This is a submission in our monthly contest. November’s theme is Gratitude. Enter your own here!
I’ve always had to travel for the holidays. My parents were wonderful about keeping Christmas morning focused on our immediate family, waking up at home with Santa gifts under the tree. But then after breakfast, we’d be packed up and on the road for at least an hour’s drive to visit relatives.
When my first baby was born, my husband and I decided we weren’t going to travel for the holidays. She was a preemie, we were recovering NICU parents, and she was only a few months old. Plus, my husband had always been a closeted Clark Griswold, and wanted to make Christmas magical for his first born.
Then the miraculous happened. My entire extended family was coming to me in Chicago on Christmas! In truth it wasn’t just me drawing them there, some cousins lived in the city too, but now 30-some of my relatives were going to be gathered in our city to celebrate a real “big old fashioned family Christmas!”
My husband and I planned a casual Christmas eve dinner with friends since my family would be arriving Christmas day. I couldn’t wait to introduce our new bundle of joy to the expansive extended family she’d been blessed with, plus my three younger brothers, one even flying in from his job overseas. I imagined everyone swooning over her and pictured us bundling up and strolling downtown to take in the twinkling magic of Michigan Avenue at night.
But the day before Christmas she got sick. New parent worry kicked in and we took her to the doctor that day, assuming we were probably overreacting. A quick check-up later and we were told to go straight to the ER and, alarmingly, not to even stop at home.
Our little preemie had RSV. No visitors. No unwrapping gifts under the tree. No “big old fashioned family Christmas”.
RSV is no joke. Counting your baby’s breaths while seeing the full outline of her tiny rib cage is something I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. This was not going to be the Christmas we’d imagined, yet something about being in kindred company at a children’s hospital on Christmas both humbled us and made us feel extremely grateful.
Having good health insurance and your kid at a top-notch children’s hospital that even had Disney movies on demand, meant we never had to question her care or be overly concerned about cost. Plus, we knew our stay was only temporary. Other children down the hall or up the elevators didn’t know when they would be going home and we noticed some of those kids were alone. We imagined the agonized choice of parents who would be feeling the financial strain and the pull of their other children and family who needed them too this time of year.
The nurses also couldn’t have been nicer. Clearly on an empathy level above most, they were spending a Christmas Eve away from their own families, yet they encouraged us to sneak out and have a Christmas Eve dinner with ours. When our daughter fell asleep, we kept our plans with friends who had waited to eat until we could get to their place at 10 p.m. A “Friendsmas” Eve tradition was born that night.
The hospital gave out gifts to every patient and we received a little white teddy bear with a Target gift card. We asked the nurses to pass on the gift card to another family who needed it and decided every year forward, we’d bring our daughter to donate toys to the hospital.
My husband, even with his holiday heart broken, had run home to gather us overnight supplies and brought back the book The Night Before Christmas to read to his baby girl and continue a family tradition from his own childhood.
Thankfully by two days post-Christmas, my daughter was well enough to be unmonitored and my immediate family came to visit her. My overseas brother was able to hold his first niece. My other brother was christened an uncle by getting a lap full of baby pee. And we were all grateful for some laughter after a harrowing few days.
While we didn’t have the big extended family Christmas we expected, it turned out to be one of those “true meaning of Christmas” experiences we’ll never forget.