A very special Christmas, indeed

As parents, we become so focused on the needs of our children that we lose sight of ourselves; we forget how much we need our own magical moments too, writes Chris Hunt.

I can still remember the sharp cold biting my skin. My four-year-old son Riley felt it too. His hair was soaked, his cheeks a crimson so savage they were visible in the faint moonlight.

He was starting to tremble. 

It was well below freezing, but the water we were treading was keeping us warm. His mother was trying to wrestle a life vest on him. Finally, she looked from his squirming body to me and shook her head. It wasn’t happening. She let it go.

I knew I had to warm him up, but we couldn’t get out of the water. We’d have frozen in a heartbeat.

I did the only thing I could. I took him in my arms, told him to take a breath and slowly began to ease our bodies beneath the water.

All I could think about while I watched his eyes clamp shut was how I’d promised him a very special Christmas.

It had been a rough year for my family. We suffered the loss of a cherished family member shortly before the holidays. This cast a sombre pall over what is normally my favourite time of the year.

The closer Christmas came, the more barren of spirit I felt. I didn’t want to ruin the holidays for everyone else, so I tried my best to keep my chin up. Decorations went up on the very first day of December; movies brimming with festive shenanigans were constantly played.

Riley’s mother made an advent calendar out of tiny mittens. She stuffed them with tiny toys, chocolate balls and dimes and nickels. I even threw a toonie in the very last one. I should point out I did this begrudgingly. Adding money was his mother’s idea. What would a four-year-old do with spare change, I argued?

Every year we typically go to Montreal the week before Christmas. This year we had promised Riley we’d go, so we did, but leading up to our departure date I was sullen. It just didn’t feel like Christmas.

And then one day shortly before the trip, he grabbed my hand and kissed it. “I love you,” he said. He’s a great kid and he deserved better than a melancholy daddy, so I promised to give him a very special Christmas.

For the entire trip, that’s all I focused on. We went to Christmas markets, drank real hot chocolate and played in the snow. We even visited a Christmas store with a track on the ceiling that ferried ornate decorations throughout the room.

The highlight of the trip was seeing Santa. I waited in line for over an hour but when it was finally Riley’s turn, the room exploded in a sea of light. The mall we were in had a light show and once it started, kids had to
wait until it was over to see Santa.

So Riley sat on some steps to wait. He didn’t wait long before he heard the big, heavy footfalls of the man in red. Santa sat a foot away from Riley and motioned for him. Most kids dream about sitting on Santa’s lap; my kid got to watch an entire light show with the man.

The trip had one more surprise for my son, though. The hotel we stayed in had a heated outdoor rooftop pool. It was an amazing experience.

The heat from the water exploded into clouds of steam once it hit the frigid air, casting a beautiful but surreal fog over the pool. 

And there was my son, laughing and splashing, just having the time of his life. Mission accomplished. Or so I thought.

Any person who has kids knows that sometimes we’re apt to become so focused on the needs and joys of our wee ones that we lose sight of ourselves, of our needs.

Sometimes we forget we need those special moments too.

Luckily, someone was looking out for me.

On Christmas morning, buried in the bottom of my stocking, I found some spare change. Turns out my boy had secretly been putting the money we gave him in our stockings.

“You guys give me so much stuff, so I give you stuff too,” he said with a smile. My heart swelled.

“Yes,” I said. “You did. You gave me just what I needed.”