I'm Taking My Marbles and Going Home

When it comes to Christmas I’m torn between the pull to be with extended family, and the desire to simply enjoy my own family’s developing traditions.

This year, as in years past, part of me wanted to hunker down at home with just our cozy Party of Four, ensuring that our little ones would wake to the magic of Christmas morning in their own living room, spend all day playing with their new toys uninterrupted, and enjoy the foods and treats my husband and I have made our own traditions over the years. At the same time, we wanted to be near grandmas and grandpas, siblings and cousins, both so we could relive the magic of our Christmases past and so our boys might develop richer memories with those we love.

We thought a good compromise to this dilemma was to invite my in-laws to spend Christmas with us. They wholeheartedly agreed, and this seemed like the perfect solution. But a few weeks ago it became apparent that my father-in-law’s recent surgery was going to keep them from traveling. So we were left wondering what to do. Should we just make plans to see them sometime after New Year’s? Should we give up our visions of Christmas at home and drive the five hours to their house instead?

Ultimately, my husband’s “1,000 Marbles” memory instigated a trip northward on Christmas morning. If you’re not familiar with the “1,000 Marbles” parable by Jeffrey Davis, it’s about a man who, at age 55, realizes his life expectancy is about 75 years and calculates that he has about 1,000 Saturdays left to enjoy. He buys a thousand marbles and places them in a clear jar, then marks the passing of each Saturday by removing one marble from the jar and throwing it away — a tangible reminder of the passing of time and how we can’t get it back.

When my husband first heard that story it made him think about more than just how many marbles are left in his own jar. He thought about his mother, who is in good health but turns 75 this year. He wondered how many more Saturdays we have left with her. Supposing we see her four or five times a year (which is a lot more now that we only live five hours away instead of 15), he envisioned each of those visits as one precious marble in a jar. And he realized there are not enough marbles left in that jar.

Often those of us who live far from extended family only get to see such loved ones once or twice a year. While that is a sacrifice we make for job opportunities or other personal decisions, I think it’s important to consider our time with family like those marbles in a jar. I am reminded of a couple dear friends of mine, one who lost her mother 10 years ago this month, and the other who lost hers just a few weeks ago. I know both would do anything for just one more marble.

So we put the kids in the car after breakfast Christmas morning, and they got a second visit from Santa Claus at Nana and Papa’s house. The look on Nana’s face as she watched the kids’ excitement made the trip worthwhile. (Plus when the boys got home they re-discovered all the gifts they’d opened just 48 hours before.)

Christmas is, sadly, over. The cards from loved ones I’ve been taping to the wall all month are starting to fall to the floor, our tree is nothing but a bone-dry fire hazard, and there is one less marble in each of our jars.

I’m comforted to know that the marbles we just tossed away were replaced with memories that hold love captive, and they can’t slip through our fingers like time.

(Originally posted on Training Wheels.)

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