I've heard Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker" hundreds of times, most recently huddled in backstage darkness with other stage moms, or sitting through rehearsals as my daughter practiced her part.
But there I sat in a packed auditorium last Friday evening, secretly wiping tears as I heard cymbals crash and snowflakes dance.
My son glanced up at me during the "Waltz of the Snowflakes" and gave a quizzical look. My sister isn't even on stage yet, he probably thought. Why in the world is Mom crying now?
"It's just so... beautiful," I whispered.
I could almost hear Jack's eyes roll.
During intermission I tried to justify that ridiculous display of emotion, but it was no use. There's just no explaining sentimental tears.
They're the same ones that trickle down during candlelight services on Christmas Eve, when I try to sing all the verses of "Silent Night" but end up all burbly and quiet. Or when I watch the final scene from "It's a Wonderful Life," when Harry Bailey makes that toast: "To my big brother George, the richest man in town!"
Sniff sniff. Oh dear.
I'm not the sort who's a blubbering mess at the end of every romantic comedy, unlike some of my friends who will remain nameless (cough*Katie*cough). But traditions — especially the family, holiday types — turn my usually sarcastic, cynical self into a big bowl of sap.
I heard an Anne Porter poem recently on "Writer's Almanac" — a morning-drive tradition with my daughter that, if I think about it long enough and imagine her driving off on her own someday, will also make me sniffle. The poem, "Noel," included these lines:
We hear and sing
The customary carols.
They bring us ragged miracles
And hay and candles
And flowering weeds of poetry
That are loved all the more
Because they are so common.
Yes, I thought. Customary carols. Ragged miracles. Flowering weeds. Loved all the more because they are so common.
Yes, yes, that's it. That's maternal emotion, the sniffles and sobs of mothers and grandmothers who watch babies grow into toddlers and dress as shepherds in the church Christmas pageant.
Then the shepherds become angels, singing in the choir. Or they dance as snowflakes, cookies or candy canes, and you watch from the audience, proud and happy. You sing carols together, or drive in pajamas to see light displays, or watch "A Christmas Story" for the 12,000th time, and you consider all the ragged miracles of life, so dazzling and luminous this time of year.
You shed a tear and say a prayer. And you give thanks for common moments that are, in the end, extraordinary.