Decorating the tree has always been one of my favorite parts of Christmas. Over the years, we’ve collected special ornaments that add an extra touch of joy and whimsy to our living room. But this year, I keep thinking of three little ornaments in particular.

The first is a baby bear in a highchair that reads “Baby 1st Christmas” and the year 2004. Funny how I never noticed before now that the “Baby” at the beginning is missing its apostrophe and s. 😉

I can still remember how excited I was to find this one. Baby’s first Christmas ornaments were a huge part of my own Christmas traditions growing up. I couldn’t wait to carry on this same tradition with my new family. I knew I wanted a plastic ornament, one that my little girl could hang up by herself, one that wouldn’t shatter if she dropped it. This little bear was perfect.

This was the first of these ornaments to grace our tree, the one that represented our excitement in becoming parents for the first time. Watching our girl enjoy the wonder and magic of Christmas that year was so special.

The second ornament is a little baby bear in a cradle, this one reading “Baby’s 1st Christmas” (complete with an apostrophe s). I remember loving the fact that the little bear on this ornament looked like she could be a little sister to the first ornament. It was a reflection of the joy we felt that year, adding a new little bundle to our family, a sweet sister full of snuggles and smiles.

The third is this cheery little bear hanging from a pastel umbrella, her bib reading “Baby’s 1st Christmas,” and the umbrella reading “2008” on the other side, from the time we accidentally glued it on backwards. This teddy has been dropped more times than I can count by our third little blessing, a passionate girl full of life and swift (but not always careful) movements. The only thing holding this ornament together still is a huge blob of hot glue underneath the umbrella. But when I look at the smile on the bear’s face, it instantly makes me think of my third daughter, full of fun and drama and whimsy.

When we first hung these ornaments on our tree in 2004, 2006, and 2008, it seemed they’d be on our tree forever, hanging merrily from piney branches as our girls laughed and played beneath the lights. We watched them grow, dancing around the living room, warbling Christmas carols in their sweet, childish voices, and dreaming of presents and princesses and dolls.

This year, I’m struck more than ever by the terrible rush of time. Those little girls are quickly growing into young women. My oldest is in high school, and her Christmas dreams involve clothes, makeup, and electronics. She’s trying to plan for the future and spends much of her time doing homework and school projects. I’m suddenly realizing that we have three more Christmases with her before she’ll be off to college and her own independent life.

My middle daughter still enjoys some dolls, but mostly, she dreams of art supplies and crafting gear. Her mind is constantly spinning with creations of her own unlimited imagination. She’s thinking about pursuing art as a career, and lives for her art classes at school. She has one and a half more years of middle school, and then she’ll be in high school as well.

My youngest still dreams of dolls and toys, but even she longs for the day when she will be a famous writer, or grace the stage with a solo that leaves people breathless. Her passionate nature can sometimes get her into trouble, but she’s also the first to offer me a cup of tea or a massage when I’m having a rough day.

The clock is ticking. Last week, they were tiny babies in my arms. Yesterday, they were rosy-cheeks toddlers. Today, I see a glimpse of their futures, and I marvel at what they will become, of the ways they will change the world.

But tonight, I’ll take that extra snuggle time while we sit and watch a movie together. I’ll cheer my oldest on as she makes those homemade cookies for her youth group party. I’ll listen to those hopes and dreams and plans, and answer the seemingly endless questions and help them wade through those relentless friendship problems.

Because I know that someday, much sooner than I think, those three little ornaments will be hanging on trees of their own, and those three beautiful girls will be grown women, ready to start their own traditions, to live out their own dreams and plans.

And I’ll look back with fondness on the days when those three little ornaments were still hanging on my tree.