Ahh, December the 26th. All the pre-Christmas rush is done, Christmas day is past, and there is absolutely nothing I have to do today. We had a nice Christmas. On Christmas Eve Bill’s nephew, Joe, came over and his girlfriend, Emily arrived soon after, and we had a little Christmas exchange of gifts with them…Alex, too, of course. Alex has learned to say "Joe" now, too. That happened at the dinner table. Bill pointed to Joe and said "Joe" and Alex, who can already say "dough" and "juice" (and so has all the necessary vowel and consonant sounds in his repertoire) promptly pointed at Joe and said his name perfectly. But. At the same time, he was pointing, sort of, in Joe’s direction, with his thumb extended too…which resembled the sign for the letter "L" – also, more recently, the sign for "loser" when the hand is held up against the forehead. And Alex’s hand was somewhat near his forehead. Close enough so that Bill thought it was incredibly funny. (Which it was…) So this gesture in conjunction with the name "Joe" was encouraged for the rest of the evening. Fortunately it’s worn off and Alex says "Joe" without the loser sign now. He also said "Em" for Emily, just when she had to leave. He said "Em!" and gave her a big hug. Christmas morning was fun. Alex’s first gift was a box containing 4 balls. We got him started tearing the wrapping paper off and as soon as he saw the first ball (the box had a section cut out so you could see all 4 balls – green, blue, pink, and purple. "Ball! Ball!" Over and over. Once the rest of the paper was gone and he could see just how many there were, Alex seemed overwhelmed with the enormity of the gift. He just stood and stared and pointed and exclaimed. "Ball! Ball! Ball! Ball!" His other favorite gifts (at this point) were the set of wooden pegs and a hammer and a little "work bench" to pound the pegs into. (Thank you Auntie Meredith) That held his interest the longest when we were at my parents’ house later in the day. And – from Bill’s brother Ray and his wife and sons…the label on the package said something like "To Alex – hope you enjoy this as much as your cousins did." It’s Elmo…and when you squeeze his hand he sings and does "The Hokey Pokey." Apparently Alex’s cousins, Ray T and Ryan, thought Elmo was a riot, and were reluctant to let their parents ship Elmo east to us. Ray T is about 21 and Ryan is 17 or 18 at this point. Just thought I’d point that out. Anyway, Elmo, once you squeeze his hand, sings his song and dances and even turns himself about – as the song directs. Alex dances and turns around right along with him. So does Bill. I need to catch that on film…. So – back to yesterday…went to my parents’ house late morning and exchanged gifts with my parents, my sister and her family and, later, my cousin Steve and his family. Alex was worn out and eventually (finally!!!) crashed upstairs in the old playpen my sister and I once inhabited. (He cried for about 15 minutes first, and I sat on the stairs, listening, torturing myself, begging him in my head to please go to sleep. He needed it. I needed it.) Dinner was Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding and assorted accompanying vegetables – very yummy and over with too quickly. After that we zipped back home to get ready for any of Bill’s relatives who might show up for the traditional Christmas night party that has been a part of his family (on his father’s side) for ages. It’s vastly different, Bill tells me, from how it used to be when he was a kid. The location of the party would rotate each year among the four siblings, and it was huge. Unfortunately, it’s been shrinking. People have passed away. Families have moved or have established their own traditions. There are sections of the family we only see once a year – in the summer – at Bill’s Uncle Don and Aunt Ruth’s summer place on the lake. We volunteered to host last year’s gathering and this one. This year we had 5 people here (besides ourselves). I had hoped for more, for Bill’s sake. It’s been a tough holiday season this year in some ways. But – still – last night was nice. And after people went home, Bill called his brother Ray and we talked to everyone out there. Talked to his brother Bob and his family that morning, so even if they weren’t in the same house, at least they all got to talk. (Oh no…little break here…Elmo’s at it again…the three of them are in there dancing the Hokey Pokey…) So that was Christmas. So what was I talking about with the "I have no gift to bring" reference up top there? There are certain lines in certain songs that are so powerful or emotion-packed that I choke up immediately upon hearing them, no matter how many times I’ve heard them before. One such line is from "O Holy Night" – when I hear "fall on your knees" – it just gets me. I don’t know why. Well, I have theories…but not for this post. Anyway, the other line, from traditional Christmas songs, is in "The Little Drummer Boy"…it’s not the line "I have no gift to bring" – it’s the line "I played my best for Him." That one just grabs me and resonates with me. Invariably I find myself at some point during my Christmas shopping going a little insane. I fall into an old habit of trying to find THE PERFECT GIFT for everyone. There is no perfect gift, by the way. Or if there is, I haven’t found it yet. And I’ve tried. I’ve worn myself out, mentally and shoppingly, searching. I remember one year thinking about trying – desperately – to come up with the perfect gift for my mother. The one thing that would erase sadness and bring joy….and she’d always wanted a horse. Since she was a girl. So I thought, since she didn’t have room in the back yard or time in her life to actually care for a horse, I would do the next best thing. Adopt one. Kind of like the "Save the Children" program where you send money every month theoretically to care for one child in particular. I think the money is distributed throughout the village, but still, you get photos and updates on one child. I found something in a magazine, I think, about saving the wild mustangs. So I pursued this. I would give her a symbolic little horse statue thing to represent this wild horse out west that she would "own" and could name…and she’d have a horse. Not in the back yard, but still. A horse. Hers. That would be the perfect gift. I was consumed with this idea, and the happiness I imagined bringing her. Until I actually finally spoke with a live person at the save-the-wild-mustang place and found out that they were actually going to catch one of the wild horses and ship it to you. Do we have a suitable yard for it to run around in? Oh….well….um…no, not really. Thank you anyway. Back to square one. But I told her about it. And I was miserable about it for a while. I had really thought… I tried. I’ve spent other years blowing all the money I had – and then some – in a delightful (overly expensive) series of shopping sprees…and everything I bought was appreciated – but I didn’t feel like it was enough. And there’s my problem – what was I really trying to accomplish? What did I really expect from all my insanity? Well – tears are always good. Weeping and eternal gratitude seemed like worthy objectives. But those don’t come from crazy shopping trips or wild mustangs. This morning I had about two minutes on the computer before Alex woke up, and after checking my email I bounced over to Sheila’s blog to see if there was anything new in the last couple of days. And I found this post. Go read it and come back. It won’t take long. All set? That is the perfect gift. That is the reason the line "I played my best for him" gets me all choked up. That is the reason that Bill’s family appreciates the German cookies. It’s the giving of Self. Of time. Energy. Heart. That is the perfect gift. That’s plenty. And that’s more than enough.