What kind of a mom loses her kids’ Christmas ornaments? I don't mean a few here or there but pretty much every single one collected over the years. All of the first and second and third and fourth Christmas ornaments. All of the memories I was keeping for them because I am meant to be the keeper of the memories.
This is not what moms do. Not mine. Not my friends. No one. They were a bunch of Ellen Griswolds from Christmas Vacation and I was Clark, except it’s not so funny when Clark Griswold is the mom. The mother is supposed to have it all together with a good blowout and a holiday dinner and centerpieces and a smile.
I started off strong, had ornaments for my babies before I had babies. My oldest was born in January, but don’t worry, he had an ornament ready for him on the tree before he arrived. The next year he had not one but three “Baby’s First Christmas” ornaments. The same for my second, the same for my third, the same for my fourth. Their ornaments were stored in shoeboxes inside a special memory box along with their stockings with their names on them, their first Christmas sleepers, their special plate for Santa’s cookies.
These were my props — the props for the Christmas movie of our lives I was already playing in my head, starring my four boys and directed by me. I was always going to be a Christmas mom. I was just 24 years old and a mom of two sons when I bought my first Christmas sweater worn through the holidays. It was a red polar fleece number, snowmen dancing merrily somewhere around my nipples, and I wore it proudly as proof to the world that I was a nurturer. A mother. Someone who, to quote Charles Dickens in A Christmas Carol, “knew how to keep Christmas well.”
These were my props for the Christmas movie of our lives I was already playing in my head, starring my four boys and directed by me.
I wanted us to be well, but especially well at Christmas. And so I stocked our home with props to keep my boys coming back to me, every year their shoe boxes filling up higher and higher with memories. I saw them then as the men they would become, coming home for Christmas to decorate the tree with worn old ornaments from when they were babies. And they would roll their eyes at me and laugh and say, “Why do you even keep all of this junk?” Except they would never mean it. Not really.
This was what I saw for us until the bottom fell out of our lives. I left their dad. I left everything. We moved into a rented house with our shoeboxes in the back of the truck. Then another, and another, and another as is the way with rental homes that are never going to be all the way yours. You are a cuckoo bird in someone else’s nest always. I stopped filling the shoe boxes because we were in a different movie for a long time. Our movie was a gritty documentary about survival that no one wants to watch at Christmas. Or maybe ever.
Our props got lost in one of our moves; I’m not even sure which one. The ones we didn’t lose were broken or forgotten under the weight of four kids and one adult who is not always an adult. Not every single prop, but enough. Enough to ruin me.
I’m embarrassed to tell you now that I spent at least one Christmas in a month-long sulk. I would not bake cookies with the kids because what was the point if I couldn’t use our special cookie cutters since they were gone? I didn’t plan out our Christmas movie-watching playlist because we didn’t have our Santa mugs to drink hot chocolate. I stomped my way to the Dollar Store to buy new ornaments for a tree I didn’t care about for a holiday I didn’t want to celebrate with kids who, OK, all of the sudden made me really angry. They broke stuff, they lost stuff, they didn't appreciate all of the stuff I went through to get them the stuff we couldn't find anymore. They made me angry, but mostly I made me angry. I was not worthy of my Christmas sweater, my Christmas apron, my kids. I guess I decided I wasn’t worthy of my boys.
It turns out my boys were better Christmas moms than me.
They did not agree. Over the course of that month, they did so much coaxing that it embarrasses me now. My older boys made ornaments in school, the little boys tried to hang their Playmobil characters on the tree and pretend they had always been just for decoration. They asked to bake cookies and got the flour out, the sugar, the chocolate chips. One son brought me my apron. Another found our Disney Christmas CD and put it on. It turns out they were better Christmas moms than me.
It turns out my props were my memorabilia and my kids were my memories. I know you probably already knew this, but I did not. It turns out our tree could be decorated with popcorn and construction paper and Playmobil guys missing their hair, with a paper plate colored in to look like Santa and a pine cone someone found in the forest outside. It turns out we could leave cookies out for Santa on a regular plate and he would eat them just the same. That we could watch Elf and Muppet Family Christmas together in regular pajamas and still laugh because Miss Piggy is always a mood, no matter what.
It turns out we were keeping Christmas well. We didn’t need the props to make our movie after all.