“Mom, are you sure you want to do this?” Fourteen-year-old Faulkner asked.
“Of course.” Nerina ruffled his hair. “It’s December. You know what’s right around the corner!”
“I thought we could keep it a bit... mellow this year.” Faulker took the last bite of his cereal.
“No, that would be silly.” Nerina turned to her twelve-year-old daughter. “What do you think, Darlah?”
“Faulkner’s right.” Darlah agreed with her brother. “Maybe we could take it down a notch or two this year.”
“I thought you two love the holidays,” Nerina said a bit defeated.
“We do,” Faulkner said. “But this year… this year is different.”
“I don’t see…” Nerina started to say more, but Darlah cut her off.
“We’re not in the mood.”
“Fine. Get your things and I’ll take you to school.” Faulkner and Darlah shuffled away to get their things.
“Can you believe that, Marcos?” Nerina said out loud to her husband. “The kids don’t want to do Christmas this year.”
“They don’t know what they’re saying,” Marcos said. “They just have to get into the Christmas spirit.”
“You’ve got to admit, they’re right,” Nerina sighed. “This year is different.”
“Sure, but I don’t want them to grow up too fast. They’re still kids, Nerina. They deserve to feel like they can still enjoy Christmas.”
“We’ll spend the whole day tomorrow getting the Christmas spirit back.”
“Sounds like a solid plan.” Nerina felt Marcos squeeze her hand. “I know you can get the kids feeling back to normal.”
“What is normal now?” Nerina wondered.
“They’re our kids,” Marcos said. “Nothing will change that. They’re tough and strong and caring. They’ll get through this. You will too.”
“I don’t know how I… we can.”
“They have to be reminded about what the holidays are all about.”
“I’ll get them to remember.” Nerina promised Marcos. “I won’t let them forget.”
~ ~ ~
The next morning, Nerina and her kids sat in the kitchen, silently eating the pancakes she made.
“Wow,” Marcos said. “The atmosphere here is totally cheery, isn’t it?”
“I’ve got an idea for something we can do today,” Nerina said to them. “Let’s make our annual ornaments.”
“Doesn’t sound fun,” Faulkner said.
“Especially this year,” Darlah said. “This all just feels so weird. Especially…”
“We would spend hours at the dining room table making them and reminiscing about the year. It was a great time to reflect,” Nerina interrupted. “I got the stuff to make them.”
“The ornaments are my favorite family tradition,” Marcos said. “It always reminds me of all the love and fun this family has had over the years.”
“I don’t think this year has any special memories,” Faulkner said. “I for one, want to forget about it.”
“Only one thing sticks out this year,” Darlah added. “I don’t think it’s something I want to put on an ornament.”
“Your father and I insist on giving you a normal Christmas,” Nerina said. “We won’t take any of this nonsense.”
“Mom, what are you talking about?” Faulkner gave her a weird look.
“It’s what I want to do. Give me today. Then we can mope around all month if you want.” Nerina couldn’t tell her kids how much she needed this day.
“Fine,” Faulkner relented.
“We’ll make the ornaments since you already got the materials.” Darlah said to her mother.
“Thank you.” Nerina placed a hand on each of her children’s. “It’s what your father wants too.”
Nerina got out the ornament making supplies and had the kids come to decorate one. They were to highlight one event from the year that made them smile.
“This is going to be hard,” Faulkner said. “I can’t think of a happy memory right now.”
“That’s okay.” Marcos sat next to Nerina. He smiled at his son. “We have the rest of the day to do this.”
“Take your time and think,” Nerina told him. “We always seem to focus on the bad instead of the good. But there are definitely more good times than bad, this year included.”
Nerina and the kids sat and stared at the art supplies in front of them.
“Come on guys!” Marcos encouraged them. “Think of all the fun things that happened this year. I know you can think of at least one.”
Darlah reached out and took a wooden snowman shaped ornament. She grabbed some paints and started painting it.
“There you go, Darlah,” Nerina beamed. “Did you think of something good?”
“I did, Mommy.” Darlah didn’t look up from the ornament. Nerina turned to Faulkner.
“Your sister took the plunge and now it’s our turn.” They both sat watching Darlah paint for a bit longer.
“I thought of one.” Faulkner took a Santa hat ornament and began painting.
“Great. So what should I do with mine?” Nerina said to herself. After giving it some more thought, Nerina took a gingerbread cookie shaped ornament.
They spent the next hour taking their time to paint their ornaments.
“Everyone’s putting the finishing touches on their ornaments,” Marcos commented. “Almost time to reveal them! You know that’s my favorite part.”
“I’m done.” Nerina looked at her kids. “What about you guys?”
“Done.” Darlah put down her paintbrush and Faulkner followed suit.
“Who wants to go first?” Darlah and Faulkner looked at each other and then their mom.
“I’ll go.” Darlah picked up her freshly painted ornament and turned it so that the front faced her mother and brother. “This is the memory I chose.”
Darlah’s ornament had two ice cream cones on a pink background. She told her mother and brother about the time Marcos got her out of school on her birthday and they spent the entire day together. Darlah’s favorite part of that day was eating ice cream in the middle of the afternoon.
“That was a sweet day,” Marcos said. “I’m glad she had fun.”
“That’s lovely, Darlah,” Nerina said. “Faulkner, do you want to go next?”
“It was boys’ day. Dad took me to the football game and we watched the Pirates crush the Wizards.” Faulkner’s ornament was painted in yellow and red stripes, with a football in the middle. He had painted his name and Marcos’s name on the brim of the Santa hat.
“Oh, the Pirates were the underdogs for that game,” Marcos recalled. “I remember when they scored the winning touchdown! The whole stadium erupted into cheers.”
“That’s a good one,” Nerina said. “Dad loved being at the game with you.”
“What about you, Mom?” Darlah asked.
“Here’s mine.” Nerina showed her kids her ornament. It featured portraits of the four of them on a plain white background. “Remember that time we tried taking updated family photos?”
“We planned on taking them outside at the park, but it rained. We didn’t let it stop us from having a fun day together though,” Marcos smiled.
“We played games, drank hot cocoa, and watched all the TV we could watch. It was nice, just the four of us being together.” Nerina replayed the day in her head.
“It was fun,” Darlah agreed. “I miss Daddy, Mommy. I miss him so much.”
“I do too.” Nerina reached out and took Darlah’s hand. “But I know if he were here, he would want us to be happy.”
“That’s how Dad always was,” Faulkner said. “He would tell me jokes until I smiled or laughed. He did that even when he was in the hospital.”
“Dad loved us all so much,” Nerina continued. “We have to show him we will be okay.”
Before Nerina went to sleep that night, she went to turn off the Christmas tree lights. Her eyes lingered on the ornaments they created. They chose prominent spots to hang them as reminders of a Love greater than any one of them could ever imagine.