12/24 Weekly creativity contest winner & new prompt
Merry Christmas Eve! While you’re wrapping that last-minute gift, here are a few others to enjoy. Our winner for this week’s creativity contest is Carrie O’Neill (who happens to be coming for Breakfast next week). Carrie writes: “Here’s my entry for the weekly challenge: gift. She’s the best gift I ever received! The illustration is watercolor and ink on paper.” Congratulations, Carrie! Your $10 amazon.com gift certificate is on its way.
From Cathy Coley:
I’m sure I’ve talked enough here about the trials and tribulations that brought my daughter to our family this year. But I honestly haven’t allowed myself the full emotional wellspring to bubble over from deep within. I do love all of my children equally, each in their own way. However, there is an extra sense of her arrival as a true gift.
I met my husband when my boys were quite young, in the midst of a drawn-out divorce. Six months after we met, his father, dying of cancer over Christmas, charged me with providing him a grandson, “or my name stops here.” There are things people who are dying will say, that those of us taking living for granted will not. I went into his sick room set up on the first floor when he woke and called out for some company. He had a way of being exceedingly blunt, “”Hey, I’m lonely back here!” So I joined him and sat for a while listening to a man who was going to say what he needed to say, because he had to. He told me he knew how much Honey already loved me and my boys. He told me if I broke his heart, he was coming after me from beyond, and he told me it was up to me to provide him a grandson. Not too much of a guilt trip, eh? But I listened. I am still listening.
There are times I can feel him in our home or around our family. His beautiful watercolor landscapes painted during his illness, and a moving oil portrait of his wife, painted when he was still in art school over 40 years ago, hang in our living room. He definitely hovered in protection when I was very ill and immobilized with her pregnancy, for the whole darn thing. In the hospital, and in the weeks and months after she was born, he hovered as the effervescence of unbelievable joy that surrounded us all. In her early months, she was having very clear conversations with someone over my right shoulder, where the blank wall of my bedroom was. But making him happy isn’t all of what her arrival has brought us in the way of a gift.
I always said I wanted at least four children, so each could have a brother and a sister. I am the only girl wedged between two brothers. After my second son’s infancy and toddlerhood, I gave up. I don’t want to go into it all, but as much as I love him, it was very hard. It took me a while to realize something really was up before I took him in and received his diagnosis on the autism spectrum. Lots else was going on that led to my divorce from the boys’ father during that trying time. I thought I was done having kids. I thought, he’s like having four-in-one, so I guess I’m done at two. Then I met Honey a year and a half later.
He was a natural with the boys. Every kid or animal I ever saw around him went straight to him. Some men are just like that. My own father is one. So is my older brother. And here, I met someone who not only cares about me and I care about him, but he truly loves my kids. And they were drawn to him, too. Slowly, an old dream of another child began to bloom and seem possible. He took extraordinary care of a very cranky, needy, bedridden and pregnant wife. He got the boys off to school on his own before work, he worked hard at work and at home. And then she arrived, quickly, and relatively easily. Her birth was natural and far easier than either of the boys’, but that’s another story. The look of love on his face that arrived with his daughter was another gift, as she was a gift to us both.
Baby C is a gift in many more ways, but I’ll stop here by say that her even-keeled, curious and deliberate personality may be the greatest gift of all. Every day, I marvel that I get to spend it with her.
From Kelly Warren:
Dear Mr. Fung Chow,
My family and I came upon you in a Washington, D.C. Metro stop on Sunday afternoon, October 12. We were a bedraggled family of four—a dad grumpy from having to lug a double stroller up and down the Metro’s escalator stairs, two little redheads cranky from no naps and lots of activities in the big city, and a mom tired and run down from trying to keep everyone together, sane, fed, and happy near the end of a long day of sightseeing.
We were changing train lines and had to maneuver through three different sets of escalators when we met you. My husband had just tossed the stroller up against the wall near where you were standing, and I looked at you with apologetic eyes as I picked the stroller up and leaned it against the wall. You smiled sweetly at me. You asked me what brought us to the city, and when I told you about my sister’s wedding the previous day, you said, “Oh, I bet she looked so beautiful. And how did you two meet?” As I started telling you how my husband and I met, my daughters came over to my side. It was then that you pulled two little envelopes out of your pocket and gave one to each of my girls. I have to admit, I was a bit hesitant at first, a complete stranger in the Metro giving something to my children, but after a moment’s hesitation, I saw the little light shining in your eyes. My girls looked at the beautiful little red envelopes with Asian characters on them, and not knowing what they were, looked at me in confusion. When you suggested they open them, they looked at me for guidance, and I told them it was okay. Of course, all they paid attention to was the dollar bill you had slipped inside each one, but I saw the other card in there as well and briefly read the side that included your name, address, e-mail, and position: “Retired Federal Civil Servant.”
Our train was approaching the station, so we didn’t really have time to say much more than “Thank you” as we gathered up our stroller and children and boarded the train. I watched you for a moment as you entered the train at the rear of our car. As soon as you boarded, you started cheerfully talking to the people around you. I tried to catch snippets of your conversation but couldn’t hear over the noise of the train. But I could see you, a big smile on your face as you brought smiles to the faces of everyone around you. Best I could tell, you got off at the next stop, disappearing like an angel, and it was then that I took the time to read what you had given us. It was a chart of all the Chinese New Years complete with the year, date of the New Year, the animal representing it, and the characteristics of those born in that year. Through it, I learned that I was born in the year of the Snake and am “wise, passionate, determined, and attractive”; that my husband was born in the year of the Dog and is “dependable, protective, tender, private, and eccentric”; and lastly, that my daughters were born in the year of the Sheep and will grow up to be “sensitive, have success in the arts, aesthetic, and charitable.” I marveled at the similarities to our personalities.
When we got back to my sister’s apartment, my girls drew pictures for you to thank you for your kindness. I’ve kept the cards you gave us, along with these pictures, in a little zippered pouch in my purse ever since you gave them to us. I even convinced my girls to let me keep the dollar bills in there so we could save everything as a reminder of the blessing we received from you that day. I’m not sure why you chose us. Maybe it was the frustration and tiredness you saw on our faces; maybe you were just waiting for a family with two small children to come by; or maybe you truly were an angel, sent to remind us that no matter the troubles that may come our way, someone is always watching over us, and that a simple gift of friendly kindness can make a huge impression on someone else’s life, as you have on mine.
I think of you often, dear sir, and whenever I’m having a bad day, I pull those beautiful little red envelopes out of their pouch in my purse and read them again. I’ll save them to give to my children when they are old enough to truly appreciate the gesture. And I’ll tell them this story about the angel we met on the Metro in Washington, D.C. when they were five years old. Thank you, Mr. Franklin Fung Chow, for you truly are a blessing, and I’m quite certain there were gossamer wings underneath your jacket. I wish you the merriest of Christmas holidays and many blessings for the New Year to come.
The Last Baby
Your smile is a gift
I unwrap with
each new morning
Your tiny starfish hands
through my heart
This week’s prompt: “Noël”
Use the prompt however you like — literally, or a tangential theme. All media are welcome. Please e-mail your entries to email@example.com by 10:00 p.m. eastern time (GMT -5) on Tuesday, December 30. The winning entry receives a $10 gift certificate to amazon.com. Writers should include their submission directly in the body text of their e-mail. Visual artists and photographers should attach an image of their work as a jpeg. Enter as often as you like; multiple submissions for a single prompt are welcome. There is no limit to how many times you can win the weekly contest, either. (You do not have to be a contributor to this blog in order to enter. All are invited to participate.) All submissions are acknowledged when received; if you do not receive e-mail confirmation of receipt within 24 hours, please post a comment here. Remember, the point here is to stimulate your output, not to create a masterpiece. Keep the bar low and see what happens. Dusting off work you created previously is OK too. For more info, read the original contest blog post.