The Christmas Ornament

I found it at the local Hallmark card store, just in time for Christmas.

1981: First Christmas Together

The package included stickers so you could customize your ornament with names. I added them before I wrapped it, and couldn’t wait for him to open it when we exchanged gifts.

Sherri & Scott

In hindsight, it’s an ugly ornament. Made of thin glass with a plastic coating, the Christmas scene on the front — a Victorian couple ice skating — looks cheap and cliché. But to a 16-year-old girl, it felt like something real. Like a way to say I’m crazy about you without really saying it.

So I wrapped it up and presented him the ornament, along with a few other gifts he probably preferred but have been long forgotten. What 17-year-old boy wants a Christmas ornament, anyway? The years I have spent as a mother since then have given me insights into the mind of a teenage boy I didn’t yet have back then.

Pretty sure I should have just kept the ornament for my own tree.

But somehow I was claiming my territory, trying to anchor our relationship within the envelope of his family. To have our ornament displayed on his family’s Christmas tree gave me a tiny shred of confidence that they could see me. See that I was important to him, too.

The holidays can be a particularly difficult time to work a new relationship into the mix. Moms usually have expectations and routines and traditions, certain events and family gatherings that are a “must-do” each December. Some of these begin to fall off the list as the children grow older and Christmas loses a bit of that magic it held when they were small. No more family visits to see Santa, no more driving around the neighborhood in jammies to check out all of the Christmas lights. But family bonds are tight around the holidays, and it’s tough to break in.

I think buying the ornament was a pretty bold gesture, especially from a girl who had only been dating their son for 9 months. But somehow, it passed inspection and his mother agreed (maybe reluctantly) to display our First Christmas Together ornament on the family Christmas tree.

At least when I was expected to visit.

I wouldn’t have blamed her at all for discretely moving it to the back of the tree once I was gone.

You see, there is a special dance between the mother of a son and the girl who steals his heart.  A give-and-take that many young girls take as a sign they aren’t welcome or liked or even tolerated. But it isn’t always about the girl, and that part I didn’t understand until I had a son of my own. Until our first Christmas together in 1981 unfolded into a lifetime of them spent as a couple, then a family.

And while the girl or young woman sees a potential future in the handsome young man, the mother still has her heart wrapped around the little boy who used to sit on Santa’s lap and leave crumbly cookies on a plate each Christmas Eve. The boy who willingly wore a red sweater vest for the Christmas Eve church service and belted out carols like nobody was listening. The boy who untied the bows on the advent calendar with excitement and the anticipation of ringing the bell at the bottom on Christmas Eve. The boy who played with silvery strands of tinsel and stole candy canes from low-lying branches.

The boy whose eyes brightened when the lights were first lit on the Christmas tree each year.

Now his eyes brighten at the sight of her.

And maybe she is very special to him, and the mother understands that to hold her son in her heart she needs to make room for one more.

One more person, one more ornament.

This year, I am that mom.

Our First Christmas Together ornament hangs front and center on our own family Christmas tree, 33 years later.

And I have room for one more.

Flashback on Aisle 4

mother shopping for groceries

I know it’s not him. Really, I do.

I don’t need you all worrying about my mental state, thank you.

And yet, there he is.

Halfway down the aisle, staring at the rows upon rows of crackers and snacks.

His mom obviously sent him to find something on her list, her way of letting him be a bit “big” while still accompanying her to the grocery store. He’s at that age when kids need to break free just a wee little bit — and being sent on an errand to the other side of the grocery store is only as far as a mom can bear to let him go.

He looks like he’s probably 11 years old, 12 at most. Long, lanky arms and legs that probably grew longer since he entered this store. I know how the mind of a boy that age works. It’s highly likely that while he initially remembered what brand and type of cracker his mom wanted, those details have now been replaced with the memory of a funny YouTube video or an idea for a brilliant new Minecraft build.

And so he stares at the cracker section.

As I move closer to him, his momentary trance snaps and he glances up at me, then scoots apologetically to the side to make room for my cart.

Nope. He’s not my boy.

I wanted it to be him. Just for a day, maybe just for one shopping trip.

I have shopped in this grocery store several times a week since he was 2 years old. Endless conversations about dinosaurs or books or Legos have taken place between these four walls. He charmed the cashiers from the very beginning, and his attempts to teach strangers waiting in line about which dinosaurs lived in which prehistoric periods were always met with a smile.

And when he got older, I would send him off to hunt down something on my list. It made him feel big — bigger than his little sister, who then took over the business of the endless conversation.

And this boy standing right here feels like a ghost to me. Like someone rewound the reel of a long-lost episode of my life. I remember my son so well at that age, but as he grows farther away from being 11 or 12 or even 16 I find those memories grab me at unexpected times, filling me with emotions that aren’t usually on the surface.

I wonder where the time went.

My boy shops at the grocery store hundreds of miles away from here these days. All by himself.

He’s big.

Pretty sure he isn’t chatting up the other customers or teaching the cashiers about dinosaurs these days.

I haven’t seen him in three months.

He’s coming home tomorrow.

And I just might invite him along on a grocery store run. But I won’t be sending him all over the store to collect crackers and paper towels and baby carrots.

Because I would love an endless conversation with my boy right now.

8 Ways to Suck the Fun out of the Pumpkin Patch

Ah, the pumpkin patch… a fall must-do destination for any family with wee ones. While most of these places start opening as soon as the September calendar page turns, many of us postpone the visit until it’s SO LATE that we have no choice but to go. NOW.

And since this past weekend was the LAST weekend before Halloween, there were plenty of families who could put off the pumpkin patch visit no longer. My 16-year-old daughter and her BFF wanted to check out the pumpkin patch on Sunday afternoon, grab a gourd and Instagram the heck out of it. Even though my daughter just got her driver’s license (yay!) I shuttled them to the uber-cool pumpkin patch out in the country because license restrictions don’t let her drive her friends around yet. While they Instagramed around, I learned a lot about family pumpkin patch visits.

  • Dress your entire family in your Halloween colors. This is apparently a requirement for most families, especially if there are more than two kids. Mom usually has a great selection of black, but orange? That’s a stretch. And don’t even think that Dad will gleefully wear orange and black without also sporting a grimace.
  • Argue with your siblings. While Mom and Dad might think a pumpkin patch visit will be all family fun and smiles, it really invites a whole new group of sibling “wrongs” that incite bickering. Who gets the bigger pumpkin? I want a hot dog, too! Want to borrow the wagon or wheelbarrow? Who gets to pull it? Who gets to ride in it? And don’t even think about letting one pull and one ride. There are no paramedics on site.
  • Take a fabulous family photo. What better photo op than the pumpkin patch? Heck, you are already wearing matching outfits – why not? Sit down on some scratchy hay, pretend to love your siblings and “smile BIG,” “quit poking your sister” and “act your age.” While not really suitable for the Christmas card, the Halloween picture will be a cherished reminder of the fun times you had.
  • Take a fabulous photo, part two. While you are at the pumpkin patch, make sure to take a photo of the whole family right at the entrance to the farm, under the sign that says, “Pumpkin Land.” No matter that this is the only entrance and exit point, and that you are holding up long lines of visitors on this LAST SUNDAY before Halloween. Keep trying to get that perfect shot, Mom. Really, we’re all fine just standing here.
  • Change a poopy diaper on the picnic table. I have no words for this one, but it certainly took away my hankerin’ for kettle corn.
  • Argue with your spouse. This fun activity is best done within ear shot of other families enjoying THEIR fun at the pumpkin patch. The argument is usually started by the wife, who insists that this is FAMILY FUN and can’t imagine that you don’t agree. Or Dad starts trying to tell the kiddos to behave themselves and Mom jumps in. “They’re just freaking KIDS, babe!” may have been screamed by one incredibly agitated mother. In a family with matching Halloween outfits, of course.
  • Wear cute shoes. Because obviously, the pumpkin patch is THE place to be seen the week before Halloween. What better place to wear those cute suede booties or open-toed wedges than to a farm? Bonus points for wearing them and then complaining about how “dirty” the pumpkin patch is. Or that your brand-new pedicure is now ruined. See also, FARM.
  • Turn your kids into “free-range” kids for the afternoon. The pumpkin patch is practically a free pass for parents. Let the kids run and be free! It’s a farm, how dangerous could it really be? Pay no attention to them, no matter how loud they yell, “MOM!” or even if they wind up snagged by their Halloween shirt on the barbed wire fence. Nobody will kidnap them because anyone who is brave enough to visit the pumpkin patch this close to Halloween will be back on birth control ASAP.

Did your family miss the perfect visit to the pumpkin patch this year? Thank goodness it’s almost time for the perfect family visit to the Christmas tree farm.