I dreaded working Christmas this year. I’ve been lucky the past few years and have been able to take the holidays off. But alas, in my current assignment I do not have the luxury of taking holidays off that aren’t on my normal days off. There’s this silly thing called seniority… and when it comes to vacation picks, I don’t have enough of it!
I drove myself into work on Christmas day feeling pretty sorry for myself. In my moment of self-pity, I asked myself, “Why weren’t you a teacher?!” This is not an unfamiliar state of mind and I sometimes imagine how life would be had I chosen any other profession. I began to think about the fun I could have had with my family today – had I not had to work. I thought about how Christmas is the one-day when my children actually get along and do everything that is asked of them without complaints. It seemed a bit unfair that I had to miss out on that. I smiled to myself thinking if I didn’t have to go to work, I would build a fire in my fireplace, not shower, not get dressed, my family would open presents together, we would watch Christmas movies (that would most likely include Shrek the Halls, A Christmas Story and Holiday Inn), and play board games. But, the sobering reality occurred to me that the career choice I made 15 years ago was going to prevent those fantasies from becoming reality this Christmas. I tried to remember why I had chosen law enforcement for my career, knowing holidays are part of the deal. It wasn’t hard to remember why I became a police officer: it was to help people. And people need help on Christmas, just like any other day of the year.
As I drove to work, my thoughts transitioned from self-pity into dread as I realized what my day could be. I found myself feeling a bit foolish for allowing myself to be slightly sad and depressed because as bad as it is to have to miss Christmas with my family, there are worse things. Every police officer knows this and I was soon praying not only for my fellow officers, but also for my community and myself. I knew I probably needed some Divine intervention if I had any chance of averting certain calls. So a short prayer was my desperate attempt to salvage my Christmas.
Please, God …
Oh, how I did not want to go to any sad calls involving children. If ever police officers deserve a reprieve from calls like child sex offenses, child abuse and neglect, homicides, and serious car accidents, it was on Christmas, right? Unfortunately, there are times when police have to arrest parents in front of children and this is unavoidable. As police officers we are protectors, but little pains me more than to hear the shrilling cries of an innocent child begging police to not take their parent to jail. It’s not uncommon to then have the adult play into the child’s distress by saying things that further traumatize the children. Even though I am well versed in these tactics and handle them professionally, I don’t enjoy them and honestly, I really didn’t want to have to face that kind of scenario today. By the time I got to work I had suspected that my day would consist of the typical domestic disputes and welfare checks on family members not heard from as expected.
The Day …
I arrived to work and went into our patrol room area. There I observed remnants of cookie trays and fruit baskets that officers and community members had donated for those unlucky officers (like me) who had to work. I am certain that the intent of the trays was to spread some holiday cheer, but they had the opposite effect on me. They were picked over and only cookie crumbs and fruit that no one would eat was left. It was just another sad reminder that I was working on Christmas.
As officers arrived for their shifts, I forced myself to say “Merry Christmas” to all my coworkers. It’s kind of funny, but the more I said it, the more I felt it. No one wanted to work today, but we were all there for each other. The old adage that misery loves company was certainly true on Christmas morning. We joked about how we were the unlucky ones. We exchanged a couple of Christmas Eve stories and discussed the arrangements our families had made to accommodate our work schedules so we could celebrate with our families. And just as my shriveled-up Grinch heart began to grow with the spirit of Christmas, one of my officers came into work with a Santa hat on. It had his badge affixed to the front. This officer has a good sense of humor and although it looked silly, it was festive and it got a good laugh. I quickly realized that even though I wasn’t celebrating Christmas with my “family,” I was still kind of celebrating Christmas with my “family.” (For the record, the officer did not violate policy and did not wear the Santa hat on the street … but if he had, I am certain he would have spread some holiday cheer.)
As expected, I went to the “typical” calls I had predicted. I was granted my Christmas wish of not having to see any sad children, and I eventually finished work and went home to my husband and children. I still had a couple hours to watch movies, eat dinner and enjoy my lovingly obedient children. So for me, it was still a very merry Christmas and I am glad I’m a police officer (though I still don’t want to work next Christmas).
As the New Year approaches, I would like to wish all police officers, firefighters, doctors, nurses, military personnel and other emergency workers and their families a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Thank you for your sacrifices, which ensure the safety and security for the rest of us. I seemed to forget the magnitude of those sacrifices over the past couple years when I was able to be with my family.
Sara Ahren’s OffBeat is sponsored by Otis Technology.