I took a photo last Christmas that I love, one that will be used to tease my younger daughter for years on end.
While Reanna, then 5, sits cross-legged with a happy, though sleepy smile on her face, Kennedy, then about three weeks shy of 2 years old, is clutching a stuffed raccoon in the crook of her elbow, pudgy fingers pressed to her cheeks. The fact that she’s not awake enough to brave the flash of my camera or to be sat down on the living room floor is obvious in the glare pointed directly at me.
When you live on an operation with livestock, you learn pretty young that animals have to be fed whether it’s Christmas Day or a run-of-the-mill Tuesday. That means that when those special days come, you have to make your plans around the necessary and important work that has to get done.
I remember Christmas mornings growing up where we’d get up long before the sun in order to see what Santa and our parents had brought us. I also remember Christmases when my brother and I chose not to get up quite so early and found ourselves impatiently staring out the window, watching the tractors go back and forth from the silage pile, waiting for Dad to come inside.
Last year, I asked Reanna if she’d rather get up really early to open presents or sleep in and open presents after everything had been fed. For a kindergartner, the decisions was an easy one. Of course she wanted to get up early! That her poor little sister, a night owl to the core, was to be pulled out of bed in the process was of little consequence to her.
So, I snuck into Reanna’s room early that morning, and with my quiet declaration of “Merry Christmas,” she bounded out of her bed. Then I went into Kennedy’s room, turned off the sound of a babbling brook that she sleeps to and convinced her to wake up. I don’t remember if she said any intelligible words, but the noises she made would have to be spelled out in asterisks.
A few presents in and her mood improved immensely, giving us some happy photos of her second Christmas to go with the grumpy one.
This Christmas, I expect I’ll have two little girls who will bound toward the tree in excitement. They’re at a special age where they both are old enough to understand what’s going on and where everything about Christmas holds magic. They’ll have little problem getting up early to accommodate their daddy’s schedule.
As the day wears on, our meals will be eaten around doing chores. If a sick calf needs to be treated, it’ll get treated. If cows get out, they’ll get put back in. The work doesn’t stop for holidays.
Ranchers aren’t the only ones, of course, who have responsibilities that don’t pause because the day is red on the calendar. Hospitals, restaurants, gas stations, fire stations and more don’t close up shop, either.
It takes dedication, both on the parts of the workers and the workers’ families, to carry through with these responsibilities when most people are taking a day off. I didn’t grow up knowing any different, and neither will my girls.
So, Merry Christmas to you, whether you spend the day lounging and eating or you fit in your family celebrations like a puzzle around the tasks of the day or your shift. May you have a day of peace and joy with those you love.