This Christmas, less stuff but more memories

Everyone has hopes and dreams for their families. I thought I'd planned everything out perfectly. Up until recently, I thought I'd played by the rules. So how did this middle-class, college-educated, gracious woman go from a comfortable life in a cozy two-story house to a stressful, paycheck-to-paycheck life in an apartment? It didn't seem fair. I know — life isn't always fair. But I fancied that statement more when it didn't apply to my life.

Don't get me wrong, I understand the mechanics of it. My husband and I went from two incomes to one when we went from one child to two in less than two years. Then a sudden job transfer left us scrambling to find a renter for our home in an economy we couldn't possibly sell in. Though we were delighted to be back in the South, we were still two hours away from the other home we rented. We found ourselves struggling to support the difference between what we owe on our mortgages and what our renters were willing to pay. We sold most of what we owned and moved into a two-bedroom apartment.


With December here, I cannot bring myself to believe that I'm not going to be able to provide my two young sons with the most extravagant Christmas imagined. For the second year, they won't be dressed in dapper holiday outfits from The Children's Place, complete with new loafers from Stride Right. They won't be waking up Christmas morning to a train table with Thomas and all of his friends choo-chooing by, next to a battery-powered police car big enough for them both to ride in the grassy backyard we don't have. My family won't be lounging on a leather sectional, sipping cocktails at the bar in the corner of our family room or watching the game on our 73-inch plasma TV. I won't be cooking a feast of turkey, stuffing and sweet potatoes with an array of delectable desserts on the side table smartly lined with holly.

Thankfully, after weeks of soul searching and dutifully tuning in to Oprah's Lifeclass, I've come to the realization that it's OK. I know things will get better. I believe it. We are just going through a tough time, as so many families are. Some worse; some better. What I keep reminding myself is the importance of making sure our boys are happy and feel secure in our home — no matter where it may be right now or how much stuff we have.

I'm now able to see this fanciful Christmas is all in my mind; it's just my expectation of what would make the best holiday season. And that is what is so beautiful: I can still make their experience magical. With a little creativity, I can make our little home a winter wonderland. My boys will buzz with anticipation as we leave cookies and milk out for Santa on Christmas Eve. Christmas morning they will awake to an enchanting site of wrapped gifts piled under the tree.

They don't need to have the most expensive or fastest or biggest toys; they'll only play with half of them anyway! Chocolate from their stocking will stain their brand-new twenty-one dollar button-down, and they'll keep their new shoes on for maybe an hour. My parents can really bond with their grandchildren as they cozy up in our humble living room. Maybe we mix it up this year and have a scrumptious lasagna; hey, fewer dishes to wash means more time to drink wine.

What I am going to remember this holiday season is that it isn't how much money I have or what I buy for them; it's what I do with each moment of each day. You can believe this too. We can turn simple moments into special holiday memories. If we keep a positive outlook and take what we've got and make it good, our children will hold on to the good times. If we can find the happiness and really enjoy these moments, our children will feel it. They will have that special place in their hearts of what Christmas means to them.

Years from now, when we are all in a better place in life, we will be so proud knowing we cowboyed up and delivered a special Christmas — no matter how little we had at the time. Ultimately, that $40 Rock Star Mickey will be fun for our kiddo for about three days before you are ready to toss the mouse out the window. But memories last forever.

Leah Speer, a part-time Maryland resident, is co-founder of the blog"Mommies Need Sleep, Too!" ( Her email is