You were three years old. The Helen Reddy song, “You and Me against the World” was popular and I felt as if I had written the lyrics. We had no family in Houston — just you and me.
I was scheduled to work on Christmas day in the intensive care unit. The day care center was closed and I had made arrangements for you to spend Christmas with a family. I was to bring you there on Christmas Eve and then, after you were asleep, I would return with your Christmas presents that would be placed under the tree. I kept telling you that since mommy had to work, Santa Claus was coming with his reindeers to someone else’s house.
The plan fell through.
At the last minute on Christmas Eve, I was scrambling for someone else to take care of you. Finally, I found a teenager who had recently moved into the apartment complex willing to accept the responsibility. I would deliver your presents to her apartment after you went to sleep and then bring you there in the morning.
Since I was missing out on your Christmas, I decided I would let you open one of your presents on Christmas Eve — a football helmet. You were so cute and thrilled with your gift — but it wasn’t supposed to be this way.
On Christmas day I carried you, still asleep, up to the teenager’s apartment. Her mother, who I had never met, answered the door and I handed you to her. The Christmas carols were playing on the car radio. It was too painful to listen to them. I turned the radio off and cried the whole way to work. In my childhood I never experienced a Christmas like you were being subjected to and I was heartbroken for you.
Once I arrived at the hospital I regrouped and put my situation in the back of my mind. Knowing I had to work on Christmas day, I had bought some Santa Claus stickers for our patients. I went around the ICU placing the stickers on patients’ gowns and wishing them a Merry Christmas. After seeing the smiles on their faces for this simple gesture, I was feeling better.
One of my patients was comatose but I still placed a Santa Claus sticker on this gown. While bathing him, I told him some special holiday memories and hummed a few Christmas songs to him.
At visiting time when the families of our critically ill patients arrived they noticed the Santa Claus stickers and were grateful. I realized that my holiday was not as disastrous as I had perceived in comparison to how these loved ones were spending their holiday in the ICU.
I made it through my shift. While driving home I passed Texas Children’s Hospital. I thought about all the children and their parents spending Christmas in the hospital. It dawned on me that there were other children wearing helmets too. They weren’t Christmas gifts, but something they wore every day for protection against injury.
I immediately went to pick you up and found you wearing your football helmet happily playing with your Christmas toys. It was late afternoon but we still had the rest of Christmas together.
You wanted to go to bed wearing your football helmet. Once asleep, I tenderly removed it and kissed your sweet, innocent face. I thought about the other mothers whose children were in the hospital and those who were also removing helmets that were not Christmas presents, but part of their child’s daily life.
You have no recollection of that Christmas, but I remember it well. What began as the worst Christmas ever, evolved into the holiday when I learned to truly appreciate what I have in life and the privilege it is of being there to share it with others.
Over three decades of Christmas’s have since come and gone, but whenever my holiday season may not be perfect I think about the Christmas of “you and me against the world,” and one very special football helmet.
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