, I realized that what I needed to do was to take some time for myself. So here I am, content on the living room sofa, by the light of the holly-jolly Christmas tree, feeling glad that I am almost finished with my projects and that right now, I'm doing what I want to do.

So there is the giving part, and now there is the receiving part.

Today a beautiful thing happened. I took part in Jenni's ornament exchange, and mine arrived. I had been looking forward to this, but I hadn't anticipated how deeply it would move me. At lunchtime my mother-in-law had come to be with the girls while I went and spoke to a roomful of IVF nurses who wanted to know more about my program. Feeling professional and satisfied, I pulled up into my driveway to find a small white box on the back step, addressed to me, followed by the words, For Charlotte Amelia.

My heart did that melty thing that it does when just for a brief, almost second, it's as if your child is real. Real and there, I mean, like an ordinary child who might be at school or inside the house playing with playmobil while her grandmother makes her lunch. I had that flicker of imagining what it would be like to really just be, not just sometimes and to some people, but all the time, Charlotte's mother. It was a beautiful thing, and I held the box for a long moment before I stepped into the house.
The girls were all riled up to see me and Fiona had to be tucked in for her nap before I could open the box. I thought about inviting Aoife to help me, but it felt deeply personal. I worried about the box, about the label, about the contents in that way that one can only worry about the sacred things that connect us to the reality of our little lost souls. I carefully cut the tape around the label, being sure not to rip it in the process, and set the white rectangle that bore her name on the windowsill above the kitchen sink, where I could see it easily.
There she was, real.
Carol McMurrich
for Charlotte Amelia
A daughter, just like the other daughters and son who get mailed things care of me.
And how almost sweet it is that this first part, just the receiving of the box and the opening of it, were so delightful to me that this in itself could have been the gift.

But inside was the most beautiful ornament made by Sara, who I hadn't known of before. She included a note that explained that the angel was made with a victorian technique called quilling. I felt so honored, and humbled, and connected to imagine her working on this amazing creation at her home in Montana while I stumbled around in my little mundane-to-me life here in Massachusetts.
Sara included the link to her blog and so I learned a few brief details about her life in the three or maybe six minutes I was able to steal. Sara has seven sons, five with her, and I marvel at this: that one woman could create seven sons. Seven sons! I think of the hilarity, and comraderie, and absolute meltingly soft love that must ricochet around a home as filled with sons as this one is. It felt so filling and wonderful to even snatch these few details about this woman whose hand had penned those words, whose hands had created this ornament that I then shared with Aoife and let her hang on the Charlotte tree. Sara, of the seven sons.

As I daydreamed about what this would be like, to have seven of one kind, I remembered that last night I had a dream about meeting a woman who introduced me to her daughter, about six, and explained that she had five younger sisters. I had awoken pondering the concept of people who somehow produce child after child of the same sex, and remembered suddenly thinking of a family I had known who had had eight daughters and one son (born last). How odd, I thought, that I should meet in my dream this woman, with her string of daughters, and then the same day, a real woman named Sara with an even greater number of sons.

It made for a wonderful new light in this day, which had almost revolved around giving, and honestly I can't really imagine that there will be a moment again in this Christmas season that will make me feel more deep-seated gratitude than I felt upon receiving that little white box. So thank you, Sara, because you've given me this moment to be Charlotte's mother, and to remind me that even while I stitch and sew and freezer-paper stencil away, with a smile on my face, I need these moments so desperately I'm probably afraid to realize it. As the years have passed and my really amazing ideas of what to do for Charlotte at Christmastime have faded into pretty good ideas that will appeal to the other children, I really can't put words to the importance of having this one, small white box appear with her own name on it.

For Charlotte Amelia, my daughter, the one who started this whole thing. It really would be impossible for me to offer even a thought on where I'd be now without having had her in my life. For just those eight months and eleven days that I knew she was living in me, she began this journey for me and really there isn't a thing in my life now that can't somehow be traced back to her.


Ya Chun said...

Beautiful crafts. I am sure the kids will love them!

in care of ... oh yes. The ornament exchange has also been a highlight of the season for me.

Lara said...

I love fiona's crown. Love all your gifts. You are a wonder. I too am going to steal your idea and have a baby taz tree next year. My girls will love it. Giving gifts has always been so much more fun for me than receiving. Everything looks amazing-where did you hide the laundry!?!?!?

Hope's Mama said...

I don't really have the words for this.
Thank you for all of your gifts, Carol. There are too many to list.
Merry Christmas.

Charlotte's Mama said...

Lara-- I was thinking of you as I wrote this. The same laundry is still in the baskets (I don't think I've folded/put away in maybe 3 weeks?) but I did fold one basket of kid clothes and put away one basket of diapers this morning! I'm feeling seriously productive!

Emerging Butterfly said...

Wow...Thank you so much. I'm so honored and pleased that I could send you something that would warm your heart so. I have never made a quilled ornament as lovely as the one for your just wanted to BE. My husband yearned for me to make another...but, I knew that that particular one was only for the mama across the miles and her Charlotte. There is such great joy in sending love to another mom who knows this brand of pain...I couldn't have made it this far without the support of women like you. Yes...7 sons...thank you for understanding. Thank you for being.