42: Clay Baby Christmas

42: Clay Baby Christmas

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Christmas!

Clay Baby Christmas

Children see magic because they look for it.

~Christopher Moore

We sat at the dining room table, my five sons and me, pressing holiday cutouts from bright, soft sculpting clay. My three youngest sons peppered theirs with tiny faux gemstones. My two oldest, both teenagers, were a bit more conservative. Their ornaments reflected more time and more patience.

I should have been in the holiday spirit. White lights twinkled on the deep green Douglas fir my husband had trudged over hills to cut the week before. A cinnamon candle flickered on the buffet. Soft, sweet music from our favorite instrumental Christmas CD drifted through our century-old home. Even the weather shared undeniable Christmas charm. Lacy, thick snowflakes swirled and swept past the wavy, antiquated glass of our dining room windows.

But I wasn’t feeling festive. And no matter how I tried, thrusting myself into activity and tradition and family and friends, I couldn’t feel the holiday spirit.

It had been a hard autumn. Logan, the firstborn of our sons, had gone to public school after eight years of being homeschooled. He was in ninth grade. The transition had been anticipated with excitement and joy, but it was proving to be difficult. Our son had met up with a bully on the first day of school. It didn’t help that we were new to our small Mississippi River town, and the other students seemed leery of someone new.

“Hey, Mom, what do you think of my Christmas star?” one of my little sons asked. His question refocused me on our project.

“I think it’s perfect,” I said. “Let’s put it on the tray and we’ll bake it with the others. Then you can hang it on the tree.”

My little guy smiled a wide, toothless grin. He was content. Pleased. If only all of life could be filled with such simple pleasures. A clay star that would hang amid popcorn strands and Popsicle stick angels could save the day.

Logan’s voice now broke my thoughts. “Hey, Mom. When we’re finished, can I have the extra clay?”

“Sure,” I said. “But why?” Logan had deep artistic abilities. He was always crafting something.

“I have some ideas for ornaments,” he said. “I’ll use whatever’s left when the little boys are done.”

I smiled and tried to rescue a clay tree from my little son’s exuberant spatula. When I’d successfully placed the tree on the tray, I glanced at Logan. I wished, for him, that Christmas break would last forever.

Prior to Christmas vacation, our evenings all looked the same. Logan, my husband, and I would sit, each night, after the little brothers were in bed, and talk about what had happened that day.

“It’s hard to break in,” Logan would say as my husband and I perched on the edge of our long, leather sofa. Logan was open and communicative. His tender and gentle spirit, which made him a target for the high school ruffian, was a blessing when it came to our evening conversations. He shared honestly and from the heart.

“Do we need to pull you from the school?” I’d ask every night. We’d already talked with school personnel. They were certain that Logan was not in physical danger. It was his emotion, though, that weighed on my heart. But his reassurance was, every evening, just the same.

“No,” Logan said. “I need to work through this. To persevere. I know, in time, things will get better.”

I envied his strength and optimism. I also hoped that “in time” would come soon. Watching a child work through hurt is a serious kind of struggle.

The full, festive days of Christmas break seemed to fly past. Soon it was Christmas Eve. The shopping was complete. There were candles in the widows. Stacks of holiday cookies shone proudly under cake domes of clear glass. And my family assembled around our Christmas tree. It was tradition that we’d exchange a few gifts, one for each person. Something special that couldn’t wait until Christmas morning. But even in the midst of such sweet, true joy, Logan’s struggle weighed on my own shoulders.

“Hey, Mom, don’t you just want to open this one?” one of my little guys asked. “You can use it tomorrow morning for your coffee.”

“Shhhh,” another little guy said, fingers now pressed over his brother’s open lips. “You’ll wreck the surprise.”

I opened the mug and received a barrage of hugs. We continued, for an hour or more, each person taking the time to admire and appreciate the gift that had been shared. When the clock struck nine, it was time for bed. My husband scooted our bevy of boys up our long, curved staircase while I gathered discarded holiday paper and strings.

I was headed into the kitchen with an armload of wrappings when I noticed a gift, in a shiny red box, on the dining room table. I dropped the papers on a nearby chair and lifted the handwritten tag: TO MOM. WITH LOVE, LOGAN.

I didn’t stop to wonder if the gift was to be opened then or saved for Christmas morning. My hands lifted the lid from the box. I couldn’t imagine what could be inside.

And my heart swelled for what I found.

Inside the box was a Popsicle stick stable. Stained. Assembled. Round edges precisely cut square.

Inside the stable were wise men. They wore tiny, intricate crowns. Their tiny hands held gold boxes and bottles. There were also two angels. On their wings were carvings of delicate scroll. There were also two sheep, white with black faces, and a cow, brown and bent in rest.

I was drawn to the Holy family. Joseph, bearded and strong. Mary, draped in soft blue, face flushed with rosy spots of pink. Her outstretched arms held the Baby Jesus. He was wrapped in white, tiny, with round face and eyes closed in slumber.

I was amazed at the craftsmanship. The detail. The thoughtfulness. But what made my heart beat fast was the message of hope.

Logan was going through a tough time. Without a doubt, the toughest time he had ever seen. But he was solid, anchored, and willing to persevere. And I knew that as he crafted this sweet crèche from clay, the hope of Christmas was in his heart. The strength and promise of the little babe.

“Do you like it, Mom?” Logan’s voice startled me.

I couldn’t seem to reply. How had my son gotten so strong, so wise? I held Logan close and didn’t want to let go. But when I eventually did, I let go of some of the sadness, too.

“Thank you, Logan,” I said. “For the gift. And for reminding me how to hope.”

That Christmas was a few years ago. Logan did persevere until he achieved happy, healthy high school years. He was right. Things did work out. He’s at college now. Still growing. Still striving. Still amazing me and making me proud.

The manger stays, year round, on our old, marble mantel. It’s a reminder of something I never want to forget — the promise of hope, and our clay baby Christmas.

~Shawnelle Eliasen

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