The clatter of the sewing machine ticked away the seconds as Shauna guided the fabric through the feed dogs. She paused to adjust the fabric and checked the clock. “The kids’ll be here any minute. How am I ever going to get all four pairs pajamas done before Christmas?”
She pressed her foot harder on the control pedal, and the chatter picked up. She finished the seam, and the machine fell quiet, but instead of the expected silence, Shauna heard the roar of the school bus. With a sigh, she shoved the half finished blue and green plaid pajama bottoms in a bulging bag at her feet and rushed out of her sewing room.
About the same time she reached the kitchen, the front door opened, and four bundled children spilled into the house.
“Mom, where are you?’
“I’m in the kitchen.”
“You didn’t start without us; did you?”
Shauna met them in the dining room, wiping her dry hands on a kitchen towel to give the illusion that she had been washing dishes. “What?”
“The gingerbread house,” four voices chimed in unison.
Shauna pushed down the panic that rose up her throat and ran a quick memory check. She’d made the dough that morning and put it in the fridge. She’d bought candies yesterday when she went to the store. There was plenty of powdered sugar in the pantry. She had everything.
Shooting her dumbfounded children a dazzling smile, she answered the original question. “Of course I didn’t start without you.”
She turned to her oldest daughter. “Lacey, will you turn on the oven while I go get the pattern?” She headed out of the room and called over her shoulder, “Emily, you can get the dough out of the fridge. Boys, clear off the table, please.”
In half an hour, the smell of gingerbread tingled their noses as Shauna mixed the frosting, and the kids poured candies into several cereal bowls. When the timer buzzed, Shauna checked the geometric slabs in the oven. “Perfect. They need to cool for a few minutes. Let’s make a plan.”
Six year-old Tony stuck his finger in the frosting and licked off the resultant glob.
“Ah, Mom, we don’t want to plan it. Let’s just do it.”
Shauna frowned at him and pointed to the sink. Tony obediently washed his hands and returned to the table.
“Yeah!” Michael took up his little brother’s argument. “Let’s just do whatever we want.”
Lacy scowled. “You boys will glump on tons of candy, and it’ll look like there was an explosion at the Hershey factory.”
Emily popped a candy in her mouth. “I want to make it pretty.”
All four voices joined the fray, and Shauna’s patience faltered. “Stop it. All of you, be quiet.”
The children recognized the sound of frayed nerves and fell silent. Shauna took a deep breath, restoring her patience with the air.
“The girls can plan how to decorate the house, and the boys can do whatever they want with the trees. Okay?”
By the time Dad got home, the house perched on a foil covered board in the middle of the frosting smeared table. Cookie triangles covered in green frosting and globs of candy surrounded the carefully decorated structure.
Shauna looked up from placing the last gumdrop on the house and gasped at the sight of her husband. “Oh, Dan, is it that late? I haven’t even thought about dinner.”
Tony eyed the house and ventured a suggestion. “We could eat the house.”
His sisters erupted in protests, citing all the work they’d put into it.
Shauna shushed them and then announced, “I think you’ve all had enough candy.” She shrugged an apology to her husband. “I’ll whip something up. You kids clean off all this mess.”
Following a scrambled egg dinner, Shauna talked her husband into loading the family into the car and driving around town to see the Christmas lights. After homework and baths, the kids shuffled off to bed a half an hour later than usual.
Shauna returned to her sewing, and Dan watched a little television. After a while, he popped his head into the sewing room. “Are you about ready for bed?”
“I want to at least finish this last pair of bottoms. I have to do the rest of the shopping tomorrow, so I won’t have time to sew much before the kids get home.”
“Don’t stay up too late. You know how cranky you get when you’re tired.”
“I know. Just a little longer.”
Two hours later, Shauna dropped, exhausted, into bed beside her snoring husband.
In the morning, she gritted her teeth and pushed herself to get the kids and Dan out the door despite stinging eyes and a numb brain. Dan gave her a searching look but demonstrated the good sense to say nothing.
The crowded stores and limited supplies of the season’s most coveted gifts stretched Shauna’s morning of shopping well into the afternoon, and she had just stowed the last of the bags in her bedroom when the kids tumbled in the front door and headed to the kitchen for a snack.
Her feet throbbed from all the shopping, and her back ached from bending over her sewing machine late into the previous night. With four tops left to make, she despaired of getting to bed any earlier tonight. Tomorrow was the last day of school before the break, and then the kids would be home all day. She’d promised to take them to town to do their shopping, and she couldn’t sew with them home, anyway. The color and style of the year’s pajamas was always a surprise. If she got one of the tops done tonight after they went to bed, maybe she could get the rest done tomorrow. She could wrap them in her room later, and they’d be ready for the traditional opening of one gift on Christmas Eve.
Michael came out of the kitchen as she crossed the living room. “Mom, Timmy Booker has the flu, and Mrs. Williams asked me to take his part in the program tonight.” He jiggled with excitement. “Will you help me learn it? It’s the longest speaking part in the second grade!”
Shauna thought of the all the Christmas preparations she still had to work on. If I don’t make the cookies for the church Christmas party tomorrow before dinner, I’ll have to do it when I need to be sewing in the morning. “Maybe Lacey . . .” The look of disappointment on her little boy’s face stung her heart. “. . . can make dinner while I help you.”
Michael threw himself against her, almost knocking her over with his full body hug. She gave the other children directions for making dinner and settled down on the couch with Michael.
“Here’s my part. See, it’s almost a page long, and I have to read the whole thing.”
Shauna put her arm around him. “Let’s get started, then.” She pulled him close to her while he read, helping him with the hard words.
An hour later, Michael stood in front of his audience of one. “. . . Santa hung the last candy cane on the tree. He stood back and looked at his work. One thing was missing. He dug in his bag. It was not there. He looked under the tree. It was not there. He tiptoed down the hall and looked in Tim’s room. There it was. The joy of Christmas was in the boy’s heart. Santa gave him a smile and left the house with a ‘Ho! Ho! Ho!’”
As Michael finished, loud clapping from the doorway startled Shauna. “Oh, Dan, we didn’t hear you come in!”
Michael ran over to his father and showed him the paper. “I got a big part in the school program, Dad.”
“Lacy told me. It sounds like you’re doing great.” Dan hugged his son and tousled his hair. “Can you go help the kids while I talk to Mom?”
“Okay.” Michael handed his mother the paper for safe keeping and skipped out of the room.
Shauna eyed her husband with suspicion. “What are up to, and what have you got behind your back?”
Dan smiled at her, but she saw worry in his eyes. He sat beside her, resting a large shopping bag against the couch on the side away from his wife. “Well, I’ve been wondering what I could give you for Christmas this year, and I think I’ve found the perfect present, but I’m afraid of how you’ll take it.”
Shauna scowled. She didn’t have time for this nonsense. She really didn’t care about her own gift. She just wanted to make Christmas special for the children.
“I decided to give you a break for Christmas.” He must have noticed her confusion because he hurried through a speech he had evidently practiced every bit as many times as Michael had practiced his part. “You work so hard to make the holiday special for everyone that sometimes I think you lose the joy that Michael’s story was talking about. I want to give you the time to slow down and enjoy the season.”
“Dan, what are you talking about?”
“I don’t want you to wear yourself out being Santa Clause this year. A grumpy Santa takes the joy out of celebrating Christ’s birth. I only want you to do the things that really bring peace to your heart. That will make Christmas special for all of us.”
Shauna shook her head. “But I have to . . . “
“No, Shauna, you don’t.” He took four blue T-shirts and a scrap of the pajama material out of his bag. Shauna had to admit they matched perfectly. “You can finish the pajama tops later if you want to, but you are going to bed at ten o’clock every night from now until Christmas.” He scrunched up his forehead and squinted at her in his best mock-serious glower. He reached into his bag and pulled out a package of Christmas cookies from the grocery store bakery. “They aren’t homemade, but they aren’t cheap packaged cookies, either. This is what you’re taking to the church party tomorrow.”
“But . . .”
“No buts. You are going to have a pleasant Christmas. I’ve taken the day after tomorrow off, and I’ll take the kids Christmas shopping, so you can stay home and wrap presents at the kitchen table instead of trying to do it on our bed while we’re all in the house. We’re all going to slow down and enjoy the holiday. We’re going to start when we get home from the program tonight. The whole family is going to sit down around the lit tree with the lights off and listen to this.” He took an instrumental Christmas CD from the bag and handed it to her. “We aren’t going to talk. We’re going to think about what Christmas means to us and how we can celebrate Christ’s birth and his life in meaningful ways. This is my gift to you.”
Shauna let the tears stream down her cheeks while she hugged Dan and thanked him for the best Christmas present she’d ever received.
Critique: Good idea. Work on the delivery. Watch out for long and awkward sentences. Add in more personality—I really prefer strong character driven stories. Watch your dialog tags. I think increasing the tension a little, having mother react like she’s frazzled or at least pump up her internal dialog so we know she’s really about to crack, would help a lot.
What I liked best: I love the father’s solution with the t-shirts. J
Publication ready: Not quite. Work on the characterization and I think you’ll have something good.