Headlights cross our front windows, sending beams of light through the house. It’s early December, and although it’s only 7 o’clock, it’s already been dark for a couple of hours.

“Rhett and Allie, come see! Someone is here!” They run toward the window, peering into the darkness. A minute later, a man in a red suit appears, his black boots shining. Rhett pauses for a moment, then whispers, “Santa?”

Last year he was nervous when Santa stopped by our house, and I’ve been wondering how he would feel about this year’s visit. Two loud raps hit the front door and the kids stand frozen by the Christmas tree.

My husband, Rich, opens the door, and Santa booms, “Merry Christmas! Is this Rhett and Allie’s house?”

I walk over to the kids and start to usher them to the front door.

“Hi Santa, how nice of you to stop by!” I say as Allie hides behind my legs and Rhett stands with his fingers in his mouth, inching closer to the door.

“Have you two been good this year?” Santa asks, kneeling on the floor. They both nod, their eyes wide.

“I heard you have been, and I wanted to bring you a little gift before Christmas!” He pulls two small bags from behind his back. Rhett cautiously reaches out to take one, but Allie shakes her head and hides behind me.

Rhett tears into his bag while I slowly pull the gifts out of Allie’s bag, showing them to her. Santa says, “Well, I have to be going. Mrs. Claus is waiting for me at home!” He stands up and waves his goodbyes, then closes the door behind him as he disappears once again into the darkness.

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The kids tumble into Rhett’s room excited about their new books and stuffed animals, full of questions about where Santa lives and whether he will come back on Christmas Eve. As we put on their pajamas, we do our best to answer their questions.

After a few minutes, I start to read that night’s Advent story in an attempt to bring their focus back to the real reason we celebrate Christmas. Most nights they sit and listen, pointing at the pictures while we read.

But tonight they are too excited to sit still, visions of Santa and presents filling their heads.

After the kids are tucked into bed, we sit down on the couch to watch a Hallmark movie (to my husband’s displeasure).

“I just remembered I forgot to tell you a story about Santa from this summer!” I abruptly announce as I pause the TV.

“Really? What?” he asks.

“Your dad and I were driving between fields during harvest, and the kids were in the backseat. We passed a farm sign I didn’t remember seeing before and I asked your dad who lived there. Without missing a beat, he said, ‘That’s where Gary, Santa lives.’ I looked back at the kids to see if they heard what he said, but they didn’t seem to notice,” I laugh.

“Oh geez. I can’t believe he said that,” he chuckles.

“I know. I thought for sure the kids were going to start asking if I knew Santa lived so close to our house, but they didn’t.” I reply and nudge him on the arm, “Did you know you grew up living so close to Santa?”

A couple of weeks later the white lights on the Christmas tree are the only thing illuminating our otherwise dark living room. Their light casts beams across the room in the quiet house. It’s finally Christmas Eve. I glance out the window and see a few bright stars poking through the seemingly endless jet black sky above our open prairie.

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Tiptoeing down the hall, my slippers silent on the wood floors, I carefully open Rhett’s door. I slip over to his bed and rest my hand on his chest. Feeling the steady rise and fall, my breath naturally starts to match his. Then I make my way to Allie’s room to check on her. I love them in this stillness, the serene look on their faces, such a contrast from the hurry and hustle of the season. 

As I close the door to each of their rooms, I imagine my parents doing the same thing for my sister and me on Christmas Eve some 30 years ago.

Did they quietly sneak into our rooms to make sure we were fast asleep? Did they have the same feeling of excitement and anticipation that I do now?

Most of the year I am a far cry from the fun mom. I rarely do crafts and have to force myself to get down on the floor and play with them. But here on Christmas Eve, I’m grateful for this season—a season of magic where I get to be the merrymaker. 

I walk back into the living room and kneel down next to the tree. When I reach out to pick up the stockings my mom made for my kids, I picture her crouched under the tree in my childhood home, laying the stockings on her tree skirt. Now here under the tree Rich and I cut down and decorated with our kids in our home, I fill their stockings and arrange them under the tree’s branches, making sure they look just right. Next to the tree is a play kitchen and shopping cart Rich put together, along with a new tractor.

I try to recall a favorite gift I received as a kid. None of them stand out more than another, but I can still remember the excitement and anticipation I felt every Christmas—more memorable than the gifts. Rich joins me near the tree and gently puts his hand on my back, bringing me back to the present. He whispers, “I think they’re going to love them.”

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As we step back from the tree, the magic of Christmas overcomes me. It’s more than Santa or gifts—and it’s an even bigger feeling than when I was a child. My eyes begin to well up with tears, knowing I am creating magic for my kids, picturing their joy in the morning when they see our living room filled with gifts meant just for them. But at this moment, I also feel a greater understanding of my mom’s love for memore than when my belly swelled with each pregnancy or when I brought my babies home.

While I’ve known for years how fierce a mother’s love is, this moment feels tangible, like I could reach out and grab it.

I want to hold onto the looks on their faces and the hugs they will give. I want to freeze them in my memory, savoring the delight of their happiness.

The next morning, Rich and I wake up before the kids. We both lie in bed without talking, hoping by keeping ourselves quiet the kids won’t get up at an unreasonable time. My anticipation builds as I imagine their smiles and faces when they see their gifts under the tree.

Eventually, the clock rolls past 6 a.m. and our son calls from his room, “Dad, come get me!” Rich climbs out from under the covers and goes to the room next door, returning with our son curled up in his arms like he is a baby and not five years old. Rhett rubs his eyes and scrunches up his face, “Mom, what time is it?”

I reach across the bed to the nightstand and squint to see my phone. “It’s still early. A little after 6. Why don’t you lie in bed with me for a little bit until Allie gets up?” He willingly climbs up and snuggles next to me.

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As we are lying there, I think about Christmas mornings when I was growing up. If I woke up first, I went to my sister’s room and woke her up, trying to keep quiet so we wouldn’t wake our parents. I smile to myself as I pull my son’s head onto my shoulder and whisper, “They were already awake.”

My son looks up at me and says with his still sleep-filled voice, “What did you say, Mom?”

I kiss him on the forehead and say, “Nothing. I was just talking to myself, you’ll understand someday.”

A few minutes pass and I hear the sound of a bedroom door clicking open and the tell-tale sound of footie pajamas on the smooth floors. Our door opens and Allie pulls herself up onto the bed next to us.

I want to stretch this moment for as long as I can.

How long will they believe in Santa? One more year? Two? Three? Next year they might not wait for us before they run to the tree.

With both kids snuggled beside me, I switch on the bedside lamp. The room fills with light and we all look at one another. All of a sudden Rhett jumps up as he exclaims, “Santa!” Both kids start moving and hop down from the bed, the sudden realization that today is finally the day they have been waiting for. I hurry to put my glasses on and pick up my camera in hopes of catching those first reactions.

As I pull back the camera and look at the images I’ve captured, I think of my mom with her camera, and how she seemed so content to sit back and watch us delight in our gifts. I never understood how those mornings made her feel. I always assumed Christmas morning for adults was boring: the sweaters and socks they opened seemed to pale in comparison to the bounty of goodness in front of us. And yet, she was happy.

I understand it now.

Rich walks over to me and puts his arm around my shoulders and says, “I think they are happy.” 

I look over at him and whisper, “Me too.”

Originally published on Coffee + Crumbs

Stacy Bronec

Stacy Bronec is a wife, mom of three, a lover of baked goods, and a writer. She and her husband farm and ranch in the middle of nowhere Montana, where she ‘accidentally’ became a farmer’s wife. She has been published at Coffee + Crumbs, Her View From Home, and Motherly. You can also find her at stacybronec.com and Instagram, where she shares some of their farm story.