I always take down my Christmas tree on New Year's Day. It seems like an excellent way to say goodbye to the old year and hello to a new one. It also gives me a chance to handle my favorite ornaments one last time before I pack them away.
There's the vintage elf, for instance, that hung on the Christmas trees my mother decorated when I was growing up. And the gold paper stars festooned with macaroni noodles my boys made when they were in grade school. And the candy cane horses my grandmother gave us before she passed away.
But the ones I treasure the most are the sappy satin ornaments my husband and I bought at Hallmark stores to commemorate the birth of another tiny son. They say sappy Hallmark things like "joy comes into your heart when a Baby Boy comes into your world" or "a Baby Boy is a bundle of pleasure to fill every day with love beyond measure." And of course, the ornaments bear the dates of our kids' births: 1980, 1984, 1986, 1990 and 1993.
I love these ornaments because they remind me of Christmases past when my husband and I held babies in our arms and made bright plans for their futures we would read them "Goodnight Moon" and teach them to ride bikes and swim in the ocean and play catch with them on the front lawn. We would encourage them to be good students so they would go on to college and who knows maybe change the world one day.
We were no different from other young parents, of course. Who doesn't look at the years ahead and hope for a child's happiness and success?
And now here comes the part where I state the obvious: Things don't always turn out the way we want or expect them to where our children are concerned, right?
This year my friend's teenage daughter announced to her parents that she was pregnant. Of all the plans she had made for her daughter, this certainly wasn't one of them. But this friend, along with her husband, made a commitment to respond to their daughter with love and support as they all traveled together down an unexpected and difficult road.
What took my friend by surprise was how many middle-aged women approached her, saying they had been in the same situation when they were teenagers, too. But their experience was that instead of being buoyed by the kindness of family and friends, they were cast off emotionally, spiritually, sometimes even physically. They were often pressured to make decisions they didn't want to make for the sake of appearances. They were shamed. And that isolating sense of shame changed everything about their futures, often causing them to cut off contact with their families and to leave their faith communities.
At the beginning of another new year, I'm writing this column at the request of my friend, who says she feels heartsick for the women who have shared their stories of abandonment with her. She wants to remind parents that as hurt and disappointed and blind-sided as they may be by a child's situation, it is always better to reach out with love instead of with bitterness and anger.