No one prepares you for the first Christmas your last baby doesn’t believe anymore.

You’ll look at the elves and Santa’s cookie plate like they’re familiar old friends you have to say goodbye to even though it was just 11 months ago they were featured special guests in your house.

You’ll comb through your social media pictures from just a few years short of two decades and wonder how the cute little girl who started this Santa Elf Extravanganza is a mere eighty days from being an adult, and you’ll kick yourself for not believing that little nudge from last Christmas when you looked at your youngest’s face on Christmas Eve and felt, This is the last one like this.

You’ll wonder what to do.

Do you make the cookies for Santa anyway, and make everyone play along as if nothing’s changed?

And you’ll decide not to because everything has changed.

You’ll look at your baby one and think, “But he’s still so little.” He still asks questions like, “Is anyone in this world making a new invention right this second?” and, “Is there any chance at all Santa is still real?” He’s still so innocent and little. But he also asked you a few very direct questions about babies and romance two days ago and now he’s noticing pretty girls and you’ll have to admit your eyes are indeed deceiving you and he’s not so little anymore.

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You’ll ask the kids which was their favorite elf trick all those years and does anyone want to take turns just moving them around the house this year? Because even though you are excited that for the first time in 15 years, you won’t wake up at midnight in a panic because you forgot to do the nightly elf prank, you wonder if you’ve still got what it takes to impress your grown-up kids with Christmas magic when none of the cast of characters that come to your house dressed in red is coming this year.

You’ll remember details you’ve forgotten in living color all of a sudden.

Like how you used to sit and rock your firstborn in her room until she fell asleep, with the only nightlight being the colored icicle Christmas lights just outside her window. You sang “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” on a loop as she sucked her pacifier and played with your hair until she fell asleep.

Or how the little one used to just stand in the living room and stare at everything for what felt like ages on Christmas morning because he loved all the details and wanted to soak it all in.

How the first thing they’d do is check the plate to see if there were crumbs and run to the back porch to see if the carrots were eaten.

How their eyes would light up like fireworks when an unknown number would call on Christmas Eve and the voice on the other end would tell them to brush their teeth because he was on his way.

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How you’d stand alone in the living room when they were all asleep on Christmas Eve, and soak in the quiet all by yourself one more time before the big moment.

It’s supposed to be this way. Childhood is that blissful place where we believe anything is possible, and all is calm, always bright. It’s that little window in time where innocence is our compass, and make-believe is our foundation.

We are not supposed to stay there, I know that. But man, it’s the bitterest of sweets when that chapter closes.

I’m not the mom who wants to go back and do it over again. I love every stage of my kids’ lives . . . even at 27, 17, and 9.

But something about that first year when the baby doesn’t believe anymore makes you want to hold onto the time a little bit tighter.

You’ll see. 

Originally published on the author’s Facebook page.

Jill Windham

Jill Windham is a wife, mother, writer, and pastor in North Alabama. She is passionate about her family, her Aussiedoodle, naps, caffeine, and chips & salsa. She and her husband, Rod, have been married for 22 years and still really like each other. Jill loves to celebrate for small reasons and connect with moms who are worn out and looking for real talk about the raw and real sides of motherhood. You can follow her writing on Facebook at Jill Windham Writes, or read her blog at www.jillwindham.com.