As a quasi-Christmas Episcopalian (church perhaps once a year; no communion because the “drink the blood of Christ” stuff freaks me out), I have an ambivalence toward Christmas.
Start with the fact that I’ve never been great with surprises (“Wow! Nice tie.” Subtext: wish I still wore them) and you have the makings for a recipe for trouble in December.
Toss in the uber-commercialism surrounding the holiday season that spans pre-Halloween through to Boxing Day and that trouble moves to disaster. The spirit of the Christmas story always seemed to me about giving, not simply gifting. In the relentless hustle to buy that distinction is hard to hear, and harder to feel.
Being a parent and living Christmas through my son Traylor’s eyes has changed the holiday season though from Grinch-as-hero to getting misty-eyed reading the last lines in the Polar Express. I enjoy it not for the any religious significance but for the chance to relish the spirit of giving time and self to my now nine year-old.
Christmas, though, was for others.
This month my spouse Chris and Traylor surprised me with the product of a Friday night swing-by in the Mission; I had been on a campaign for canine companionship as a solution to the hole in my heart from the loss of our much-beloved mutt Roady three years ago.
I’d even zeroed in on the right breed and age; an Irish Terrier in the 1-3 year range so that we could avoid the challenges of puppy raising (and house training), avoid worrying about dander/pollen allergies for Chris, and still have a good 10-12 years of life with the chosen pooch. While the Irish Terrier Rescue Network folks were strangely unhelpful (e.g. describing a possible rescue placement as “mauling’ another dog may be accurate but is not a formula for enticing family members to warm to the breed), I figured the right terrier would show up in a matter of time.
There is a saying in the world of adoptive families that you adopt the child you’re meant to have, so when Traylor called from dog rescue to say he’d found a mixed breed with a hint of terrier that he loved, I knew that karma had played another of her life-changing pranks. “Porter,” one of four pups that had been rescued on their way to death in Merced before getting a life-pass courtesy the San Francisco SPCA, joined our household the week before last at the age of 12 weeks.
While there is no doubt that Porter is Traylor’s dog – my son has even parked his stuffies in the upper bunk to make way for a real live version of a bed time huggable – there is little question that Porter’s 7 pound presence is a gift for me too.
While Roady did a better job of laughing at my jokes, and letting me know that whatever I thought was correct, Porter’s already shown a flare for picking apart the holes in my logic, if not creating a hole or two in my socks. Porter’s not the dog I had in mind, but then again I never had being a parent in mind either.
At the end of the tale “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” the Grinch’s heart grows three times its previous size when he learns the true meaning of the season. That’s what it’s like being a parent for me every day; little Porter ups the growth range another notch.
Good things still come in small packages. And this holiday season, I’ve learned that sometimes the greatest gift of giving is learning to receive the gift that someone else have given you.
Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.