Why did this Christmas feel so bittersweet?
Posted in , Nov 29, 2010
"Careful!” I called from the foot of the stairs, watching my five sons lug their Christmas boxes down from our attic.
The older brothers helped the younger ones, and soon they were sprawled out on the living-room floor beside the bare fir tree.
There was nothing unique about the boxes—deep, red, plastic. But the contents? Precious cargo.
Every December since they were babies, each of the boys has picked out a new ornament to decorate the tree. After the holidays, we save them in the boxes for next Christmas. Sifting through the ones the boys had collected over the years was like going back in time.
This year, though, I wished I actually could. I looked at my oldest, Logan, sitting next to Gabriel, my second youngest. Not long ago Logan was Gabe’s size, but next year, he’d be off to college.
Gabe’s high-pitched voice grabbed my attention. “Hey, my box is almost empty!” he shouted. He peered into Logan’s box. “Logan’s is full!”
“That’s because I’m seventeen,” Logan said. “Come on. I’ll share mine. You can hang some on the tree.”
I settled into my favorite chair and watched Gabriel climb into his brother’s lap. He thrust his arms into Logan’s box and pulled out a fistful of white tissue paper. “What’s in here?” he asked.
Logan unfolded the paper, revealing a tiny brown rocking horse. “I chose this when I was three,” he said.
Gabriel reached into the box again and grabbed a red-and-green box.
“That one’s special,” Logan said. “I made it for Mom.”
The memory came flooding back. Logan, four years old, handing me that red-and-green box. My husband, Lonny, had taken him shopping that day to pick his ornament, and I wondered why Logan gave his purchase to me.
Then I opened the box. Logan had chosen a make-your-own-ornament kit—a heavy white glass globe with special marking pens. He’d drawn stick men and tiny candy canes, Christmas trees and hearts. In the middle, he’d written his name in his crooked, little-boy handwriting.
Logan. I couldn’t believe how quickly my little boy had grown. Lonny and I loved raising our brood of boys. Each one was unique, no carbon copies. But there’s something about a firstborn.
Every first for Logan was a first for me too. When Logan took his earliest, shaky baby steps, I held my breath and peeked through my fingers while he toddled and toppled. The day we took the training wheels off his Red Thunder bike, I clutched a box of bandages, just in case, and jogged beside him.
Then came high school. All the kids there had been friends since elementary school, and Logan, who’d been homeschooled, had trouble fitting in. So I packed notes in his lunch to encourage him, and we prayed together daily about it. Eventually, Logan made plenty of friends. Every new challenge he’d faced, we’d faced together. But this time would be different. He was leaving the nest, flying off on his own to college.
Just yesterday, he’d gotten the news he’d been waiting for. I was cutting paper snowflakes with Gabe and our youngest, Isaiah, when Logan walked through the back door, shaking the snow from his boots, the mail under his arm. His two little brothers ran over to him and clamored for his attention. “Just a sec, guys,” Logan said, tousling the boys’ hair.
“Mom, this came today,” he said, handing me an envelope, top already torn open, the insignia for Wheaton College in the upper left corner. It was Logan’s first choice. He’d applied for early acceptance. I pulled the papers out. My eyes settled on the word “Welcome” in large black print at the top. Logan had gotten in!
“I’m so proud of you, Logan,” I said. I pulled him close and squeezed him tight. It was then that I realized how tough this was going to be. Logan would be living two hours away. I couldn’t hug him like this anytime I wanted to. I’d miss watching him push his brothers on the tire swing in the backyard. I’d miss having him here as my “tech guy” when my computer froze. I’d even miss tripping over his muddy size-13 shoes. I didn’t want to let go.
Now I watched as Logan handed the globe to Gabe. He hoisted his little brother up on his shoulders. Gabe laughed, delighted. I held my breath and my tongue. I always seemed to be telling someone to be careful. Logan stepped close to the tree and leaned in. Gabe reached out and hung the ornament on a high branch.
All the brothers took turns hanging theirs. A s’more-shaped ornament picked out to remember a family camping trip. A Dalmatian ornament from when 101 Dalmatians was the kids’ favorite movie. Christmas trees the boys had made from fabric and cinnamon sticks. Mighty Mouse and Spider-Man, arms broken off from so much play. Logan offered a hand when the little guys struggled to reach a higher branch. He’s such a great help to them. Another thing I’d miss.
Finally, the tree was decked out in full splendor. Glass baubles, cranberry-colored beads, a string of tiny white lights and every last special ornament. The faces of my family were peaceful, happy. Why can’t things just stay like this forever? I wondered. “You okay, Shawnelle?” Lonny whispered in my ear.
“Sure,” I said. “I think I just need some tea.”
I got up quickly, went to the kitchen and filled a teakettle. Before long, it began to whistle. Just then, I felt a hand on my back. I turned. It was Logan.
“What are you doing?” I asked. “All the fun is in the other room.”
“I have a gift for you,” Logan said. He was holding a red-and-green box, tied with a shiny gold bow.
“But it’s not Christmas yet,” I said.
“I want you to have it now,” he said, and he handed me the little box. “Merry Christmas, Mom.”
“Okay,” I said. I gave the gift a gentle shake.
“Careful,” he said. “It’s fragile.”
I untied the bow and opened the lid. Inside was a white glass globe. I lifted it from the box. Drawn on it, in colored marker, were stick men, Christmas trees, candy canes, hearts. It was an ornament, just like the one Logan had given to me so many years ago. The only difference was his name, now written in a neat, grown-up print.
“Logan, how did you do this?” I said, barely able to get the words out. “They made that kit fourteen years ago. They can’t possibly still make the same one anymore.”
“I found the kit on eBay,” Logan said. “You needed something special this year, Mom. I want you to know that I love you. I always have. I always will.”
I wrapped my arms around him. Logan had changed so much since he’d made that first ornament for me, but one thing hadn’t, and never would. Our bond. That would always connect us, no matter how far away he was.
I finally let him go and we rejoined everyone in the living room. I asked Logan to help me hang the new ornament beside the old one. To remind me that I couldn’t hold on too tightly to my little boy. I’d miss the joy of seeing him become a man.