A cobbled-together Christmas

’Twas the night before Christmas Eve.

And all through the house…

No one was stirring, because the flight my Texas kids were supposed to arrive on had been delayed in Dallas. It was Dec. 23 and I’d been anticipating this crew’s arrival for weeks. I was halfway to Bismarck when I got the news. I had a list of errands and would manage to fill time until they arrived.

Roxanne Henke and her granddaughter, Simone. Courtesy photo

Roxanne Henke and her granddaughter, Simone. Courtesy photo

Three hours turned into five. Then the flight was canceled. The airline said the earliest my daughter and her two kids (ages 9 and 6) would get “home” was Christmas Day.

My daughter gave up on that airline and went to another counter. They could get her out now (for a price). She booked the tickets.

Now, they were to arrive at midnight. I went to a movie. By the time I got out, Rachael knew she would get to Minneapolis, but would miss the connecting flight to Bismarck. She would spend the night in a hotel with two kids and no luggage. I wasn’t about to drive home (100 miles) at that time of night only to turn around and go back the next day. I bought a toothbrush, and checked into a hotel. It was an odd feeling waking up alone in a hotel on Christmas Eve.

Mid-afternoon was the new arrival time. I was at the airport early. Finally! Simone raced through the security door to hug me. Rachael, frazzled, was guiding a pale and shuffling Axel. (He’d thrown up twice.) But, they were home.

We piled into the van, with Axel holding a paper bag, which he used three times in 100 miles. Our family was scheduled to light the Advent candles at our Christmas Eve program. We made it home with barely time to change clothes. Axel was sick and didn’t want his mom to leave. Simone and I jumped into Christmas clothes, ran to church, lit the candles, then plopped in a pew and tried to make it feel special. It didn’t.

Usually, I spend hours getting our Christmas Eve snack table ready. Special plates for goodies. Crystal bowls for nuts and olives. Candles for the table. None of that was ready. I put everything on the table in 10 minutes and called it good enough. My husband lit the fireplace, Simone passed out gifts, and I thought maybe now it would feel like Christmas. Axel threw up. Nope, not any Christmas I’d ever dreamt of.

And, so it went. Thankfully, Axel recovered enough to play in the snow. Temperatures dropped, the wind picked up. Playing outside wasn’t an option any longer.

My daughter was scheduled to return to Texas on my birthday, Dec. 29, but a blizzard was in the forecast and the weatherman wasn’t wrong. She changed her flight to Dec. 30. The blizzard raged. We made snow ice cream. The kids made blanket tents in the living room and let the dog move in with them. Simone braided my hair and we did a string art project together. Axel and my husband put together a puzzle and a wooden car craft kit. Mostly, we tried not to get on each other’s nerves.

The blizzard continued. Rachael changed her flight again. We started calling the whole experience “Christmas prison.” All we could do was laugh.

The wind went down sometime on Dec. 30. A “prison escape” the next day looked likely. Rachael, Simone, the dog and I bundled up and plowed through snowbanks to the park. Simone climbed on the merry-go-round that was so piled with snow, she yelled, “What does this thing do?” She tried pushing it. It went nowhere. Rachael took our shivering dog home. Simone and I stayed and played in the snow. She climbed a “snow mountain” the bulldozer had left and slid down on a piece of cardboard I’d run home to get. Her cheeks were pink with cold. Her eyes sparkled with tears only winter air and laughter make. We put our heads together and snapped a selfie. Then trekked home.

Rachael was packing. Axel was playing on his new iPad. My husband was dozing by the fireplace. We had leftovers for dinner. Tomorrow, they would be flying back to sunny Texas. It still didn’t feel like Christmas.

That night, I crawled into bed. In the dark, I swiped through photos on my phone of the past week. A frazzled and sick arrival, a rush to church, snowmobiling, a three-day blizzard. Photos of snow ice cream, hair braiding, blanket tents and playing in the snow. Extra special time.

As I scrolled through my photos, the thought came slowly. When those angels appeared to the shepherds in the field, they had no idea this would be Christmas. When the wisemen followed the star to Bethlehem, they didn’t know they were riding to Christmas. When Mary and Joseph made a bed for a baby in a manger, they didn’t know Christmas was coming. But it was.

Christmas had been there all along, just not in the way I’d expected. Kind of like the first Christmas, when no one was expecting a king. That night, looking through my photos, I knew all of it, every single minute, was Christmas.

Roxanne (Roxy) Henke lives in rural North Dakota with her husband and their dog.