Tuesday night, 9:00 PM. Finally my two little ones are down for the night. (It’s way past bedtime, but we stayed up late reading, giggling, and singing carols. As long as I at least start them in bed by 8:00 PM, that counts as abiding bedtime, right? And those cuddles are my favorite part of the day). But I say “finally” because, whew, we’re hosting a party in three days and another one in seven days and goodness knows I need to finalize my recipes and grocery list for the store tomorrow. I love those babies when they are awake, and I love them when they are asleep—especially when my to-do list is a mile long on top of planning all of their schooling. Goodnight, babies, time to get some organizing done over a cup of peppermint tea! I would say Christmas is a busy time of year, but it is always like this. And that coveted hour or two I get after they go down for the night is when I either relax—or, more likely, try to get caught up on projects, planning, writing, and hobbies.

There’s always this moment when I finish tucking them in that I feel a little weight rise off my shoulders for a moment. I can hear myself breathing. The whole house is absolutely still and quiet and I am gloriously alone with my thoughts. An introvert’s paradise. No one is in immediate danger of running and falling, no one needs help in the bathroom, no one else asks me to perform. I can be quiet and as pensive as I want to be. I can spend time asking myself to perform. My facial muscles relax. The heightened feeling of alert responsibility for them never quite completely wanes—how many times in the last six years have I been needed at night?—but for those couple of hours, it subsides a bit: children are fairly immobilized when they are sleeping, after all.

And so at 9:00 PM on Tuesday night, I am downstairs peeling through recipes as quickly as possible, searching for my mom’s corn pudding recipe. Roasted turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, almost all the rest of it don’t need recipes, but this one does because I’ve never officially made it before. Where is it? I desperately want to find it before my tea boils, sit down, write the grocery list for two party menus, be done by 9:30 PM at the latest, maybe go crazy and get some wrapping finished, map out a math lesson for tomorrow, write the agenda board, pick up…yeah, all by 10:30 PM, so I can get up and fit in a longer run before Bill goes to work. With the kiddos asleep, I can zoom through most of this, I think. I am eager. Driven. Excited to have this time to make progress on my to-do list.

When what to my wondering ears did appear…but the sound of little padding feet, coming tentatively down the stairs.

It’s Eric. I know their sounds without sight. The thing about Eric is that, unlike my daughter, he NEVER gets out of bed once he is down. Katie has put us through the bedtime/go-to-sleep-now ringer; Eric, never. He’s been our bedtime champ. Even when he got his big boy bed, he’s been obedient and so good about staying in his room. They balance each other in so many ways.

But this past week Eric has been feeling a bit left out, I know. We’ve been schooling intensely and trying to fit in so much else besides. During school hours, he has been participating in his activities, but has had to entertain himself when not wanting to do an activity alongside Katie. He hasn’t had much attention from me this week, especially one-on-one. I know why he is coming downstairs.

He appears around the corner. Almost shyly. He is holding his hands up by his mouth. Those sweet little fingers… His pajama pants are a touch too big and pool a bit around his ankles, not to the point of tripping, but he looks so little in them. He wonders if he will be in trouble for coming out of his room. He’s never tested this premise before, but generally, he knows bedtime is bedtime. If he is out of bed right now, there is a reason. I fight every urge to be selfish that I feel (my coveted time—I need it—I am desperate to get some things done that I cannot do as easily when they are awake, or at all when they are awake), and I open my arms wide to him, and say, “Hi, Sweet Boy. What are you doing down here, Mr. Eric?”

“I need my momma.”

There is a choice to be made. I make it. I smile brightly.

“Guess what, little guy? I need you, too. I need my Eric. Come here, sweet boy.”

He scampers over, and I can feel his little heart bursting with joy. “I need you, too,” he repeats as if lingering over what I just gave to him.

I sit him on the counter. I explain to him that this is time for mommy to get some organizing done and have some tea, but that if he wants to sit with me on the couch while I do it, he is welcome to help me. I am thinking he will end up falling asleep, most likely. We finish finding the corn recipe.

We sit on the couch, the mantle lights twinkling white amid garland. It’s strange not to be alone…it is past 9:30 PM now, but then something shifts in the world and suddenly, this time with him is so completely magical. My tea has cooled, and he asks for a sip. He just wants companionship. Time. To be in a world together. Nothing is going according to my plan. Wrap presents? Right. But everything is going exactly as it should go. As we make our grocery list together, I am aware in the moment that this will always be a memory worth saving. I feel the magic.

In addition to the corn pudding recipe, we are looking for a jello recipe. I adore my Nana’s jello salad recipe, which calls for sour cream…and Bill is not a fan of sour cream. I have only ever made jello a couple of times in my life, actually, and don’t have too much of a clue about jello salads; but Bill has requested jello for our McGaugh family party. I am searching for recipes on my phone while Eric looks on.

By luck, we stumble upon a YouTube series called “Betty’s Kitchen” with a woman named Betty who talks in a light southern drawl and has a most winning way with her word choices and phrasing that just delights me. Something about her is mesmerizing (in fact, the kiddos and I have been treating ourselves to a couple of short episodes after our reading all the rest of this week). We found a video of Betty making a Christmas ribbon jello layered salad. Eric wants to watch it twice. I ask  him if he thought we should try making it for our party, and he agrees.

And, after he helped to collect all the ingredients for it on Wednesday, we did:

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I happened to have a jello mold my mom had given me years ago when she was cleaning out her kitchen. Does it come from the 70s or 80s? I think so. So funkily retro—I love it! In all my years of cooking, I have never made a layered jello salad in a jello mold, and now this part of our meal is absolutely one of my favorite memories. In a month filled with tradition and purposeful memory-making (annual dates to The Nutcracker Ballet and to A Christmas Carol, trip to the Grand Californian/Disneyland parks, Christmas Tree Day, St. Lucia’s Day, Katie’s choir performance, the Valley Winds singalong, cookie baking, popcorn garland and White Christmas day, gingerbread houses, and so much more), in a month filled with all of this, I know that moment of sitting in the still of night at 10:00 PM and watching Betty make layered Christmas jello is going to be one of the moments I remember most from Christmas 2013.

All because the night was quiet and a little boy followed his heart downstairs…

All because we held each other close and tried to solve a dilemma together…

All because we shared sips of peppermint tea…

All because we paid no attention to bedtime…

All because his little heart was so open and plain-speaking and, “I need my momma.”

All because I had the chance to reply, “I need you, too.”

Life’s simplest moments are often the most beautiful. We are given gifts in simplicity. There does not need to be more.

I need you, too, Eric. I need you, too.

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