“You want to what?” I looked at my 7-year-old son. My hands were covered in flour and dough, and the sheet of Christmas cookies in the oven was almost ready to come out.
“To go see the lights.” Oliver eyed me hopefully.
“What lights, honey?” The oven timer dinged and I scrabbled for a paper towel to wipe my hands.
“You know, the lights.”
Somewhere on the counter there should be a potholder. Somewhere; just not in any of the places I was looking. The timer dinged a second time. I gave up the search and grabbed a kitchen towel.
“Sweetheart, I’m not sure what lights you mean.” I looked at my 10-year old daughter, Jenna, for help. She shrugged.
“The lights,” he said patiently, but with an edge of exasperation creeping in.
“Where are they?” I pulled the cookies out of the oven and put them on the cooktop to cool.
“Outside,” he said. As in, Duh, Mom.
“How far away outside? Do we have to drive?” I glanced at the piles of cooling cookies, waiting for frosting and colored sugar. Just one more batch to cook. With any luck we’d have it all done before dinnertime. “Do you want to go tonight?” What we’d be eating for dinner, though, was a complete mystery.
“I’m going bowling with Alexis after supper,” Jenna said. “You promised.”
“Not tonight.” Oliver pushed the curtain aside and pressed his face to the glass. “They’re not there.”
Mystery on top of mystery. “Let me know when it’s time, Ollster, okay?” I dabbed flour on his cold nose. “Now, are you two ready to start decorating cookies?”
A week later, two nights before Christmas, I’d completely forgotten about the odd conversation. It had been the last day of school before vacation and the kids were wound up with excitement. It was late, I had to be at my bookstore the next day, and all I wanted to do was tuck my children into their beds and then fall into my own.
We’d almost made it to toothbrushing when Oliver ran out of his room and into the bathroom. “Now! It’s time to go see them now!”
I blinked at him. “Oliver, it’s time for bed. You know, sleepytime, and all that?”
“You promised.” He stomped his slippered foot. “You said to let you know when it’s time, and it’s time.”
“But you promised!” His lower lip started to tremble. “We have to go now. They won’t last.”
I tried again. “Sweetheart, this isn’t—”
“Yes, it is. It’s time!” He ran to his room and came back wearing his bathrobe and a pair of mittens I hadn’t seen since October. “There, I’m all dressed. Let’s go!” He grabbed my hand. “Come on, Mommy. Come on, Jenna. We have to go!”
The insistence of a 7-year-old can be a powerful force. I let myself and Jenna be tugged along. We paused only to put on coats and boots and hats. “Hurry,” he begged, then banged out not the garage door, but the back door.
I frowned. Apparently we weren’t taking the car. “Jenna, do you know what your brother is up to?”
She shook her head. “I thought maybe he was talking about those cool lights Mr. and Mrs. Swartz put up, but we’d have to drive over there.”
Oliver popped his head inside. “Come on!”
Bonded in cluelessness, my daughter and I zipped our coats and headed out the back door. Oliver took one of my hands and one of Jenna’s and pulled us to the middle of the yard. “There,” he breathed. “Look!”
And he pointed straight up.
The clouds of the last week had cleared away as if they had never been. Above us, the sky was full of twinkling little bits of light. It wasn’t special Christmas lights Oliver wanted to see, it was stars.
“See?” He bumped his head against my arm. “See?”
I pulled my children close. “Yes,” I said softly, “I do see. Thank you, Oliver.” What I saw was the magnificence of the heavens and the stunning beauty of the stars. I felt the breadth of eternity and, for the first time in much too long, the real sense of the season. Peace on earth, good will toward men.
“It’s pretty,” Jenna said.
Oliver nodded. “Cool, huh?”
With happiness filling my throat, I hugged them tight. “Merry Christmas, you two.”
“Merry Christmas, Mom.”
“Yeah, Merry Christmas, Mom.”
And so it was.