When my son, Brennen, was a toddler, my husband and I borrowed a Christmas tradition from my sister’s family. We decided that from that point forward, every year, we would gift our son a nutcracker as part of his Christmas. Most years, we found a nutcracker that related to something going on in his life. Many years, he received more than one. There were baseball and soccer nutcrackers, relics from the Little League years. There was the Mouse King, a souvenir from the time we visited the Nutcracker at the Steven’s Center in Winston Salem and a clown from the time we attended the Barnum and Bailey Circus. There was a skateboarding nutcracker- a relic from those pesky middle school years and a more recent “hipster” nutcracker, reminiscent of his years at Appalachian State, a stressed out student complete with laptop and cell phone.
Nutcrackers are fragile. Each Christmas before I put them out on display, I must first do the necessary repairs. Last year, the Mouse King’s sword was broken and the wooden baseball had become unglued from the wooden glove in the baseball player’s wooden hands. At the end of every season, I wrap them back up in paper and plastic and place them in large Rubbermaid bins which I store in the upstairs closet.
After 24 years, we have amassed so many nutcrackers that we hardly have enough room to display all of them in our small house. We used to arrange them all side-by-side on top of the server in the dining room. Now, they spill over onto the adjacent table. They stand in rows of stern observance among the shelves of the bookcases and peer down at us from atop the mantle.
You may recall that our son was married earlier this year. Despite his status now as a full-fledged adult, I occasionally find myself feeling nostalgic about days gone by. Recently, I found myself reminiscing about our nutcracker tradition while shopping at my local Target. I browsed the colorful displays of nutcrackers- wondering if perhaps they had a bride and groom- or if there might be a way to bring my new daughter-in-law in on the tradition.
I made the mistake of wondering some of these thoughts aloud to my husband. Then, I lamented the passing of the years, of our son growing up so quickly and the loss of our family tradition. Perry said curtly that it was time for the nutcrackers to move in with Brennen. “Brennen has a home and a family of his own”, he says. “It’s time for them to move in with HIM.”
On the other side of this tale, I know that my husband has “practical” needs in mind for the spaces previously occupied by nutcrackers once they are released from the burden of the wooden figures. My dining room table is already set, completely full with my grandmother’s red and gold china, vintage monogrammed napkin rings and salt dishes that Perry found for pennies on the dollar in one of his antiques outings. My husband feels that we need the server for entertaining, some extra space to hold the ice bucket and the wine. I knew the view expressed by my husband were the practical, logical solution, but the thought of a Christmas without those nutcrackers seems, well… sad. The sideboard at Christmas, without the nutcrackers standing guard, would look naked as a jaybird. Besides, I reasoned, we had absolutely no suitable Christmas decor to use to replace the areas previously occupied by the nutcrackers. Perhaps, I argued, I could buy some sale items at the end of the season to fill that void…until then, maybe they could stay at my house for one more year?
In the end, I asked my son. I said, “Son, you’re married now with a house of your own, If you want to take the nutcrackers to your house this year, they’re yours… you know you are welcome to.”
This is what I said. But in my mind, I pictured those big ole dogs of his knocking them down from their perch, making a meal of the poor Mouse King. Gnawing the baseball to a pulp. Pulverizing the wooden cell phone like a chew-toy. I imagined the nutcrackers stored in those same bins, lined in rows along the perimeter of my son’s basement, the humidity loosening the nutcrackers’ fragile joints and patches of mold forming on their fur.
Such special things, these relics from the past 24 years. The journey, I suppose, of a boy becoming a man.
My son, however is a lover of tradition. His whole life, from the time he was an infant, he has found change to be difficult. What a nightmare it was, when it was time to transition from the crib to a big boy bed. He always hated the change of seasons, complaining when it was time to trade tennis shoes for sandals and t-shirts for bulky coats and itchy sweaters.
All these years spent together as mother and son, I thought we were so different on this accord. Wasn’t I the more progressive one? The one who always embraced change. Change, I said, was good. Now, I saw the nutcrackers positioned on the battlefront between progress and tradition. I had changed alliances. Change wasn’t good. Change was b-a-aa- ad.
“No, mom,” Brennen said “Never stop giving me the nutcrackers.” He was emphatic, animated, certain, all twenty-four years of him.
That’s my boy…