All Write

It’s Christmas in October!

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Delighted to have my story “Christmas Miracle” included in Chicken Soup for the Soul’s newest release “The Wonder of Christmas.”

This marks the 11th Chicken Soup for the Soul book to feature one or more of my stories. What makes this one extra special is that “Christmas Miracle” is about our youngest son, Sam. It’s also the first story in the book!

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Even better proceeds from the sale of this volume go to Toys for Tots!

The books are on sale now at stores nationwide, or you can click the link in the title above.

Merry Christmas in October,

Cindy

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Columns

My Christmas Miracle

In today’s column for the Spokesman Review, I remember a very special Christmas miracle.
Merry Christmas!

Christmas is all about miracles – about the unexpected showing up in the middle of the ordinary.

Angelic proclamations, a virgin birth, heavenly hosts and a bright shining star beckoning wise men from afar.

For doubters and dissenters, for skeptics and cynics, the ability to embrace the miraculous eludes, but even the most ardent believers need a reminder now and again.

Snow falls as I write, and the white-shrouded world reminds me of another December, 16 years ago, when I received my own much-needed reminder.

Our fourth son had arrived three months earlier. Sam was born with congenital diaphragmatic hernia. A hole had formed in his diaphragm during gestation, allowing his stomach and intestines to move into his chest cavity, crowding his heart and lungs. In Sam’s case, this prevented his left lung from developing.

When he was 3 days old, he underwent surgery to repair the hole in his diaphragm. After a three-week stay in the neonatal intensive care unit at Sacred Heart, we brought him home. He needed no medication, no supplemental oxygen, nursed like a greedy piglet and had none of the dreaded complications or additional health problems common with CDH.

He also had only one lung.

He did have bits of tissue where his left lung would have grown and doctors told us that lungs continue to grow into a child’s early teens. Even if that didn’t happen for Sam, we were assured it’s possible to live with one lung.

But I worried.

Night after night I sat vigil on the floor next to his cradle, watching his chest rise and fall, counting his respiration rate, often dozing off with my hand on his chest.

Exhausted, I did my best to care for his three older brothers, 10, 8 and 5. When December dawned, I decorated and baked in a fog of fatigue.

We reached a milestone on Dec. 23 – Sam’s final post-op visit. Snow fell heavily as I packaged a plate of Christmas cookies for the surgeon’s office.

Each visit began with a series of chest X-rays, and I’d grown adept at deciphering the shadowy shapes in my son’s chest cavity.

Dr. Randall Holland examined Sam, moving his stethoscope over his chest, listening intently while my baby grabbed his hair and blew spit bubbles. Scratching his head, Holland stood, and then once again bent over Sam, listening, listening …

Then he tickled Sam’s three chins and turned to scrutinize the latest X-rays while I wrestled the wriggly baby back into his winter layers and waited for the surgeon to speak.

But he didn’t say a word. Instead, he let out a low whistle, peering at the images. Running his fingers through his hair, he whistled again, and then said, “Cindy, I’d like you to take a look at these.”

And my heart sank.

This was it. The moment I’d dreaded since the hours following Sam’s diagnosis. The moment when I’d learn the nightmare hadn’t ended. The other shoe had dropped and I didn’t know if I could bear it.

Seeing my stricken face, Holland beckoned me closer.

“What’s that?” he asked, pointing to the image.

“That’s Sam’s right lung,” I answered.

He nodded and pointed to the other side of the image.

“And what’s that?”

“That’s Sam’s left lung,” I dutifully replied.

Silence. Apparently, lack of sleep was making me hallucinate.

“Except he doesn’t have a left lung …” I mumbled.

“He didn’t,” Holland agreed. “But he does now.”

He traced the outline with his finger. “A fully-functioning left lung.”

And the surgeon beamed.

I clutched Sam and sank down into a chair, tears falling, dampening his downy blond head like melting snowflakes.

“I don’t understand. Is this a miracle?”

Still smiling, Holland shrugged. “We don’t like to use that word, but I’ve honestly never seen anything like this before.”

Dazed, I left his office, trying to process the news.

That night as usual, I sat at Sam’s cradle feeling his lungs (lungs!) expand, watching my hand on his chest rise and fall. The clock ticked its way to Christmas Eve and I finally climbed into bed, where for the first time since Sam’s birth, I slept – truly slept.

Today at some point, my 6-foot, 1-inch baby boy will bend down and wrap his arms around me. I’ll lay my head on his chest and feel it rise and fall, grateful for the reminder.

Christmas has always been about miracles.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

Columns

A baby changes everything

In the midst of unearthing Christmas decorations, I surveyed the downstairs family room. Actually, “wreck” room is a more apt description. Green and red bins burgeoning with tinsel and ornaments perched precariously on tabletops. Blue bins overflowing with winter garb towered with ominous instability in opposite corners. And stacks of paper on the floor revealed last year’s resolution to stay current with filing has been a dismal failure.

Overwhelmed, I looked for a place to sit. And then I saw it – my rocking chair. Banished to the basement when my youngest grew too big to cuddle comfortably with me in its confines.rocking-chair-cushions[1]

I removed the mountain of snow pants and ski gloves that had buried it and sat down and began to rock. As I swayed, I remembered the first time I saw this chair, on a Christmas morning 20 years ago.

Our first baby was due Dec. 31. We’d prepared a blue and yellow nursery to welcome our little one. A bassinet covered with lacy white netting waited in one corner. Under the window, a changing table stocked with diapers and soft blankets stood ready. But one thing was missing – a rocking chair.

Money had been tight as we prepared to live on one income, and we’d cut back on our Christmas spending. After exchanging gifts, my husband said, “Oh, I almost forgot! I left a present downstairs.”

Bewildered, I followed him to the basement, and there it sat – an oak rocking chair. Derek had purchased it unfinished. Each night after work, he’d lovingly labored on it, smoothing rough edges and coating it with a warm brown lacquer. Somehow, he’d sneaked it into the house without my knowledge.

I threw my arms around him and sobbed. “Better try it out,” he said. So I sat down and began to rock. It was perfect. I don’t think I stopped smiling the rest of the day.

Late that Christmas night, I awoke with that vague discomfort all expectant mothers feel as their time draws near. I heaved my hugely pregnant form out of bed and waddled to the nursery. The rocking chair beckoned, bathed in the glow of the moonlight.

As I sat down and began to rock, the baby responded, squirming, stretching, his small feet doing a tap dance on my ribcage. I whispered words of welcome and wonder to him and prayed for his safe arrival.

I knew life would be different after this child’s birth, but all those Christmases ago I couldn’t have imagined the many ways I’d never be the same.

A baby changes everything.

Through the nursery window on that Christmas night, I watched snowflakes drift lazily down, illuminated by the yellow glow of the streetlight. And I thought of another mother 2,000 years ago, who swayed on a donkey’s back as she traveled to Bethlehem.

Her discomfort must have been magnified by the harshness of her journey. Surely, just like me, she must have contemplated her child’s birth. She must have whispered to him and wondered about him, while her back ached with every passing mile. And like all mothers, she couldn’t have imagined how different her life would be the moment she held him in her arms.

A baby changes everything – sometimes even the world.

Merry Christmas.