It was 2003.
We still lived in Upstate NY and the repercussions from 9/11 were moving throughout the state. My job had been eliminated from the state budget, but because I was pregnant with our second child, we knew I would be a stay-at-home mom.
What we didn’t know was by Thanksgiving, my husband’s job would change from salaried with benefits to commission with no benefits. Our baby spent her first major holiday in the PICU recovering not only from croup, but from doctor error.
I was reeling in anger and grief.
By Christmas, I was not only submerged in those feelings, but exhausted from fear. We were scared she’d stop breathing again. I couldn’t even trust her monitor. I remember standing by her crib, unable to sleep, only able to resist panic when I could hear and see her breathing.
I knew I needed a break, no matter how brief. I didn’t know the term at the time but I am a classic introvert. One of my bucket list items was to go to a movie and have the theater be completely empty.
I hit the bucket list jackpot when I saw a matinee of Elf.
I didn’t know what to expect but I knew it was Will Ferrell and I’ve always been a fan of Christmas movies full of Christmas spirit. I giggled as he tried to keep up in the workshop. Laughed as he was sent to inspect the jack-in-the boxes. As I watched Buddy the Elf learn his human identity and travel through candy cane forest to New York City, I was able to press pause on the overwhelming grief I was feeling.
By the time Santa and his sleigh took flight over Central Park, I was convinced I’d watched something real, not ninety minutes of entertainment. Elf gave me permission to check out, and dial into innocence, hope, sugar without consequences, and pure joy.
Fast forward and that sick baby is now 12. Although she still has health issues and things that stem from that first Thanksgiving, she is no where near the level of sickness. When people meet her, joy is often a word they use to describe her. They see it in her face and smile. More than once I’ve watched people confess and change their lives just because they came across our daughter’s smile.
She loves celebrations and Christmas is definitely number one. She loves the Christmas movies and Elf has been her favorite for years. She doesn’t just giggle at the jack-in-the box part, she has a full on belly laugh.
Watching her watch Elf brings me joy, and each year it reminds me of that first time I saw that little movie that could. I can recite Elf and relax every time I watch it. And each viewing, it gives me hope for a simpler time, a little laughter, and a full dose of Christmas spirit.
Is there a Christmas movie that means a lot to you? I’d love for you to share your memories in the comments.