Feeling festive and thankful; the beauty of innate dignity and class

Last night I received a very helpful, or so I thought, call from FedEx letting me know that a package I'd ordered would be arriving today rather than tomorrow. "Perfect!" I said to myself, delighted that we'd still be in town to receive it instead of having to bother our house-sitter with hanging around. All the darn day I waited. I waited some more. I stayed inside. I left a note on the front door because we don't have a doorbell and in case I was in the basement.... I carried my cell phone with me everywhere. You know where this is going: FedEx never came. They're coming tomorrow. Grr. A second Grr goes out to our TV programming because we set our DVR to record The Grinch which we were all going to watch this afternoon, but it recorded a different cartoon instead. Boo!!! Now the flip side of all this is that I got a lot done and since I couldn't go anywhere, I just enjoyed my house. I enjoyed making the beds, throwing away mass quantities of it's-never-gonna-get-read paper, packing, readying for our Christmas with T's parents, and so forth. The house is A LOT cleaner and more organized. I packed for the boys and set a beautiful red and green table for tonight's dinner. Since none of us could watch the Grinch, we made more Creature Power Disks and got carry-on bags packed and ready. Sooner than we knew it, T's parents arrived, and we proceeded to have a lovely, lovely celebration. Gifts were kept small and utterly thoughtful, and truly, this added to my evening. I received a Jadeite cake stand I've been coveting, Jack got a Nationals jacket over which he swooned. T got a gift card to the gym, Ol got a briefcase stocked full of office supplies. You have never seen a four-year-old so thrilled. I'd made a photo book for my MIL, my FIL got books, they both got pics of the kids and a few other goodies. Dinner was spaghetti and meatballs, thank yous flew sincerely, and the animals played happily with their new toys. My MIL never forgets to get her grandpets presents which is so sweet, and they are always grateful. It was really fairly idyllic, and as you know, that is not a word I toss around lightly -ever?- in concert with things involving the children. So cheers!!!


Equally happy and completely fulfilling was a spontaneous exchange I had with the wonderful woman who makes my home beautiful twice a month. Her name is Imelda, and I may have written about her before. I love Imelda. She is a soft-spoken, warm woman whose work-ethic should inspire everyone. She moved here from Mexico nearly 10 years ago and has been dutifully adhering to all INS rules every since. She is still not a citizen, and she has never been able to return to Mexico because of that, not even for her father's funeral. If she returns, the clock starts anew; ten years anew. She is as legal as she can be, she contributes positively in every way that I can tell, and yet, she is always completely on the edge of real and wrenching poverty. (Don't even get me started on the immigration system and her experiences in it.)

I have never heard Imelda complain. And we talk about it all: the lack of health care; the fears about affording everything each month; being taken advantage of while trying to work through the citizenship system in the most affordable way possible; missing her family; feeling as if she's failed in some way; and so on. I've known Imelda for nearly five years, and even when she's at her most discouraged, she still always has a smile and a generosity and a grace that is true dignity. She takes pride in what she does, she doesn't rush even when it might behoove her to. I always tell her not to spend time organizing Jack's desk because that's his job, and she says OK but then she tidies things anyway: markers here, a stack of books there, tiny piles of Legos just so. She brought my Calla lily back from over-watered near-death, and she tends it as needed on a biweekly basis. The boys adore her, and I like when she's here.

I admire so many things about Imelda, and I wish her life were easier. I help when I can, how I can, and always I am grateful for her. I have been lucky to get to know her mother, Delilah, who visits as often as possible and a few times have met some of her sisters. Delilah comes to help Imelda clean when she's here, and though we can't communicate very well because of equally basic other-language skills, we always hug and ask about each other and connect in ways that transcend language. Today Imelda called to say she was running late because her family had surprised her and come in from Mexico for Christmas. They've not all been together for years. I told her not to worry and to please just spend time with them but did she have enough plates and such for everyone? "No, I only have six."

"Imelda, please come over because I want to give you some dishes and such." She did, and half her family was in her van. Eight or so spilled out, and warm embraces and handshakes were shared. I was thrilled to meet them. I had packaged up half of the china Tom and I got for our wedding plus a few Christmas goodies and some extra fleeces. "But I thought you meant plastic dishes!" "No, no, china. Please keep it all if you have room!" Both of us blushing and smiling happily. "OK! My sister brought you something from my town in Mexico." "What??"

I'm holding Delilah's hand, and some of the men are adjusting a vacuum and some luggage in the way back to make everything fit. A darling younger woman, Imelda's niece I think, is setting something just so, and then they present me with a large and very delicate glass vase of glass flowers that they have FLOWN IN with from Mexico. They got hung up by INS in Atlanta yesterday, missed their connection to DC and had to spend the night in Atl. Those glass flowers spent the night too and were tended lovingly. And I was just so overcome because of the effort and thought behind bringing me this beautiful gift when they needn't have done anything at all, especially not something that must have been onerous, not least because of the fragility of it all.

I know Imelda appreciates the ways that I have been able to help her, and it has been an absolute privilege for me to do so. But what I hope she knows is how much I appreciate her. She is so humble and kind and hard-working, and I am grateful that my kids know and love her and learn from her that hard work is good, and taking pride in what you do is important and that values and good lessons can be learned from many, many people. I think it's increasingly hard in this day and age, and certainly where I live in DC, to get to know people from very disparate backgrounds, economic and otherwise. The perspectives we can all gain by witnessing the ways in which others struggle and learning what we can do to help, becoming familiar with the things that others value, the traditions and mores by which others live their lives are sometimes hard to come by. It is in real connections with many others -people, places, experiences- that we can, ourselves, become more humble and thankful. And I think that's a lot of what this season is really about. ~~~ I still haven't packed for me. Oops!