Last night we were doing our yearly trip to the Christmas Tree Festival…a tradition that has been in our family for five years and the kick off to the holiday season. It was somewhat unusual that it was 60 degrees as we set out for dinner and then headed to the festival. Christmas lights and no jackets? The kids were loving it.
But once we got inside…it was instantly Christmas! You can’t fight the twinkle lights and Christmas music and fake snow and 100 trees decked out in everything from traditional to crazy decorations.
Little did I know that one tradition would come to a screeching halt as we were viewing and voting for our favorite trees.
About three-quarters of the way through the display, Tweedle Ian says to me rather accusingly, “You know, Garrett AND Ashley both have a Jolly too? It’s called an Elf on a Shelf.”
My heart stopped. My parents stopped. Tweedle Dee looked at me.
I was caught off guard….he’s in the 4th grade…I knew this day would come sooner or later….I panicked…How did I explain the little elf who appeared on Dec. 1st each year? The elf he lovingly named Jolly. The elf he loved like a brother. I am not kidding…check out these pics over the years….
“Yeah, they sell them in stores. I’ve seen them.”
“Did you buy Jolly at a store???????”
“Jolly is not an Elf on a Shelf exactly,” I say hoping he can read between the lines without me admitting the truth and killing the magic.
Tears formed in my eyes…and I looked at my stepmom for some back-up.
“Well, I believe in magic Ian…and Jolly is pretty magical,” she offers.
He’s a smart kid. He’s not buying it.
Ian is looking at me with his big brown eyes and trying to make sense of this non-sense he’s hearing.
“Listen, buddy, the holidays are about tradition and magic and special memories. Jolly is a special Christmas memory you will always have. In fact, I have TWO Jolly’s at home. One is for you when you are older and one is for Dee. I want you to have this memory with your kids someday.”
“I want to see them both when we get home,” he demands with his voice, but I know in his heart he is saying, “Please don’t be true. Please don’t be true.”
I give him a hug, “Please don’t be mad. Please understand that I wanted to make some magic.”
My step-mom asks, “Are you mad, Ian?”
“No. No. Um…well, yeah a little bit….”
I am still fighting tears because I just don’t want this part of our lives to end.
“Did you put him in the car? Did you ring the doorbell? Did you open the M & M’s? Did you do the puzzle?
I did. I did. I did. I did. (But I said nothing.)
I feel like a liar.
A liar who does what almost every parent does. And I am sure I am feeling what almost every parent does somewhere around this age when the magic goes up in a puff of smoke.
It was hard when Tweedle Dee called me out on it, but she admitted it with such grace and matter-of-factness the day I casually asked, “Are you excited for Jolly to return?”
“Really, mom? I know Jolly is a stuffed animal. I’ve always known. But it was fun to pretend.”
But this crushed me. My babies are grown up. No more pure innocence and belief in magic. Not in the Jolly sense of the word.
We start walking through the tree display again. The carolers are singing “Santa Baby” and everyone is singing along. And my heart is breaking.
Ian tries to be tough and he goes through the rest of the display with an all-business attitude. He writes down his favorite tree on the ballot (The Ohio State tree, of course) and says, “Let’s turn in our votes now.”
I dreaded the fury he would unleash when we got home. He can be quite dramatic.
But he quickly put on his pajamas and cuddled up in a blanket on the couch. He was playing on the iPad when I sat down beside him.
“I swear I’m not mad mom. It’s ok,” he says quietly.
“This year, maybe we can take turns doing funny things with Jolly. Hiding him around the house and the others can look for him. It’ll be funny.”
“Yeah, a new tradition. I think that’s good.” He pauses, thinks for a minute and smiles, “Can I go first?”
I can’t wait to see how this tradition plays out…
You can know all the content in the world. You can return every graded assignment within 24 hours. You can have the standards memorized forwards and backwards and have a perfectly organized and beautiful classroom. But if you don’t have good rapport…you will build more walls than bridges.
I love the moments when I am unexpectedly reminded of the connection I had with past students.
The other day I was washing dishes when I saw two teenagers walking slowly down my street. Before I had a chance to holler into the kids, “If the doorbell rings, don’t answer it!”…the doorbell rang. And they answered it.
“Moooooooooooommmmmmm! There’s someone here for you!”
I went out to my 100 degree porch and there stood a 17-yr-old former student.
“Hey, remember when I saw you at Walmart a few weeks ago? I wanted to tell you something but didn’t.”
(I did remember seeing him actually. He shyly wandered around the checkout near me and then came over when it was obvious I realized who he was. We just spoke briefly and then I moved forward to pay.)
“Well, I have a kid. With her. This is my girlfriend.” He points to the girl standing on my sidewalk.
Woah, you have a kid??? A girlfriend???? What???? That’s crazy! (I only thought this. I did not say it out loud.)
“Um, congratulations!” I say. “Boy? Girl? How old?”
They proceed to rattle off stats. I don’t remember much except that the baby was six weeks old, was at home with his mom, who they both live with. I honestly can’t even remember if it was a boy or a girl. I guess I was still in shock. Not that he had a kid really. I get that teenagers have kids. More that he stopped by to tell me this news.
So the conversation turns to what they were up to that hot day. They were walking home from the pool. It was then that I noticed they were in swimsuits and they looked really young. Just kids. Kids who had a kid.
I turn to the girlfriend, who is looking for a pic of the baby on her cell phone. “So, where do you go to school?”
She is taking online classes. At only 16, she’s got a long way to go. I encouraged her to stick with and get her diploma.
I turn back to the boy. He’s in a different district now but he’s getting good grades and he works at McDonalds. He invited me to come there sometime. I probably will stop there for a Wild Berry Smoothie someday soon.
It was then kinda quiet, and getting really quite hot in the blazing sun. “Well, I’m glad you two are still together and I am proud of you for sticking by your girl and helping out. That was the right thing to do.”
“Yeah, thanks,” he says. “I told her I remembered my teacher living around here somewhere. Then I saw your house and I remembered. Remember that time I rang your doorbell? I was selling candy bars and I didn’t even know you lived here!”
I did actually remember that too. It was about 3 years ago. I bought two. One for each of the kids.
I also remembered a time when he stood across from my desk as I was lecturing him about something he had done (or hadn’t done) and he said, “You know Ms. K, when you are going on and on lecturing me like my mom, I just stop listening to your voice.You should probably know that. It would save a lot of time.”
Snap back to the front porch, where I am now sweating. Alot. He says, “So how’s school going for you?”
I have to say, I was impressed with his maturity and ability to carry on an adult conversation. I mean, this was a kid who admittedly tuned me out when I got to talking too much and he wanted to chit chat with me on his afternoon off – from work and baby duty.
I told him a little about the changes at school and he shook his head like an old man who couldn’t believe how times had changed. And I stood there like an “old” woman, shaking my head, realizing time changes everything…and I smiled.