Athena: Magic and Sanity Through Night of Hope
For Athena, the magic of the season is inextricably tied to childhood. As wondrous as it can be, however, it’s also a period of high pressure. As a mother of three, she wants to pass along the miraculous spirit of the holiday. The only trouble is that, by the final month of the year, there is no wiggle room in her family’s tight budget.
Athena and her husband moved from Southern California to North Texas in anticipation of their second son. At the time, both adults were working Full Time and barely clearing expenses. The change in scenery helped them to settle into life as a family of four. But five years later, her first daughter threw the plan out of balance again. As a former ‘latchkey kid,’ Athena couldn’t stomach the thought of leaving her children alone at home. She left her job to care for the kids on a daily basis, and the budget stretched once more.
For this family, Christmas often looms on the horizon instead of beckoning. But just when it looks like the magic is gone — right when the holiday stress is at its peak — Night of Hope arrives.
When she was young, Athena’s household was abuzz every December. The entire family would gather at her grandmother’s house to celebrate. And every Christmas Eve, her uncles and grandfather treated the kids to an elaborate performance. The sound of sleigh bells and bags of presents hitting the floor would wash over Athena and her cousins as they lay expectantly in bed. In the morning, they heard harrowing tales of Santa’s arrival and saw the evidence scattered around the house.
“It created such a memory of the magic of Christmas,” she said of the tradition. “Just the thought that they put in to do that for us kids, it was great. That’s the kind of magic and feeling I try to make sure that my kids experience every year.
“I want them to have that tradition, that feeling of love that I had at that time of year. For them. So that, someday, they’ll do the same for their kids. Or even better!
“It’s disheartening to have those memories and that desire, but then to look at the budget and know that you can’t do it.”
Athena knows, too, that the end of holiday vacation means the dawn of Christmas comparisons.
The Pressure of Parenthood
A season of thankfulness becomes a season of contrasting experience as soon as her kids reunite with their classmates and begin to recap their holidays. Against a backdrop of Christmas tradition, Athena feels the pressure to make sure that her children fit in with their classmates.
“It’s hard for kids to understand why their Christmas isn’t the same as their friends’ down the street; a lot of the need is psychological… helping the kids feel normal,” she said.
“We survive most of the year. We have food, we have utilities paid and the house payments made. Mortgage, rent, and all that; taken care of. But with Christmas — and sometimes even birthdays — it’s that added little ‘ok, I’ve got to buy a gift. I have to buy extra food for this big meal.’
“When you’re living check-to-check, that’s difficult. And disappointing, when you can’t do what you wish in your heart that you could do… I don’t want my kids to feel like they’re not cool enough or they’re going to be looked down upon because they’re not wearing the right things.”
Like many parents in our area, Athena sometimes finds herself dreading Christmas. Cheerful carols emanating from storefronts and radio dials become a haunting chorus. The 25th of December is coming, and so are the bills.
By this point, she has scraped together birthdays and Thanksgiving dinner; all the trappings of normal American life. But this is Christmas. It has to be magical. It has to come on time. And it has to be the same experience as every other kid at school.
Not Just Relief… Hope
Athena’s kids were 3 out of 3,808 given Christmas through Night of Hope in 2016. They got to go back to school with their heads held high; to talk about the gifts they received and the meal they shared on Christmas morning. Because of this community’s generosity, Christmas came for Athena. It was on time. And it was magical.
“It is sometimes hard to admit to need the help. You want to be independent… sometimes, you don’t [have it under control],” she said. “Night of Hope comes around and it’s like ‘life is great. It’s a struggle, but it’s worth it. My kids are worth it. I’m worth it.’ Sometimes it’s hard to feel love and to help others feel loved when you’re so worried about A to B. And then you’ve got X, Y, Z thrown in the mix!”
Leave a Comment