A Recalcitrant Wife and Mother Tells All

What “Are you ready for Christmas?” might really mean.

The first time I heard it this year was on December 8th: “Are you ready for Christmas?”

I effing hate that question.

It makes me bristle every time with anxiety about all the items not yet checked off my mile-long To Do List.

So when a friend cheerfully asked me this a few nights ago at the nursing home where we took our scout troop caroling, I turned to her and snapped, “Ugh! Why do people ask that?”


The look on her face!

She was visibly deflated by my sharp, growling reply.

“Gosh, I don’t know. Just making conversation, I guess,” she answered.

“Well, no. I’m not ready for Christmas. In fact, I have so much to do that I feel like my head is going to explode. My cards haven’t arrived yet. I haven’t wrapped or mailed a single gift. My husband keeps asking when I’m going to start baking and every time he asks I want to stab him in the eye.” I ranted.

“Oh. That’s totally not what I meant,” she sighed. Her shoulders were suddenly slumped.

I did that to her.

Desperately, “It’s not? What did you mean?”

“Well, it’s just that I love Christmas. Preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus is my favorite time of year! I just get really excited! And so I was wondering if you are as excited about it as I am.”

“So, you’re not trying to make me feel inadequate or guilty or more overwhelmed?”

“Oh my gosh, NO. Why would anyone do that?”

“For sport?”

“Girl, you need to get your Christmas spirit on. Forget the To Do List. Think about God’s incredible gift to us: his Son.”


I was missing it. That’s so like me, to focus all my energy on the wrong thing.

We gathered up our girls and entered the nursing home. Most of the residents were already in the social hall, eagerly awaiting our arrival.

This was going to be a tough night.

And not just because old people scare me.

Our scout leader handed all the girls song packets and instructed each of them to share with one of the elderly residents. We spread out around the social hall.

A few minutes later, the room was filled with song.

It was going really well until I looked to my left and noticed this:

The meaning of Christmas by The Bearded Iris

This sweet woman was gently patting her new friend on the back and then hugging her with her one arm. It was truly precious to behold.

I felt a lump slowly rising in my throat, making it really hard to sing. I didn’t want to cry. I wanted to be strong for the girls.

But I couldn’t help it. I was holding back a river. My lip was starting to quiver and my voice was cracking.

Thinking fast, I moved to another part of the room, pretending to go help one of the girls.

Bad move.

That is where I met Ginny Mae:

Ginny Mae had already made friends with one of our scouts, a beautiful 11 year old girl named Anna.

Ginny Mae was holding Anna’s hand and telling her “Thank you for coming here tonight. This is the best Christmas ever. I love you,” over and over. She was radiating love and light.

I could see that Anna was about to cry. And just like that, my tears spilled over. I turned away and rummaged through my purse for tissues.

Anna’s mom sensed that something was wrong and quickly crossed the room to check on her daughter. When she saw that we were both crying, she started to cry too. We were a pretty pathetic little bunch. One of the nurses came over and asked if we were all okay. All of this was happening during a rousing rendition of Up on the Housetop. 

That’s when this lady turned around and signaled me over.

I tenderly leaned down to hear what she wanted to tell me, emotionally bracing myself for another heartbreak.

That’s when she quickly grabbed my arm with her bony hand like a scene from a Stephen King novel and hissed “Would you tell that lady [Ginny Mae] to shut up?! I can’t hear the God damn music!” 

Alrighty then! Even in the nursing home, I thought to myself, haters gonna hate.

Then it dawned on me, like the proverbial lightbulb turning on over my head, I don’t want to be like her. I want to be like Ginny Mae. 

Creeeeeeaaaak. I could feel my Grinchy little heart actually growing two sizes.

A few minutes later, one of our scout leaders asked for a handful of us to go with her to sing to Isabelle, a resident who could no longer get out of bed. My daughter Mini-Me volunteered. She grabbed my hand and said, “Come with me Mom.” How could I say no?

There were photos all over the walls of Isabelle’s room. One immediately drew me in…it was a beautiful, buxom young woman, probably taken in the 1940s or 50s. It was definitely Isabelle, but the change over time in Isabelle’s appearance was startling.

She couldn’t talk to us, only smile. She was so tiny and fragile, her hair white and sparse.

We sang Jingle Bells and We Wish You a Merry Christmas. She smiled.

But as we sang Silent Night, a single tear rolled down her cheek onto her pillow.

I was a goner.

Looking around, I could see that everyone else in the room was silently crying now too. Even the nurse. It took my breath away.

Silent night, holy night.
All is calm, all is bright.
Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child.
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

It was a transformative evening, no question about it. Thanks be to God.

And now, even though I still have a To Do List a mile long, I’m totally ready for Christmas. Go ahead, ask me.

joyously and with childlike anticipation,


© Copyright 2011, The Bearded Iris. All rights reserved. Love each other.


  1. Mamadonn

    Okay, okay, you win.
    When an OLD guy like me can’t get through your blog without tears streaming down his face, you win, and you ROCK!

    • The Bearded Iris

      SUH-WEET! My job is done here. Carry on.

  2. Julie

    You made me cry. I love old folks, and I think we don’t spend near enough time with them.

    • The Bearded Iris

      Teach me the way, Obi Wan. I want to love them, I’m just skeert.

  3. Naps Happen

    Back when I used to perform in New York, I sang at nursing or retirement homes on a number of occasions. As you observed, there were two sharply conflicting feelings each time. The first one was that it was incredibly how moved some of the people in the audience were, just to hear someone sing the songs they remembered from their youth (I did Gershwin, Porter, etc.). But just when I’d be getting teary-eyed, myself, over a nice lady who was smiling and crying over my song, two ladies in the back would loudly say something snarky to each other. Then I would chuckle to myself and remember – they were all just people, there. Cherishing old memories, making new friends…and bitching about the guy crackling his candy wrapper two seats away. There’s a life lesson in there somewhere…Merry Christmas!

    • The Bearded Iris

      Ooooh, you were a performer?! I’m so gonna get you drunk at BlogHer and force you to sing to us. Merry Christmas!

      • Naps Happen

        Ha! Well – I did cabaret for years and also performed with a pop rock a cappella group (you know – before The Sing Off made it cool). Good times, though.

  4. NanaBread (Jeanne)

    Dang it, Iris. If you’re going to write this heart-wrenching touchy feely Christmas stuff, you’re going to have to warn a girl. I need time to grab a tissue so I don’t have to wipe snot on my sleeve next time. I loved this post. And now, thanks to you and Ginny Mae, I’m a little less afraid of nursing homes. What a special day for all involved. Thanks for the reality check.

    • The Bearded Iris

      Aw, really? Thanks! Yes, Ginny Mae was so not scary. I need more time with that woman.

      My post was too long for more details, but there were several other women there who just melted my heart. One kept saying aloud, “Beautiful! These children are just beautiful!”

  5. Rhonda

    I love reading your blog and always get a good chuckle but this time I was holding back the tears…..
    Rhonda from Canada

    • The Bearded Iris

      Thank you Rhonda! Don’t hold back. Let it out! A good cry is my 2nd favorite medicine.

  6. Miranda

    Darn it Iris! You made my cry at work! 🙂

    What a fantastic evening you had!

    • The Bearded Iris

      It really was a fantastic evening. Thanks, Miranda! I can’t wait to do it again.

  7. becky

    good one! thx be to you and the universe and all of the beauty that it holds!

    • The Bearded Iris

      Beautiful – thank you Becky.

  8. Heather Novak

    YOU are a WRETCHED woman. Making me cry. I just posted THIS MORNING about a sad absence of the Christmas spirit. Thanks for answering the question you didn’t know I asked.

    • The Bearded Iris

      Dammit, that is DEEP, girl. I’m a simple woman. If I’m feeling it, I can’t be the only one. Thank you for validating me! Blogging is so much cheaper than therapy.

  9. Jane

    Thank you for that wonderful story. I loved sharing the tears with you. Merry Christmas Iris!!

    • The Bearded Iris

      Merry Christmas Jane! Thank you for being here and sharing my stories! xoxo

  10. Jewel

    Love it! I cried a lot… ’til I saw the poop on the right side of the page. lol.

    • The Bearded Iris

      OMG – you are so right! Nothing ruins a Hallmark moment like a dog turd. Moved it to the bottom of the page for now. Thank you!

  11. mrs.frisbie

    Where can I send the bill for the keyboard I just ruined with my slobber and tears?

    Merry MERRY Christmas, Iris. You just made my day.

    • The Bearded Iris

      LOL! Oh Mrs. Frisbie, you sweet thang! Thank you! A Merry MERRY Christmas to you and yours as well.

  12. heather vickers

    Damnit Iris, I just put my face on!!!!!;0) Thank you! Merry Christmas!

    • The Bearded Iris

      HAHAHA! I love that expression! Speaking of which, OMG, I can’t find my face. Now where did I put that thing?

  13. Jo

    Bless your Grinch-y little heart, Iris. Now you’ve gone and made me cry, too.

    Merry Christmas x

  14. Pricilla - Famous SpokesGoat

    You even made this old goat cry.
    Merry Christmaaaa from all of us Happy Goats

  15. Joellyn

    I remember going to Nursing Homes when I was a Girl Scout and also when I was in Choir in high school… I cried every time we went. AND…I cried reading your blog today but it brought back wonderful memories…. Thank you Iris for helping me remember that everything doesn’t have to be perfect.

    • The Bearded Iris

      You are so welcome, Joellyn. Thank YOU for being here and sharing your memories with us. I wouldn’t know perfect if it honked my boob and called me Sparkles McGee.

  16. DriftSeed

    egads woman!

    I’m with all these other gals ~ disclaimer next time if your gonna spring tears on us~!

    • The Bearded Iris

      OMG, I love the word “egads,” probably because it is so rarely used. Pity.

      And sorry about the sad surprise…I guess I should factor into the equation that tears are totally contagious. If I’m crying, you might cry too. Thank you for getting my drift. That makes me very happy. HAPPY, I tells ya. 🙂

  17. The Queen of Words

    While moved by the sentiment and chuckiling at the funnies…this cold hearted grinch couldn’t cry. I’m just not in it this year.

    I too would have flown off the handle at anyone asking if I was ready. Glowing eyes, hair blowing back, claws protruding, and all. Real Exorcist shit and all! Know you have a sister standing proud with you in that fight.

    Here’s to hoping that a bottle of wine or four this evening will push me in to the Christmas spirit. Or maybe I should take those bottles of wine to a nursing home and see what kind of spirit I can illicit.

    • The Bearded Iris

      Now THAT, I would love to see. How ’bout if I grab a box and meet you there? I’m sitting with Ginny Mae though. You can have that mean ol’ pinched face bat.

      • The Queen of Words

        Totally! I will be in the back with my old purse that only contain candy, tissues, a rain bonnet, and a comb.

        • WOrds from the Queen

          Apparently the lack of Christmas spirt has affected my intellegence today. I couldn’t even type my name or my webpage correctly. Cheesus!

          My sincerest apologies,
          Words from the Queen

          PS-I don’t really care if yuou accept my apology or not. So there!

  18. Southern Girl

    Lovely. Thank you, SG

  19. Gina

    Well crap. You made me cry too

    • The Bearded Iris

      Holy cheese! You say that like it’s a bad thing. 😉 Am I the only emotionally unstable one here who actually LOVES a good cry?

  20. Connie Corey

    Yep, add me to the teary list…..loved it!

  21. The Bearded Iris

    Y’all are gonna make me feel bad! Would it help if I added a fart joke? Because seriously, someone at that nursing home was majorly lactose intolerant.

  22. Liza Martz

    Well, darlin’ you did it, you softened the heart of a confirmed Grinch (okay an maybe I also dropped a tear or two.) I have been so busy being offended by the out-of-control consumer-madness that takes place every year , I’ve forgotten what the *real* Christmas is about. Thanks, Iris!

  23. Lyn

    My 92yo mother is spending her first Christmas in a nursing home. We visit her every day …. but not all of the residents don’t get a lot of visits. Thank you and yours so much for taking the time to visit with these folks. Please don’t be afraid of them … they’re moms and dads and aunts and uncles just like we are. Ask you troop leaders to please schedule more visits during the year — it will be very appreciated, believe me.

    • The Bearded Iris

      Oh my gosh, Lyn, thank you for sharing that. I’m glad you get to visit your mom every day. That must be really hard.

      I know the girls would LOVE to go back. It was such an amazing experience and I’m sure it will become less frightening the more we do it. Many blessings to you and your family.

  24. Karin

    Beautiful post, Iris. Happy holidays.

  25. Amanda Andrus

    What a great post. I laughed, cried, laughed and then cried again. Way to keep me on my toes. What a great reminder of what I should be thinking about when someone asks me that question. Thanks!

  26. Jill

    LOVE THIS! Love that your friend meant the question in the right way. Way too many people say it to see if you have your to-so list and when you say no, they either commiserate or worse tell you how their list has been done since before Thanksgiving.

    The most awesome thing is those girls in scout troop (and moms) are going to remember this for ever.

    P.S. Old people scare me too, that’s why I hide behind my two children. They buffer me and really old people like children better.

  27. Tara Fink

    Thanks A LOT for making me have “ugly cry-face” in the mall parking lot!
    You make me laugh and cry. You’re a keeper, Iris!

  28. Jamie

    It is those little moments that make it Christmas for me too. The older I get (especially after seeing my parents age) I get the old people thing. They weren’t always like that, sitting there, at everyone else’s mercy. I now try to see the younger girl who loved to sing; the old fellow who loved to dance. And once you “get it” you can’t help but be moved. Thanks for sharing those beautiful moments.

  29. Ava

    This made me cry, too. A beautiful story with beautiful people. Even though I’m not religious, I love Christmas and it has an important meaning for me. It’s lovely that you reminded me of that. Thank you. Merry Christmas 🙂

  30. Annie

    What a sweet story! I was relieved, however, that you took the scouts and not Dobie with you…imagine the chaos he would have spread! Then again, he might have given Ms. Crankypants a run for her money, and somehow squeezed a smile out of her! Hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday!

    • The Bearded Iris

      OMG Annie – hilarious! What a combo that would be! No, there is enough urine at the nursing home…they don’t need Dobbie there. Thanks for making me laugh!

  31. Joanne

    That was wonderful and so typical of most of us. I posted a similar sentiment in my spiritual wanderings blog. Thank you for for re-grounding me to the true Spirit of Christmas!

  32. laura

    love that about you, iris. your multi dimensional (and mentally unstable)… wait, that’s not the point. Great post!

  33. laura

    you’re. sorry.

  34. laura

    wait, you aren’t sorry. it was a grammatical error and on any other blog i would have left it. you’re multi-dimensional and i’m illiterate.

    • The Bearded Iris

      Bitch, please. I promise I don’t grade comments for grammatical content. I only do that with Facebook statuses. And only if the person posting it is a douchebag. So you’re good. Or like we say in North Georgia, yer good.

  35. Stacey H.

    U.Suck. I haven’t cried all day. Now I have cried, laughed, cried and may have peed a little, but that last part isn’t your fault. I should take computer breaks. Good one. A warning of sensitive writing would be nice though in the future!

  36. Kris the Colts fan

    I’m crying too. Thank you for sharing.

  37. Livin In Duckville

    Dammit!!!! *sniff, sniff, waaahhhhh!!!

    Merry Christmas, Iris!!!

  38. Didi

    Iris, I was just gonna log off and call it a night. I just got back from my youngest dd’s “Holiday Concert”, she play’s the violin. I was totally blown away tonight, because the orchestera teacher made EVERY SINGLE song except for one a Christmas carol… THE ENTIRE AUDIENCE gave them a standing ovation after the concert!!!

    I came on to find 213 emails in my inbox that is from clearing them THIS MORNING!!! I was about to log off disgusted and mumbing to myself as to why ppl have no life and how they manage to keep their house clean, when your title keened my interest… as I read, I started to tear up myself.

    I’m a hospice nurse… so ill and dying and geriatric is my speciality, not in that particular order! However, that being said, most first palliative care then hospice go from hospital to nursing home to home to die. For the most part that is the order. I initiate my patient’s by visiting them in the nursing home/hospital first.
    The look in their eyes is just downright humbling!!! They are full of fear , full of regret, full of frustration, full of mischief, full of anger, and full of love!!!
    Looking beyond that now broken person in the wheelchair or bed, who still wants to match her earrings to her outfit… you have to realize that not too long ago this amazing person was making an entire dinner for her family and hugging everyone in sight….
    Thier not just “old or dying”, thier ppl!!! They might hurt, BUT THEY CAN STILL FEEL!!!

    Thank you for realizing that, thank you for what you and your dd did that was the best gift EVER…and most of all… THANK YOU FOR BEING YOU!!!

    Merry Christmas my friend!!!!

  39. Susie Q

    Iris, this is exactly the reminder I needed. Thank heavens I wasn’t at the mall, office, or some other public place (but rather in the privacy of my bathroom…TMI? sorry!) while reading this! Anyway, the cry was therapeutic. Instead of dashing around the house, attempting to cross off the “must do” items on my list, I’m now enjoying a Christmas choral concert on tv – by the light of our sparsely decorated tree (and seated beside the Totes filled with decorations I didn’t get put up). And that’s okay. I still get to celebrate Christmas with my family this weekend, which is the only important item on that TO DO list anyway. Warm wishes to you!

  40. Allysgrandma

    My Valium had kicked in and I was going to bed but thought I would check my e-mails first and of course had to read your post. Thanks a lot, now I will probably have to pray longer than usual tonight….after I quit crying.

    PS Tomorrow is my birthday…yes that’s right. That’s why my middle name is Joy! Joy to the world…yes that’s me! Love you and Mini-Me and the rest of those sweet girls and their mums.

  41. Ann

    My mom had to live in Assisted Living as she declined from Alzheimer’s. We have so many memories from there, some hysterical and some heartbreaking. One lady was so funny and when you would speak to her and ask how she was doing you’d either get, “It’s a happy!” or a string of cursing that made you think she was really suffering from Tourette’s and not dementia. My sisters and I still say “It’s a happy!” even though our mom died 8 years ago.

    Isn’t it amazing how we can be so touched by those we think WE are going to help in some way.

    Merry Christmas my friend, I’m ready too. xox

  42. Darlene

    How I needed to read this today. Thanks for sharing this post – with the exception of the fact that I know leave for work with a crying headache – this was the kick-in-the-pants reminder that I needed of all there is to celebrate in this season.

  43. Kara

    Iris – thanks for posting been trying to make a visit happen to this sweet old woman I met at our church several yrs ago (8 I think). I have sent her a Christmas card every year. About three yrs ago she started sending my family of 6 a check (won’t even tell you the amount my little Christmas angel is sending these days) along with her card telling me that my family cards bring her much joy and a pic of her sitting on santa’s lap. Well, it has been a long overdue gesture of gratitude that I take my own little rag tag bunch to bring her some Christmas cheer. I have been trying to contact someone at the assisted living facility to find out if it would be ok to visit her tomorrow. Been a bit of phone tag but your post tells me to PRESS ON. We have sent her thank you packets of letters and paintings from the kids last year BUT a personal visit IS IN ORDER!

  44. By Word of Mouth Musings

    Seriously, i head over here for a pick me up , for a laugh in my day … and you give me this! Ack, now tears and messy mascara, and God knows my nose is already like Rudolph what with the lunghacking and all.
    You did it girl … nailed the post … beautiful … ring in the season and remember, remember all the reasons why!

  45. Pamela

    As someone with a parent in a nursing home RIGHT NOW, I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this, right down to the honest representation of the haters. Hoo boy. I needed that catharsis.

  46. Adrienne S

    I love you Iris. Great job bringing focus back to the right place. I’m not much for Christmas. Since my children were very tiny, they’ve spent break with their dad, except for Christmas Day, and this year is especially tough because they don’t really want to but they’re still too young to tell him that. 🙁 I’ve just finished my shopping today and mostly frowning and frustrated, didn’t even put lights on the tree this year and have a crummy attitude. I’m sucking all that up though, and going to be happy for what I DO have, which is miracle kids that love me, and a wonderful, wonderful life — most of the time. (and a real cool bottle of apple wine for them days it ain’t so wonderful!)
    Thanks. 🙂

  47. peruby

    I have always wanted to tell people “Oh, yes! I AM ready for Christmas! My presents were bought and wrapped weeks ago.” While smiling, of course. If I happened to run into any of them out and about I would just smile and explain myself “I am so caught up this year, I am helping my Mom/Sister/Daughter/Husband/Brother”. And smile yet again.

    Sigh. My church choir sang at a nursing home one year long ago. I must have been about 12 or 13 years old. One of the ladies pooped her pants and the image of her walking past everybody with poop dropping out is etched in my mind forever.

  48. Dawn@LightenUp!

    That’s O.K., Iris, I didn’t need my eyeliner on today anyway. Fan-flippin’-tastic post.
    BTW, the old crotchety woman, cussing in the wheelchair? That will be me.

  49. Sarah

    Iris, you have the ability to crack me up and make me cry all at the same time. Thanks for this post. Today I have been running around like a crazy woman trying to make christmas perfect for everyone but being a complete B to everyone in my path. Thanks for reminding me of what christmas really is

  50. Annette

    Hi Iris!
    What beauty of life awaits childlike faith and giving of one’s self. You and your company of angels blessed me, among the multitudes, who stopped by for a cup of cheer and got a heart lube! Patch Adams would love this!

  51. Ash

    I sure wish I had read this post before Christmas. Anyway it was wonderful. I missed out on the carolers when I worked in a nursing home since I worked night shift. I can only guess how appreciative most of the residents were though. I am glad that you braved your fear for their benefit. I have laughed so hard I’ve cried reading your blog before. But these tears were just heart warming.

  52. Jody Worsham

    Really nice. For 22 years I directed “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” every year. Christmas just wasn’t Christmas if I didn’t do that show. The students that I had in my program all 4 years in high school can still repeat every line in the show and many have gone on to direct that show in their communities. Amidst the shopping and attempting to cook and trying to quell WWIII, the play always kept things in focus for me. I was continuously surprised that there was always someone in my classes that had never heard the Christmas story.

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