Thursday, December 19, 2013

O Christmas Tree

Last Saturday morning I was busy rearranging bins and boxes in our basement (supposedly cleaning out, but mostly moving around) when I realized that we didn’t have a Christmas tree yet. Christmas was just two weeks away and the Christmas decorations were still snug in their boxes. How had Christmas slipped up on me like that? And more to the point, why hadn’t one of my three kids said anything?

For the very first time, no one wondered where the advent calendar was, never mind the brawl that normally followed in the debate over who got to hang the first ornament. The tiny, ugly fake tree that was the “pet’s tree” was still where I’d tossed it last January on top of the furnace. The wooden crèche scene I had managed to bring upstairs earlier that week sat on the side board in the kitchen, all the wooden shepherds and kings and lambs still in a pile in the back of the stable. No one had bothered to assemble the scene (or rearranged it because their sibling had gotten to it first). The nesting dolls and nutcrackers and Countdown to Christmas chalkboard had yet to be unpacked from the box I’d lugged upstairs a week ago.

For a very long moment, I wondered if decorating this year was even necessary. I mean, after all, I’d just be taking it all down again in two weeks. Sighing, I shoved the boxes back from whence they came, grabbed one of the big bins of ornaments and hot-footed it upstairs yelling, “Hey, it’s time to go get a tree!”

My husband looked up from his coffee and said, “Oh yeah!” in a way that suggested that he had not forgotten but hoped I might. But he quickly jumped on board and went to find his gloves and saw and the youngest child still outside in the snow. I texted the middle child at the house where she’d spent the night and was most likely still in jammies parked in front of some type of screen. She texted back, “Do I have to?” I responded “Absolutely. Be there in 10.”

The oldest, oddly enough, leapt from his computer with nary a complaint and grabbed his coat. In less than twenty minutes from my moment of discovery, we were all bundled up in the car and headed for the Christmas Tree farm where we go each year to choose and cut our tree and then to pose with the fake bear (not sure why the bear is part of the tradition, but it is).

I braced myself for complaints, but the only ones muttered were half-hearted and when we parked the car, everyone trooped out into the snow in search of a tree. Amazingly (or not) we found one in five minutes and there was no great debate about its worthiness. The youngest selected the tree and no one protested solely on the grounds that he or she wasn’t the one to find it (as has been another of our traditions in the past). I forced a picture and then while my hubby climbed under the tree with his saw, the kids wandered off laughing and teasing each other.

After the requisite picture with the bear and the bundling of the tree, we headed home. It was less than one hour from my first cry until there was a tree standing in my living room. Decorating it was also a new experience for us. No fight over who put on the star (I distinctly remember a yelling match last year over this privilege), no claims of first dibs on the birds (clip-on realistic birds that are the sought after ornaments to hang each year), no one even weighed in on which side of the tree should face out.

I put on Christmas carols and my husband tuned in the game and we set to decorating the tree – alone. At our request for help, the youngest came in and hung exactly four ornaments before disappearing again. My daughter looked up at me from her computer and said, “Seriously?” in a tone reserved for teenage girls. The oldest joined us about mid-way through the process. He was a big help and I enjoyed his company, but I did wonder if his help was more out of sympathy than nostalgia.

All in all, it was a peaceful and productive day, nothing like the Christmas tree fetching days of past. We’re evolving as a family. On the way home from the Tree Farm, we laughed about some of our past experiences securing a tree. At the time, I couldn’t have imagined it ever being funny. I remember one December when one of my cherubs was so angry a chorus of “You are so stupid and I hate you!” rang across the little valley of trees and another year when I dragged a furious, disobedient child to the car and left in misery wondering why we even bothered with this awful tradition. But those memories come in much different colors for my kids. They remember fighting with each other over who got to choose the tree and they remember it taking a long time, but they don’t remember it as a bad experience, necessarily.

I wish I could have been given a glimpse of this past Saturday ten years ago when I carried a grumpy toddler on one hip and dragged a protesting preschooler by the arm behind my husband and elementary age son up and down the rows looking for the perfect tree and answering every protest with a falsely cheerful voice, “Because it’s fun!” when it was so painfully not.

Sometimes it seems easier to skip the work of memory making. Traditions can seem silly and pointless when they appear to go unappreciated by our children. But sitting in front of the tree late that night, sipping my wine, I realized that dragging our kids out to claim our tree each year was about much more than a Christmas tree. It was about building a memory. More importantly, it was about building a family.

A few of my favorite Christmas Tree Fetching pictures:

The kids are always very helpful....
 Or at the very least, entertaining....
 The beloved bear biting off a hand...
 And a head....

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