We put up our Christmas tree last week. As I combed through the boxes, I picked up a familiar shape carefully wrapped in tissue. I knew what it was before I even unwrapped it. One of my favorite holiday memories, and it took me back just a few years.
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.
This essay originally ran on Old Tweener