The party was only hours away and I was stressed! I had talked to everybody at school and even though they all said they were coming, I was still worried that no one would show up. After all, I really didn’t have any good friends yet. I’d only lived here for a few months. What if no one showed up? What would I do? How could I go back to school on Monday? I shouldn’t have worried so much.
The party started at 6:00. By 5:55, my friends were already showing up. By 6:30, 13 of the 15 girls I invited were running around my house. I would never have admitted it then, but I barely knew some of these girls. Some of them were from the popular crowd and I really wanted to fit it. To tell the truth, I was kind of surprised that they showed up, but I was glad they did.
We had great fun at the party. We started with pizza and videos. We played some games and opened presents. I got some cool stuff, like makeup, jewelry, and books. Presents are always nice, even if they aren’t the reason for the party. After that, we had cake and ice cream. Then we spread out our sleeping bags for a late movie. It was after midnight when Mom and Dad went to bed and the real party began. We ran around the house, got into makeup, got out Mom’s curling irons, and just made a mess in general. Mom said that we could make popcorn and it got thrown everywhere. It seemed that my new friends were out of control and I couldn’t do anything to stop them.
About 4:00 a.m., some of the girls, including me, started to get tired and we finally fell asleep. I heard later that two girls stayed up all night. I don’t know if they did or if they just said that so we would all think they were cool.
Mom woke us all up about 9:30 for breakfast. Dad made French toast and orange juice. Most of the girls didn’t even want to get up, but they finally did. At least Mom and Dad were nice enough to throw their fit after all the girls left. They said that I could never have another sleep over, that I was irresponsible, you know, all that grown up talk. I told them it wasn’t me, but it didn’t seem to matter. I was the one who was going to be punished because they were my friends.
It didn’t take long before half those girls at school were mad at me for some reason anyway. I guess they weren’t really interested in being friends, they just wanted to come to the party. Since Mom and Dad were still kind of mad, I didn’t care that much.
It was the holidays and we always spend that time together as a family anyway. Nathan had his first birthday right after mine; then it was time for Thanksgiving. Mom and Dad had planned a huge Thanksgiving feast at our new house. Some of our relatives had not been to see us yet, so Mom and Dad had a gathering of about 50 people planned from both sides of the family. I thought they were crazy! I know our house is pretty big, but where were they going to put all those people?
But Dad had it all figured out. He rigged up a table in the dining room out of two huge pieces of plywood. All the grownups except Mom and Grandma sat in there. They got the best food, but we had plenty for us. Because Dad was still unemployed, he started cooking the feast on Tuesday. That gave him plenty of time to get everything finished. Mom is not the cook at our house. Dad and I can cook much better than Mom. It works out, because Mom is always in charge of cleanup.
Thanksgiving was great. I got to play with my cousins and eat until I nearly threw up. My cousin, Todd, is about my age. He told me that he was going to play basketball in a league right after Christmas. I had never played basketball before, but it sounded fun. After everyone was gone and we were cleaning up, I asked Mom if Neal and I could join this league. They called it Jr. Jazz. Of course, we knew that money would be a problem, but Mom promised to call and find out all the details.
By Monday, Neal and I were both signed up to play Jr. Jazz. I was really excited. I had never played any basketball before, not even at school. Other than practices and games with my team, it didn’t look like I’d be playing much anywhere else either. We didn’t have a basketball hoop and neither did most of the neighbors. Neal had a friend with one down the street, so it wasn’t such a big deal for him. I didn’t have anybody. Some of the kids played at recess, but it was mostly the boys and they didn’t think that girls were good enough to play with them. Boy, were they wrong! My Jr. Jazz team was awesome! I don’t know how I landed on the best team in the league. Most of these girls had been playing together since 2nd grade and they were good! I started to worry that they wouldn’t like me because I couldn’t even make a basket. Mom was sympathetic, but she made it clear that while Dad was not working, we couldn’t afford a basketball standard and I’d just have to practice at school. I was starting to get used to disappointment. I pinned my hopes on Santa Claus until Mom announced a homemade Christmas. Not that I minded making gifts for my brothers and sisters; I liked crafts and sewing and painting and stuff. I was just hoping for a gift that was clearly not possible.
My basketball team played three games before Christmas. I didn’t play much, but it sure was fun to win. We had two girls who were almost six feet tall. None of the other teams in the league had anyone over 5’6”. I was not quite five feet tall and even though I practiced dribbling nearly every day, I still couldn’t handle the ball very well under pressure. Our league was split into two brackets and our team was placed in the winners’ bracket. They didn’t call us winners and the other teams losers, but we all knew what was what.
We didn’t have a game the week before Christmas or for two weeks after. My coach wanted to practice though, so twice a week, we met and ran through plays, even three days before Christmas. After that final practice, the coach pulled me aside and said, “Kira, you really need to work on your shooting at least an hour a day.”
I didn’t know what to say. “I don’t have a hoop,” I mumbled.
He looked concerned. “We’ll call after Christmas and maybe you can come over and practice with Ashley,” he said. “But if you ever want to be any good, you’ve got to learn to shoot under pressure.”
“See you,” I mumbled to Ashley and I ran across the parking lot to our van.
Dad was waiting for me. “How was practice?” he asked cheerfully.
“OK,” I said. I must not have sounded convincing because Dad looked at me with that ‘concerned parent look.’
“What happened?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I answered. “Otto just thinks I should practice more, but without a hoop, it’s really hard, Dad.” I caught my breath and wiped the sweat from my forehead and chin onto my shirt.
I looked back at Dad and I could see the sadness in his eyes. “I’m sorry, Honey,” he said. “Being out of work isn’t fun for any of us. I thought sure I’d have a job by now.” He cleared his throat. “Maybe Santa will come through,” he managed.
I shook my head, “Yeah, right.” Dad looked at me. “Don’t look at me like that, Dad. You know lots of kids at school don’t believe in Santa anymore.”
“I guess they don’t believe in miracles either?” Dad asked. He was getting testy and I really didn’t want to argue with him.
“I don’t know, Dad,” I answered. “They don’t talk much about that kind of stuff.” I turned my face to the window and rested my forehead against the cool glass. Powdery flakes were floating gently to the ground as we turned into our subdivision.
“I guess we might have a white Christmas after all,” Dad offered.
“I hope so,” I said, glad of a safe topic. Dad was so cranky these days; it was hard to have a conversation with him.
“Mom’s got a lot of work to do tonight, so I want you to quickly finish your jobs and get to bed early,” Dad said.
“What are my jobs?” I asked.
“Family room, batch of laundry,” he stated firmly, expecting an argument. I groaned, but very softly. I always got the hardest jobs. Mom said it was because I was the oldest and I got the most privileges. I’m not sure any of that makes up for the extra work. “Honey?” Dad interrupted my thoughts.
“I do believe in miracles and in Santa Claus.” I looked quickly to see if he were teasing me, but his face looked very serious and very sad at the same time. I squeezed his hand.
“Thanks for the ride, Dad,” and I climbed out of the car. “I’ll do my jobs fast. What’s for supper?” I promised myself then and there to have a talk with the other kids about Christmas. We didn’t really need anything but Dad to get a new job anyway. I opened the front door and forced a big smile as I headed upstairs to get my laundry.
I did have that talk with my siblings and we all agreed. Kinsey and Kiyna needed a little prodding, but they were OK after I told them how sad Daddy was. They gave him as many hugs as they could over the next few days and on Christmas Eve, we went to bed with low expectations but happy hearts. Dad didn’t act nearly as depressed and Mom sang Christmas Carols long after our lights were out. Grandma and Grandpa Ockey were staying with us. They had never spent Christmas with us before, and it was exciting to share that special time with them. Uncle Randy was in Alaska, so only Aunt Deb and Aunt Amy came with Grandma and Grandpa. Mom had lots of siblings, but only two of her sisters were married. She also had two older brothers, but they lived halfway around the world and they didn’t come home much.
Christmas morning dawned bright and early. I stayed in my bed for a few moments, just listening to the silence and watching the Christmas lights twinkling in the hall. I could tell that everyone was still sleeping. I peeked out the window and smiled at the freshly falling snow. “Good,” I thought to myself. “Maybe Grandma and Grandpa will get snowed in and have to spend an extra couple of days with us.”
I threw back the covers and made my way cautiously to the door. Neal’s room was next to mine, so I woke him first. “Neal!” I whispered loudly. “Wake up, it’s Christmas!”
His eyes popped open and he grinned up at me. “Did you wake the girls?” he asked excitedly.
“No,” I whispered, “you can do it.”
He threw back his quilt. “I’ll wake the girls and we’ll let Kiyna wake Mom and Dad.” He swung his legs to the edge of the bed. “What time is it?” he whispered.
“Nearly six,” I answered. “Let’s go wake the girls.” Kinsey and Kiyna were harder to wake than Neal, but we finally convinced them it was really Christmas and they needed to see what Santa brought for them. Nathan was sleeping with Mom and Dad, so we sent Kiyna in to wake them up. After all, who could get mad at a cute little three-year-old with long blonde hair and big blue eyes on Christmas morning?
Mom and Dad moaned and groaned, but they finally pulled themselves out of bed. After waking Grandma and Grandpa, Aunt Deb and Aunt Amy, we headed for the family room. I tried to calm the little kids by telling them that Santa was extra busy and he probably didn’t have time to leave us as many toys this year, but I didn’t need to bother. The family room was covered with wrapped packages and one really huge one by the back door had my name on it! I tried to contain my excitement as the girls discovered dollhouses and Neal opened a guitar. I finally got my turn, and as I ripped down the paper, I saw a picture of a basketball hoop and I shouted, “Thank you, Santa Claus!” The basketball standard was obviously unassembled, but it was there and I began believing in miracles when I turned and saw the huge grin on Dad’s face.
“Let’s put it together, should we?”
Mom looked up from the dollhouse and smiled. “You’d better stay in the garage,” she cautioned, “I think we’re in for a blizzard.”