As I descended the stairs into the family room I heard her say, "I'm sorry to have to break this to you, but we're taking Nick's stocking with us when we leave today." I was taken off guard. It made total sense, of course, but that didn't mean the statement didn't hit me like a punch in the stomach.
My eldest son's fiancee, Pipere, who had made the trip with Nick from Austin for Thanksgiving, had recently been given a very special Christmas stocking (made by my mom, who has been creating them for each member of our family over the past thirty years). Pipere wanted to add his stocking to hers on their own mantle.
The making of Christmas stockings started in 1986...the oldest of three kids, my mom made her first stocking and sent it to my college dorm in honor of my first St. Nick (December 5th) away from home. I still have it, though she updated the original with a new one several years ago. My mom made a second stocking for Nick when he was born in 1987, then a few years later, for my husband when we got married...and the rest of our kids as they came along as well. And now for Pipere because she'll be marrying into the family.
The stocking kits come with numerous felt pieces that have to be assembled and hand-sewn before a MILLION (no lie) sequines, each individually get (again) hand-sewn into place. It takes my mom hours and hours to make a stocking...I imagine it takes longer these days as her eyesight wanes. I usually hang our Christmas stockings on the mantle with a strand of white lights, which makes them really "pop" off of the fireplace each holiday season.
Of course I recovered quickly from Pipere's statement. "Just let me take one more picture of all of our stockings together before we take his down." Continuing to quickly mentally adjust to the idea of going from seven stockings to six, I was glad I at least remembered to create one last memory of "the way it once was".
A short while later, when Nick, Pipere, Jack (their border collie), and the stocking left to head south to their own home, I had a good cry about it.
Don't get me wrong; I couldn't be happier that Nick and Pipere have found one another and decided to take the next step in their relationship after several years of dating. They have certainly had the opportunity to see one another at their best and worst over the past seven years, and both appear to be comfortable with the idea of uniting for life.
The small gesture of giving the stocking to them as they left the house was yet another step in Nick's already well-established independence from his family of origin and into the life he has created with someone else.
It's what we all want as parents, right?...
...for our kids to grow up and find their own way...to become self-sufficient, independent, emotionally/physically stable contributors to the world. To grow together, if they choose, partnering to love and support their significant other into their highest calling along the way.
Nick has lived away from our home for more than ten years now (wow, that time flew by!), so it's hard for me to feel as if I can spend too much time or energy telling him no one is ever really fully prepared for marriage, no matter how long they've been together. And lecturing has never been my thing, so (after I cried) I decided to continue to do what I have done for the past decade of his life...be there to lend an ear if he needs it, to open our doors when they want to come visit, and to support and encourage the individual Nick works at creating everyday.
This is the silent pledge we make from the moment we know our children are going to arrive, until...well, it never ends. I know this because I watch my own mom check in, encourage, support, show her love through stocking making and cookie baking for her own three (grown) children and their respective spouses and families.
The core of our nostalgia as parents (ergo the reason for my tears once they left with the stocking), is the fear that life really is actually, truly slipping by. And it's completely out of our control to change that. We want make the most of each relationship, and sometimes everyday life stresses can cause rifts in our most important connections. As parents we also (no matter how old our kids get) want to shield them from life's challenges but, just like the controlling of time passing, we are in the same boat with regard to shielding potential storms as well.
My tears have long since dried, and I imagine Nick's stocking has found it's rightful place next to Pipere's on their mantle in Austin. There are still six stockings hung in our family room, which is great because I love balance...I've looped the light strand purposely through the spot where Nick's stocking once hung, as a reminder that his presence in our family will be a light that will never go out in our hearts.
Enjoy the time spent with your family this holiday, hug loved ones closer...pass the potatoes without being asked, wash a dish or two to pitch in, listen to your elderly uncles story for the millionth time, know that while this holiday may look a lot like those in your past, you never know what the next one will bring, so make this one count.