Parenting

Spreading holiday cheer

Beyond greeting cards and Christmas carols, Jennifer finds ways to give to her community.

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In a pre-Christmas, post-Sandy Hook world, I’ve been struggling to find peace. At the best of times, the holidays are overwhelming, but this year, in particular, with a gorgeous son the same age as many of the Sandy Hook victims, I feel hollow. And faced with a blog where I do my best to share the upside and silliness of life as a stay-at-home mom — well, posts just don’t come as easily as I would like them to. And judging from my Twitter stream and the blogs that I’m reading, I’m not alone. We’re all grasping for words to make sense of how we feel and how to heal.

But it’s not words you and I need. It’s actions.

On Monday, my son’s school organized a day of pioneer Christmas crafts and I was asked to volunteer. All day I helped the primary students make wool dolls for them to hang on their trees, while other volunteers and teachers helped students string cranberries, bake cookies and make ornaments. At recess I played tag with a rambunctious gang of grade one students and received more hugs than I could handle. It’s impossible to not be filled with joy when surrounded by that much love.

And that is how I lived the rest of this week — letting words go. I made several cozy handmade scarves for friends and family by digging out my crocheting and finding new patterns. We made donations to a few of our favourite charities, most notably, the Streethaven Women’s Shelter, which made such an enormous impact on my life this past October. Watching my son’s Christmas concert (his first ever) was especially touching, in light of the current labour dispute in the Ontario school boards. The staff at our tiny rural school felt the concert was too important to give up, and worked hard with every single student to put on a wonderful event — even the principal remarked that she had never seen so many parents at an assembly. Indeed, the gymnasium was packed, with parents taking time out of their work day to watch the performance.

Oddly enough, it was this morning that brought my week full circle. On a whim, I decided drop in at Canadian Blood Services to donate blood. It had been several years since I’d donated but the staff welcomed me into the clinic like I’d been a donor forever.  Volunteers (who I learned were snowbirds leaving for Florida the next day) had baked the most buttery-soft shortbread to share with donors. Sitting in the recovery area chatting with other donors, a widescreen TV tuned to CBC was on. The sound of a single church bell tolling caught my attention. It was 9:30 a.m., and the bell was coming from live coverage of the moment of silence being held to honour the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting. Everyone in the clinic paused — I’m sure as breathless as I was, just for a split-second when we heard that bell.

Most nurses and donors quickly turned back to the tasks at hand. A few people, myself included, kept staring at the TV. With such a sombre scene playing out on the screen in front of us, it would be expected that the mood of the clinic would match. Instead, everyone seemed to work harder at being happy. Smiles, even if forced, were bigger. It’s as if we all knew that our world is only temporarily upside-down. That it is OK to be happy and that we all have our own ways of dealing with grief.

“Thank you so much for saving lives today,” said the nurse as I was leaving the clinic. “Thank you, and Merry Christmas.”

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