I am so grateful to be celebrating Jackson’s first Christmas. It is an incredibly bittersweet time, especially thinking about how Jackson and Hudson would be interacting now, but there’s a whole, whole lot of sweet.
We took Jackson to see Santa at the mall today. All three grandparents came along and we lined up before Santa even started taking visits. About 5 minutes before 10AM, Santa arrived, walking down the mall concourse and waving at all the kids. Parents started telling their kids, “Here comes Santa!” and kids started craning their necks to get a glimpse of the big man himself. The excited din was, momentarily, more than my poor heart could take. We’d have been doing the exact same thing if Hudson were alive, Ed putting her up on his shoulders so that she could see Santa approaching, her clapping her hands and squealing to us that Santa was coming. I couldn’t help myself—I started to cry. I turned to Ed and put my hand on his shoulder and squeezed, trying not to let myself go. He hugged me and within a minute or two, I was OK and could focus on the moment at hand. (Sadly, it occurred to us too late to bring a stuffed turtle for Jackson to hold in his Santa picture, just like Hudson held a penguin in hers. Next year.)
We stood in line for another half hour or so waiting for Jackson’s turn and when it came, it was glorious. Several kids in a row in front of us had cried and cried, hands reaching out for their moms. When it was Jackson’s turn, Santa came over to talk to me (it turns out he and I used to teach middle school together years and years ago). Jackson just looked at him curiously and grabbed his gloved finger and shook it up and down. When it came time to hand him over, he was totally game. He sat in Santa’s lap and I went around behind Ed to try to get him to smile for our personal camera. All it took was a big smile from me and a high-pitched “Jackson!” and this kid just broke into an ear-to-ear grin. And I’m not kidding, y’all—the line of parents behind us erupted into delighted applause and laughter. It was hilarious and uplifting and precious. We took some more photos and then said our goodbyes.
It wasn’t until later that I looked back at the pictures and saw a precocious little three-year-old girl sitting on Santa’s left side, maybe with pigtails by now, smiling the cheesy smile that kids put on once they learn to ham for the camera, leaning in to whisper to Santa what she wanted for Christmas, and galloping away with her new Santa Claus coloring book. I made the grief wait. It surprised me that I had done so—I was caught off guard looking back and realizing that I hadn’t been thinking of Hudson in that moment when I was trying to get Jackson to smile. I felt some regret for that but I also felt glad, because in that one moment, I was just enjoying my little boy, giving him some undivided love and attention for his first Christmas. And oh, how he rewarded me. That little grin is just priceless.
How I wish we had different pictures, but the ones we have are so very special in their own right.