Last year, my oldest child discovered the final “Secret of Santa” as in mommy and daddy are in fact Santa Claus personified. He has kept his promise (to my amazement) not to spoil things for his younger brother and to let Nate figure things out on his own. I have to admit that having an extra helper around to move that annoying “Elf on the Shelf” and help me stash/hide Santa gifts has been great. What isn’t so great is the realization that he is growing up. Within the past few months it has become evident to me that he is no longer a child in so many ways.
He’s asked his first girl to a school dance, albeit she is a friend he’s had since he was 5 but he still agonized over whether she would say yes. He’s gone on-line to research the best deals on all of his Christmas Wish List items as well as the things he wanted to get for other family members. He’s passed on hanging out with friends because he has projects and homework for school. And last night, he decided he wanted to cook dinner for the family so he went on-line and found a cooking video for a beef stroganoff recipe that he wanted to try. Aside from an occasional question (how to operate the defrost function on the microwave) and a request that I run out to the store for an ingredient we were out of, he made the whole meal himself and it was delicious.
As I watched him in the kitchen, I was struck by how mature he looked standing there at the stove checking the instructions on the tablet and adjusting the seasonings to taste. What was also interesting to see was the echo of me, my mother, and my grandmother in his actions. He stands at the stove the way I do when stirring a pot or browning ground beef, which is how my grandmother stood when she cooked. He talks to himself the way my mother does, a sort of running commentary on adding this or that and calculating the timing for cooking the noodles to coincide with when the garlic bread needs to come out of the oven and the sauce is done. I could almost see him in 15 years or so cooking his first meal for a special girl and I wanted to cry simultaneously for the loss of my baby and the realization that I am raising a good self-sufficient man.
This is the first year that I have not had to go behind him to move ornaments that he placed on the tree in clumps or on branches too frail to hold their weight. Each ornament was placed in exactly the right spot. He even got into the decorating inside the house. In past years, he has always helped with the “Griswolding” of the outside but never wanted to do anything in the house. He helped me check the lights in the strands and even helped wrap the tree with lights. Together, we set up the Charming Tails Christmas town beneath the small tree in the bay window or rather he put most of the thought into where each of the figurines would go and scolds his brother for trying to play with them. “Nate, they are decorations, not toys to play with.” I hear myself in his words, the phrase I have uttered each Christmas to him since he was able to walk and grasp things that caught his eye.
As I placed the Santa photos that I get each year on the top of the TV cabinet, we shared smiles at the memories of each visit. His first Santa picture was at 9 months and you can tell from the photo that he was enchanted by the big guy in the red suit. His second Santa picture at 21 months was less happy but that was more because of the reindeer antlers I made him wear for the picture than the visit with Santa. His photo at 3 makes us laugh because that Santa was wearing motorcycle boots and looked like he belonged on a Harley not a sleigh with reindeer. At 4, he was joined by his brother and we have a succession of photos from then on of the two of them smiling and dressed in matching or coordinating outfits for their annual picture. I particularly love this year’s photo. In part because he no longer looks like a child in his black suit, grey shirt and bow tie, which he is only wearing to make me happy, and in part because there still exists a trace of the child who loves Christmas and still wants desperately to believe in Santa. His brother still looks like a little boy but the promise of Oliver as a man is juxtaposed with the child in that picture. His father thinks this is probably the last year of Santa pictures for Oliver at least. Oliver has assured me that he will always pose with his brother for a Santa picture until he has children of his own but he does feel that next year he will be too old to actually sit on Santa’s lap. I’m sure I will get a few more years of photos, at least until his brother hits middle school, but the thought of getting a Santa picture of the boys each year well into their 20’s does make me smile.
He still has his moments of childlike behavior, such as the occasional meltdown or pout over something not going his way. The endless bickering with his little brother over who gets to chose a TV show, a video game to play, or who sits by me on the couch. Despite those moments, I know this new year takes him ever closer to manhood and his independence. In the next few weeks, we will be turning the playroom into his bedroom so that he can have his own space away from his brother. We’ll start the process of splitting the toys up and I will lose my “office/craft room” so that the boys can have a place to watch TV, play video games, and play with the few toys (Legos) that they both still enjoy doing together. The gulf between 8 and soon to be 12 is much to great for them to continue sharing a room but luckily the decision was theirs that it was time to split them up. I knew it was coming, I was just not quite ready for it yet. Just as I am not quite ready for him to leave his childhood but I know I have to step back and let him make this transition.
It’s a bittersweet Christmas.
Mairead Walpole is the pen name for a somewhat introverted project and contract manager who has 20+ years of business and technical writing under her belt. In her spare time, Mairead writes paranormal romance among other genres. Her first novel, “A Love Out of Time” is available through Second Wind Publishing (www.secondwindpublishing.com) or Amazon.com.