Ten years ago, this very night the world was up-side-down…at least our world was. It was our first Christmas as a “one parent family.” So much was new, and different and some of it was scary, but we clung to each other like opossums and just held on. The big girls were so protective of the little boys that they each had told me in their turn not to worry about them this Christmas–but to take care of the “little guys.” They were so innocent and so confused and we were desperate to have something that hadn’t changed–that could still feel safe and right. The kids and I were counting on Christmas to be that thing.
As evening approached, we visited Grama and Grampa and came home to open our token “Christmas Eve present.” But it was late and even with the excitement all around us, we were bone tired. The children hung their stockings on the back of the couch–like always, we said family prayers and the girls gathered the boys to the sleepover in April’s room. Everything was working. I might be able to get to bed soon myself. The children were just starting to quiet down when I had a clutching thought.
Here we were in such a strange, precarious place, at the most sacred time of the year. We’d needed so much help and guidance and more answers to prayers than ever before. We’d received so many blessings which we were sincerely grateful for. But in all of this, somehow I’d managed to put my sweet children to bed on Christmas Eve without a mention of the real story–the baby Jesus story.
I sat there on the couch alone for the first Christmas in my life and felt sad and almost sick. I had no idea what to do. Maybe we could read it tomorrow. Certainly that would be fine enough. But the sick feeling didn’t go away. Wouldn’t it be crazy to pull everybody back out–when they were just beginning to settle down?
At times like these, I’ve found it best not to think too hard–but to just get up and do the right thing. I pushed the bedroom door open and poked my head in.
“You guys?” I said.
“We’ll be quiet, Momma.”
“No, it’s not that. I need you all to get back up. We forgot something.”
They were only puzzled for a minute until they came around the corner to the frontroom and saw my scriptures opened up on the couch. They sat down on the floor in front of me and listened while I read from Luke about Joseph, and Mary and about shepherds in the field watching their sheep.
At this point I paused a minute to tell my children about the fields in Bethlehem. I’d traveled there when I was younger and was surprised to find that the Christmas cards showing the shepherds on a hill coming down to the city of Bethlehem was wrong.
I told them that the town was actually on a hill and that the shepherd fields were below. Little Rhen’s hand shot up in the air. I said, “Hang on Honey,” and went on with my story about a crowded inn…and a donkey…
His hand started to wave.
“Rhen, wait,” I said, and went on about the angels…a star…
He stood up.
“I’m nearly finished Honey,” I said. “Just hang on,” …the manger…the hay…
He was jumping up and down now, both arms waving.
I sighed. It was my fault. I should have done this sooner and he would have listened to the story…but instead he was distracted and starting to act silly. I couldn’t ignore him any longer. At least I was able to tell them most of the story…all except..the baby part. The most important part.
Trying to hide just a touch of frustration from seeping into my voice, I said, “What is it Rhen?”
He came back over to stand right in front of me, slightly out of breath, from jumping, swallowed, and said, “You mean..it’s real?”
“What’s real?” I asked.
“You know, the shepherds and the star and the angels and…” he swallowed again, “…and…the baby? You mean Baby Jesus is real?”
For the second time that night, I didn’t know what to do. My eyes filled with tears as I looked at this sweet, seven year old boy…my own baby. I hugged him to me and whispered, “Oh, yes. He’s the most real thing of all.”
His sisters and brother grabbed him up and took turns telling him the rest of the story as he stared at them in astonishment. They each promised him over and over that it was all real…all true…every word.
Later that night, as I tucked him into bed again, and kissed him, he smiled.
“He’s really real.”
I nodded my head, but he didn’t see me. His eyes were already closed.
Sleep good my little lambs. Merry Christmas.
So much had changed for us that year, but as I tiptoed from the room where my five treasures slept, I knew some things for sure.
I knew that the real things, the true things were not going to change…love, family, that sweet manger baby in our lives…
I knew that as long as we held them close, not just at Christmastime–but every day–it would be enough.
Most of all, I knew then that we were going to be all right.
“It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty founder was a child himself.”