Finding Magic in the Moments

Dianne Spatafore, New College West

Honorable Mention

They are an eclectic bunch. The Canadian Mountie dressed as Santa, Kermit the Frog dressed as a prince, the moose holding a string of lights, and the little family of snow people, to name a few.

We unwrap them carefully and take our time with each unveiling. “Oh, I love this guy,” I exclaim, revealing the small Canadian Mountie in his red jacket and Stetson hat. I hold him up, and my husband smiles, his eyes softening with the memory. For a moment we are once again honeymooners strolling a side street in Quebec, hand in hand. The little Christmas shop is glowing with twinkle lights, and there is our steadfast little officer.

The next one makes me laugh before I’m even done unwrapping him. My prince. Well, Kermit the Frog, dressed in his finest princely garments. He was given to me by my mom when I was still single, still searching for my prince charming. “Look honey, it’s you,” I say, and give my husband a gentle nudge. He smiles and gives me a squeeze. He knows that the girl I was when I received this wasn’t sure she was ever going to find a prince . . . for a while it seemed like it might just be frogs.

He unwraps the next one: a moose with a string of lights between his antlers and the name of our favorite lake typed out on the little sign he is holding. The first time we went to New Hampshire to visit the lake, I had been fast asleep in the passenger seat when the moose leapt into the road and my husband had to swerve quickly to avoid an accident. I awoke to the cursing but never got to see “the gigantic big black moose of death,” as he described it, that he saved us from. “The moose!” I exclaim, and he chuckles.

The little family of snow people brings tears to my eyes. There we are, our little family of three, our names all printed neatly in a row. We spent many years, just the two of us, decorating the tree and celebrating our happy memories, while wishing we could have a little one to share it all with. When I received this ornament as a gift, my son was still in the hospital, having been born three months earlier than planned, and our little family was still a dream we weren’t sure we would get to keep.

Now here we are 10 years later, and that dream includes a boy with big brown eyes, boundless energy, and a heart-melting smile. We have traveled a complicated road of medical challenges, and while there is a lot of worry, there is also a lot of joy. As parents of a child with special needs, our moments don’t look like the Hallmark commercials that bombard us before the holidays. We don’t move an elf around our shelves, but in the weeks leading up to Christmas, we do have a countdown calendar that our son runs down to see each morning. Today he has hung three ornaments, two more than last year, and we celebrate each one. I’m not sure if he remembers the day at Sesame Place last summer when we got this Elmo ornament, but his smile is joyful when I ask him to place it on the tree, and that is enough.

They say comparison is the thief of joy, and we do our best to keep that intruder at bay. It is not always easy, but we try to keep focused on these moments of connection, even when the world keeps reminding us of all the things that might have been. Like the ornaments, we unwrap such moments slowly and take time to appreciate them. There is magic in them. There is joy.

Now we get to share our favorite lake with our little boy. We haven’t seen another moose in the road, luckily, but we make a game of pointing out the landmarks we do see on the way: the ladybug rock, the tin man driving a tractor, and the metal moose standing guard in the field. There is less sleeping (for me) and more singing (for all of us), and it is a joy to hear our son say, “big finish” when we get to the end of his favorite song.

After busy days at work, my prince twirls me around for a dance in the kitchen. He is there to help me get my coat off and set my bags down. We make up celebrations for regular weekdays, such as Taco Tuesday, each bringing stories from our day to fill in the time we have been apart. It is a joy to make him laugh; there is no better feeling than seeing his face break into a smile. The future is bright knowing he is by my side. Even on our toughest days, we have been able to find joy in each other and this little dream that is still coming true.

These days we are not the same people as those honeymooners, having traveled many miles since that trip. But here we are, still hand in hand, finding new ornaments along the way. We try to amplify the joy, knowing that we need it to sustain us. This year I made him a 2022 Year in Review book of photos for Christmas. The photos were not posed or fancy—selfies taken of the three of us out on the weekend for a family adventure, photos of our son smiling up at him at the playground, and lots of silly moments from the year. These are some of the little joys that add up to a full life. Putting it all in a book feels like bottling up a little of that joy to save it for a rainy day when we might need some sunshine.

Our Christmas tree will stay up well into the new year, both of us reticent to pack up all of the happy memories hanging on the branches. While the tree is a symbol of Christmas, for us it also represents the life we have built together filled with joyful moments. Ornaments that were passed down from our families have joined with the ones we have collected together, each holding a little bit of joy from a special memory. One day, after we’ve both agreed that it is time, my husband will take it down. While we do the decorating together, he usually takes the ornaments off the tree while I am still at work, wrapping them carefully for their hibernation. Having been spared the sad task, I come home to our dining room reset, and I smile, knowing I will see them again soon. I wonder who we will add to the tree next year, and I look forward to all the magic little moments between now and then.