I had just reached for the phone, about to call my mom to chastise her for even thinking about decorating the tree without me, when I realized that my spot in the annual production of "A Very Merry Christmas, Version XXX" has changed.
I used to be the one around which all the holiday trappings orbited. My family never got the Christmas tree without me, never bought tickets for a Nutcracker show unless I could go, and never decorated the Christmas cookies until I was there, wielding a gingerbread boy in one hand and a bottle of multicolored sprinkles in the other.
Now things are different. It's my nephews and my own son who are at center stage. It's "the boys" who my parents arrange their holiday schedule around. It's "the boys" who are the honored guests and the objects of delight. If my schedule prevents my presence, that's unfortunate but not a show-stopper.
Being out of the loop makes me feel slighted, jealous, angry, like a ten-year-old who misses a trip to the circus because she's got homework. The Christmas I knew was happening without me, and I didn't like it.
This realization produced more than a little anxiety in me. It went beyond missing my family and feeling left out; something deeper objected to this whole re-casting.
Part of it, definitely, is wanting things to stay the same. The continuity made me feel safe, secure, like devouring a beloved book even though I know the ending by heart. It was a chance to recreate my youth, to be a child again, if only for an evening or a day. But not just a child -a grown-up child, the very best kind.
As an adult child, I had some control over my destiny. I could be pampered, but not controlled. I could be responsible, but not too responsible. I could let someone else (my mom) take over the big, nasty stuff - like doing the shopping for dinner for 15, cleaning the kitchen, footing all the bills - while I helped with the cookie-decorating and present-wrapping.
The real reason I was so upset, though, was that I hate admitting I'm all grown up. In every area of my life - not just at Christmas - I'm supposed to be the responsible one now. I'm the vacuumer of floors, the hemmer of pants, the cleaner of toilets, the changer of diapers. If I leave dishes in the sink or on the counter, they're still there the next day. If I lose my keys, it's I who has to call the locksmith and foot the bill.
Ah, maturing is tough. And this, I guess, is one of those opportunities for growth that parenthood is so full of.
So I suppose Christmas is just another one of those times to stop whining about myself. I have to stop expecting someone else to set the holiday tableau in all its garlands and glory, allowing me to waltz in and place the star at the very top of the tree. I have to move aside, to become one of the stagehands, to allow another generation their moment in the limelight.
Though I may still long to be the one who sits on Santa's lap, whispering my wish list in his ear, that's no longer my role. With the birth of my son, I've become a behind-the-scenes player, one of elves.
Now my job is to create the scene for Benjamin's holiday memories, showing him how wonderful and exciting Christmas is. It's a little scary thinking that I alone - with some help from my husband, of course - am responsible for forming what Christmas will mean to my son, for all his life. That's a heavy burden. There's always the fear that I'll do it wrong, screw up, forget some important part (like the stockings! Oh my goodness, I forgot the stockings!), thereby turning my hapless two-year-old into a maniacal, scrooge-like Grinch.
But I think I'm up to the task nonetheless. I know a thing or two about holidays, and I'll enjoy the chance to pass them on.
I will miss the center stage; the light does indeed shine brightest there. But I hope I can remember that it is from the audience that one gets the best view.