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Well, not exactly. Things are a bit narrow here, but not really absolutely tight. It’s been a hard year and we’re still digging ourselves out, but for the first time in a long time I find myself wanting to make Christmas–and having the energy to do it.

In the past I’ve dealt with Christmas by throwing money at it. This year there’s not much money to throw if I plan to pay the mortgage. It’s nice to think that somebody at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage might be visited by three ghosts and decide to forgive my loan, but it hasn’t happened so far. Like the Cratchits, we will be doing Christmas on the proverbial fifteen shillings.

In the past situations like this have sparked the, “Bad Mommy! Bad Mommy!” inner diatribe, the one in which I have failed as a parent and as a human being because I find myself short of funds at Christmas. This year, though, it’s different.

For one thing, the last few hard years have sent me to financial places I never dreamed I would go. When I started this journey bankruptcy seemed like a soul smear. But it’s happened, and we have all survived, and like Gwion Bach, who in surviving Ceridwen’s murderous rage becomes more than he ever dreamed possible, we have been transformed.

For one thing, we have become a family in a way we weren’t before. There has always been deep love and laughter, but surviving the times has forced us to a deeper level of honesty. When The Boy asks for things these days he first asks about what checks have come in, and what bills are due. And I no longer have the luxury of protecting him from the reality of our finances. We have learned that the things we took for granted before–money for the mortgage, utilities, and school lunches–need to be considered before we buy treats.

I have learned that I can be honest without being frightening. I’ve learned how to say, “Let’s make a list. Right now I need to save for the mortgage, but when we next get a big check let’s talk about this again.” And I’ve learned that there is no shame about acknowledging the fact that, for us, funds are not unlimited. I am not a bad mother if I can’t buy him everything that catches his eye.

Removing money from the equation has allowed us to really see the things that make our lives good. We are healthy. We are warm. We have a house that cleans up nice. We have food. We have learned to take pleasure in little things. I love frost on branches. The boy loves the narrow old bridges that lead out of town and onto the country roads that surround us. The House Leroy has found a happy substitute for cable in Netflix, which allows him to feed his passion for documentaries.

Most of all, we have friends. We have lots of friends. And we live in a town where “doing something” is as likely to be going over to somebody’s house, sitting in the kitchen, and talking as going out for an evening’s entertainment.

So this Christmas, while there will be presents, I’ve decided to plan for fewer of them, and more money for cookies and hot chocolate. We live in a town where electricity is cheap, so we have lights on the house–lots of lights. We have lots of Christmas decorations for inside. We have lots of Christmas shows on DVD and on Netflix. Our stove is working. This Christmas is going to be about people. I’m going to make hot chocolate for the people who come by to look at our house lights, and for The Boy’s friends. My goal will be to have someone over every day while he’s on vacation. I’ll bake a small batch of cookies every day. We’ll have the kids at Step-Ahead over to watch movies, decorate cookies, and play games. The house will look and smell like Christmas. And we’ll be surrounding ourselves with friends.

So if you find yourself in our town this holiday season, stop by. We’ll give you hot chocolate and cookies. The house will be lovely, inside and out. We can play games, or watch movies, or sit in the kitchen, eat chili, and talk. We’ll be spending time, rather than money this year. And in exchange we will get a Christmas we’ll love to remember.

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