T’was the night before Christmas and Addie (15 months) was the perfect age for wreaking holiday havoc. No tree, tinsel, or mistletoe was safe. For that reason, Christmas swag was downgraded to a ridiculously high wreath on the door and one strategically placed nativity scene on the bookshelf – – the wreath, because it smelled good and the nativity from my mother who believed my husband and I (like all democrats) were taking the baby Jesus out of Christmas. To rectify this holy war on her only grandchild, she sent pop-up baby bibles, religious icon sippy cups, and binkies about… you guessed it, Jesus.
While I in my kitchen, and Addie in the living room, I had just settled in for a long winters dishwashing. When all of a sudden I heard not a clutter, but a pained scream. I ran into the living room and what should I find but blood dripping from my toddler’s mouth. Like a good mother, I attacked her little body with concerned examination, thus scaring her more. And after prying her jaws apart, noticed her tongue had a small puncture wound. She had chomped down on something hard.
Terrified she’d swallowed whatever it was that cut her, I searched the bookshelf for sharp, pointy dangerous things. That’s when I spied the clay nativity scene my mom had sent to save my daughter’s soul.
“That’s not dangerous,” I thought. But upon closer examination, I realized the baby Jesus was missing from the manger.
“Did Addie eat the baby Jesus?” I wondered.
Was my mother right? Had Addie picked up on our secular ways and taken it upon herself to literally remove Christ from Christmas?
Where was Jesus? Making his way down her little tummy, wondering how he’d strayed so far from Bethlehem.
“Addie, where’s Jesus? Where, for the love of God, is Jesus?” I begged.
I searched for the clay babe under the sofa and desk, beneath the pack n’play and in her books. But Jesus was nowhere to be found. I considered rushing Addie to the emergency room.
What would I say when I arrived?
“Excuse me, it seems my daughter has eaten the Messiah.”
Or, “Addie took the sacrament a little too seriously.”
Before I could pack up my sacrilegious little girl, I noticed two small chips of clay on the floor. It was the nose and ear of a donkey. They looked pretty sharp and capable of cutting her tongue. But that manger was still empty. And I just wouldn’t sleep until I found Jesus.
A thorough search of our floors ensued. I found dog hair, a lipstick, some post-its, staples, cat barf, but no Prince of Peace.
“Maybe this nativity is a prenatal one,” I thought hopefully. But what would be the point of a nativity scene with only a pregnant Mary? Who would buy one of those? It would be like a 99-cent store version with a disclaimer on that box that says, “Jesus not included.” And that would be the lesson of this story: Never buy batteries or a nativity scene at a 99-cent store. It would become our Christmas story passed down to the generations about Grandma sending us a cheap nativity scene without the actual nativity.
At this point, Addie appeared fine. She wasn’t jumping to one side every time Jesus poked her tummy with his little baby finger, or coughing up parables. So, I took one more look at the scene of wise men, the little lamb and a sadly deformed donkey. And there in Mary’s arms was her baby, tiny, nestled in, peering up at his mother.
I had seen the empty manger and assumed Jesus was gone. Was this a liberal Nativity? First they take him out of the schools, and then the nativities. God, they’re clever.
In the other nativities, Mary, Joseph and crew are looking down at this untouchable child. But in this one, Mary is a co-sleeper, a real, concerned, child-wearing mom, who wouldn’t throw her babe down in some itchy straw in a stinky barn, while a bunch of wise, but let’s face it strange men ogled her little boy.
And then I remembered when Addie and I were in the hospital, hours after she was born. The nurses had given us a hard plastic manger, that sat a good two feet higher than my comfy bed. Every time I wanted to look at her, I practically had to stand up.
When I placed Addie in the crib, she cried. But in bed with me, she nuzzled in with a look that I swear to God said, “Why would I prefer cold plastic to your warm and milky boob. I may be hours old, but I didn’t just fall off the vagina truck.” So against hospital policy, I kept her there.
When the nurse returned to take our vitals, she warned, “You better be puttin’ that babe back in her crib now.” (She was Jamaican, so you have to read it with a Jamaican accent mon.)
“But she cries when I put her in there.” I replied, exhausted and quite frankly offended that after only a couple hours of motherhood, someone was already implying I wasn’t doing a very good job, mon.
I complied and put Addie back in her crib. And she cried.
After about 30 seconds, I plopped her back in bed with me and she’s been there ever since. Sometimes she sleeps in her crib and is perfectly content. Other nights, when her stomach hurts, or is just feeling needy, she sleeps with me. I figure, we have our whole lives to be independent, to sleep alone, to save the world. But now is the time for comfort, for snuggling under the covers, or in the hay. She won’t always be this small, this perfect for cuddling. And one day she’ll say, just like Jesus did to his mom, “Leave me alone, I’m hanging out with my followers.”
But for now, she’s in my arms, tiny, nestled in and looking into her mama’s eyes. Right where she belongs.