There were a few years when the three older children knew
Christmas held magic,
lights from the tree lit a spark within them,
nutcrackers (especially the Viking) came to life while you slept,
John Denver and The Muppets sang the best renditions of favorite Christmas songs,
all was bright, all was calm.
There were a few years when all three of the older ones
thrilled at the jingle of a bell outside their window on Christmas eve,
which let them know Santa was near
and it was time to go to sleep
or else he would skip their house completely.
And, they would claim they stayed up all night waiting for him.
But he came anyway.
There was the year when the Spoiler—
sandwiched between my boys on a ride home from school—
whispered in first born son’s ear,
‘I have a secret only grown ups know.’
Although we love the child who blew the whistle on Christmas,
when recalling that moment, we say her name as if we’ve eaten lemons.
Firstborn son was ripe and ready
to be plucked from the tree of ‘all-believing.’
But his younger brother, only 6, fell hard
when the Spoiler pulled the rug out from beneath him.
And no amount of back pedaling
could undo the damage to his faith.
My heart hurt
as I watched him question
everything and everyone.
What is really real?
There were many years after the boys had stopped believing
that they remained supremely respectful
of their younger sister’s steadfast trust in all things Christmas,
where they all still found enchantments in raising the tree
and arranging the nutcrackers on the mantel.
They spoke of Santa as if the 'secret only grown ups know' had never been uncloaked.
They created their own tradition, the sibling gift exchange,
designating the morning of each Christmas Eve
to give each other gifts they bought with their own savings.
Early morning gift trades eased the agony of Christmas anticipation
with which their sister was so clearly afflicted.
This year the sister’s faith began to waver
as she tried to shake off the chatter of school mates
who had crossed over to the other side.
She, like her oldest brother, was ready
although it stung a bit more when she heard the words from her mother’s lips,
which answered the questions running through her mind
and confirmed the worst for her—
she was growing up.
And this holiday season, her first since letting go of her Christmas dreams,
is peppered with a hint of bitterness
as she 'bah hum bugs' every image of Santa that passes before her eyes.
This is the first year where all three of the older children are
old enough to choose where their Christmas magic comes from.
This is the year when the baby builds a new vocabulary
drawing from the living room,
bedecked in holiday regalia and transformed into a Christmas tableau:
a stepping stone,
a new hook on the tree of 'all-believing.'
This is the year when mother and father are
stitched between those children who think they understand,
and yet are unsure of what expectations to hold for the holiday season,
and the child who is just learning
but nonetheless marvels each day
at each new introduction
and accepts it all as magic.
We grow backwards,
once we know.
We work harder for the magic to keep its dominion over the season.
We flip the lights on the tree and
the memories of Christmases past illuminate their eyes.
And, a spark begins to glimmer again.