The Stockings Were Hung

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I’ve had it out for two weeks now, the red-and-green box declaring “Christmas” for all who step foot into our living room. Lights hang in our windows and our Christmas tree stands unashamedly, flocked and glittered and festooned with trinkets–this one from our first year of marriage, that one made by Tahd’s dad, this one from a coastal trip my mother and I shared, and so on. No one could rightly say we’re not in the Christmas spirit. But that red and green box? I just haven’t done it yet.

Because…the stockings.

Most of the time, I’m a busy mother of 3 kids, just clamoring to keep enough ahead of the chaos that it doesn’t overtake me. But there are certain things, certain places–the grocery store, for one; walking around at the state fair; Christmas concerts and nativities; the baby and toy aisles of Target–that produce a disproportionate emotional response in me that reminds me this is not who I’ve always been, and this is not who I thought I’d get to be.

The stockings are another one of those things.

I’ve been feeling especially tender this year. It’s hard to even write about this, and every time I sit down to the blinking cursor I’m surprised anew at how much I want to cocoon. Infertility was so hard. Miscarrying Mara broke my heart. After more than half a decade, I guess I just assumed I’d be okay. Because…well…I am okay. But I’m also not, too. There’s still healing, there are still layers, and there are still tears.

So the stockings.

Actually, I’ve written about them before. This is what I said…

“Six months after our failed IVF with no hope to do it again and little more than a flicker of hope of expanding our family, waves of heartache washed over me while I hung our three red and green velvet Pottery Barn stockings on our mantle in 2009.  This, I thought, is what Christmases are destined to be like for us forever…

Quiet.  Small.  Lonely.

No full mantles of stockings.  No siblings conspiring with each other to get Dad and Mom out of bed earlier on Christmas morning. Years later, no grandchildren eager to visit their cousins at Grandma’s house.  No eager waiting for housefuls of family to arrive for the holidays.

I tried to comfort myself with thoughts that three could be just as fun as a houseful in a different way, but my heart still whispered of the void I felt from our infertility and the family I’d hoped to build.

I could never have imagined that four years from then I’d be hanging six stockings on our mantle, hearts and arms overflowing with love and hope and babies.”

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Once again, my heart is overflowing this year. I’m profoundly grateful for the gift of these children, this family. I think it’s maybe more tender this year because we’re done. My years of bearing and nursing and baby-wearing and cosleeping are now glimmers from the past. But for divine accident, I look at those experiences in retrospect, not on the horizon. And I’ve noticed I’m forgetting…the smell of their skin, the feel of their peach fuzz, the sound of their first coos, the way they nestled perfectly into the tender place where my neck meets my shoulder, and so much more.

I watched an Instagram story today of a 2-month-old baby cooing adoringly at her mother and remembered, My babies used to do that! I adored those little early voices, how we’d reach that magical space between alert and overtired in which they became cam and would “talk” to me and I would marvel over the “stories” they’d tell.  “Oh, really?” I’d murmur back. “Tell me more! Tell Mama all about it!”

But I’d forgotten about those treasures until I saw Baby Adelaide talking to her mama. I’d forgotten one of my very favorite things.  And if all goes according to plan, the opportunity to do that with my own baby will never present itself again.  The distance between those days and my present will only increase. How much more will I forget?

The stuff of magic right now is when my kids play together, a rarity on most days and, I’m told, the holy grail for most families with more than one child. But it happened today, and I’ve been trying to have the presence to notice and enjoy my life as it happens, not just in retrospect. Onions and garlic popped on the stove while Josh Groban crooned to me over my computer speakers and laughter spilled over into the kitchen from the living room.

This is it! This is it! This is what I dreamed of and longed for! I thought, and I grabbed my phone for a short exercise in a little memory-keeping.

I know now how easy it is for me to forget these things, the very things I longed for and dreamed of when our arms were empty and our hearts were sad. The normal things, the regular things, they are treasures–treasures that are easy to miss when I’m distracted stirring onions and wishing for Daddy to get home and bedtime to come quickly.  (Which isn’t a judgment so much as a reality. Sometimes, just surviving the day is the best that can be had. But not always. I can do more than just survive.)

Tomorrow, we’re putting up the stockings, the final element of our living room Christmas decor. Our mantle will be complete, and our family is, too, even though I don’t feel right about saying it with such certainty.  I think somewhere inside, I’ll always be the girl  whose ovaries hurt at the sight of a swaddled newborn or the sound of their bleating cries and asks her cautious husband for just one more baby.

But I’ll also be the woman who remembers that this precise moment–even the moments with chaos or mess or dischord or imperfection–are precious and beautiful because they are real and were yearned for, and that I am still learning and growing and hoping and becoming as I enter this new season of life.

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