There comes a time when every mother reaches the end of her rope. It is often followed by some drastic measure or proclamation and typically elicits the response that was intended.
That’s exactly what happened the Christmas of 1983.
My five siblings and I had no idea we were about to experience Mom’s version of Shock and Awe.
Growing up, our different personalities often clashed, and Mom found herself repeatedly refereeing petty arguments. Each of us fiercely defended our viewpoint because if Mom couldn’t determine who was at fault, we all got in trouble.
That Christmas morning, Mom was determined to put an end to the arguing, even if it was only for a little while.
She picked up the end of her rope and loudly declared we weren’t going to get any presents until we said one nice thing to each other.
The groans and eye-rolling that followed made no difference.
Mom was perfectly content to sit and stare at us all day if that’s how long it took. As my mom tells the story, the compliments came slowly and were rudimentary, at best.
We barely looked at each other, focusing instead on the wrapped box waiting on our lap.
Begrudgingly, Mom and Dad eventually let us have our presents that morning since technically we had fulfilled her request and Christmas went on as usual.
But that wasn’t the last of Mom’s big idea.
The next year, she made the same proclamation. This time Mom wasn’t settling for anything less than sincere. We wondered in anticipation what everyone was going to say.
By the third year, we were prepared for it. In the months leading up to Christmas, we would take note of a kind deed or special achievement. When it was finally time to open presents, we had more than one nice thing to say to each other!
After a while, being nice came easier.
Mom would smile proudly. She and Dad took in every word as we sat around the living room, hoping the good feelings would last a little longer before the next petty argument erupted.
I was 13, when she first had that ridiculous idea. I am 47 now and we still can’t open presents when we all get together for Christmas until we say something nice to each other.
What began as a punishment all those years ago has become a beloved family tradition.
Over the years, our compliments became more and more meaningful.
It is the single moment in our family Christmas celebration that we all most look forward to.
Hey, Mom, we all agree on something!
It gives us permission to say what we don’t take time to say throughout the year.
It is a moment often filled with belly laughter as inside jokes and funny stories from the year are woven into a meaningful pat on the back.
You can most certainly count on a few tears as well. The tears come not just from the person to whom the kind words are spoken, but also from the giver of the kind words, overwhelmed at the love behind our wild, loud, big family. It is our yearly reminder that our family is strong despite our problems and we always have each other’s backs.
The six of us, now grown with our own families, are spread out all over the country. We don’t have nearly as many opportunities to argue and we’ve come to terms with our differences. In fact, we love hanging out together. Maybe it’s because Mom taught us to overlook the irritating parts and notice the good in each other. Maybe it’s because Mom taught us to look each other in the eye and really talk to the other person. Maybe it’s because we learned you can disagree with people sometimes and still find a reason to offer sincere praise. Thanks, Mom.