When someday is now

November 28,2011
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

The December I was pregnant with T., L. and I headed off together to the store to look at Christmas villages. I don't know where I got the idea that I wanted a Christmas village. We never had one growing up, but I must have seen one, somewhere. I have always liked to look at houses lit from within, and sneak a look, voyeuristically, at other people's worlds. I loved my dollhouse growing up, and my sister and I would peek through the windows when the lights were on and imagine the scene unfolding in the kitchen, or the living room.

That year I was also hungry to create a new tradition--one particular just to my little family. That Christmas was the only Christmas we ever spent in our own home, since I was so far along in my pregnancy and my doctor advised me not to travel for the holidays. I had mixed feelings: I was happy that we'd have the chance to wake up in our own house on Christmas morning; that I could bake cinnamon rolls for us, and play Gene Autry Christmas music, and that L. could tear through his presents as quickly as he liked, without having to wait his turn around the Christmas tree. But I was also highly emotional, and Christmas had a flatter feel to it that year. I missed the noise and chaos of Christmas morning at my parents' house, and while I clung to every memory-in-creation that last Christmas before T. was born, they were, each one of them, bordered with a special kind of sadness. 

So I took L. shopping. We came home with three Christmas village buildings at once, and a small assortment of villagers to fill out the scene.

I bought a bucket of artificial snow powder, the kind you reconstitute with water and then--voila!--instant powdery snow. L. was smitten with it all: the village, the snow, the way the buildings lit up when we plugged them in. We stood in the kitchen of our old house, the three of us, and gazed at the three buildings lined up on the narrow counter there, the snow piled up evocatively around each building's front steps. It was magical, plain and simple. 

"We'll buy a new building each year," I told L. and Scott right then and there. "And when your sister is old enough," I continued, "you can alternate years with her."

'What happens when we run out of room someday?" Scott asked, practically.

I think I waved my hand dismissively. "That won't happen for a long time," I said. "A long, long time."

But I'm afraid that time might be here. When we set up the village last year, we debated whether our buffet could hold another building. This year we even brought an old car table out of the garage, and set it up next to the buffet, to see how it would look. Maybe the table would buy us another couple of years? T. and I made plans for a whole new slew of buildings. Maybe we'd set-up a little bay area on the card table, complete with an artificial lake? But the table looked awful, and try as I could, I just couldn't justify its place in my dining room.

This year was T.'s year to pick the building. It's fitting, I suppose, that we end the tradition with her, since L. got a good two year start on her. Somehow, all those years ago when I'd first stood in front of our simple village, my hands clasped around my large belly, three-year old L. on tippy-toes next to me, Scott leaning against a counter behind us, I'd had a vision of the end of the tradition. My kids would be teenagers, and matter-of-fact about this whole village business. It would be time to move on. We'd feel it, each one of us. Somehow I'd envisioned a larger buffet, perhaps, one that could go on--if not forever--at least long enough to contain another ten years' worth of buildings.

There is no more room on our buffet--I see it this year, whether I want to acknowledge that fact or not. When T. heard that this might be the last building we buy for our village, her eyes filled up with tears.

Mine did, too.