I want to let you in on a little secret: getting a Christmas tree is one of those things which works in our family. And by works I mean you could hire a film crew to follow us around and they would record wonderful images of fun, loving-kindness and delight of the sort which would make most of you gnash your teeth in envy and despair. Every.single.year.
In family life there are so many things we mythologize and sentimentalize and too often we parents feel depressed—even ashamed—because the experiences we try to create for our kids rarely measure up to our expectations.
And that’s just normal life, at Christmas it’s all ratcheted up about a thousand notches. Just the commercials are enough to do me in: the immaculate houses, the beautiful soft lights, the sweet and freshly bathed children creeping down stairs, with nary a dustball or dog hair in sight. I think it’s officially a red flag when you’re fantasizing about moving into a commercial.
But my family has found our little sweet spot in the midst of it all. Long ago, when the big kids were little, I suggested we visit a local Christmas tree farm and cut down our tree. I was nervous because what I was setting us up for was an experience. Up until then our acquisition of a tree had been completely utilitarian. I almost always picked up a tree at a lot, some times with Paul and the kids but mainly I did it alone.
In my family of origin, the tree getting was always an ordeal and we took the line the end justified the means. I refer to my mother as “Martha Stewart’s one-armed sister” because she truly has only one arm—but that’s another story—like Martha she makes everything astonishingly beautiful and can be a bit of a task master. Unlike Martha with her staff of minions, my mother was working at a deficit: we were her minions. Every year, we set out and she would take hours, rejecting tree after tree, until we were all sick to death of it and her. Finally she would find one which met with her approval and we’d haul it home and then the real nightmare began.
Every single year the lights had to be found and then a good hour was spent untangling them. I was a child and thought, “It shouldn’t be this hard!” I have run my own household on a wing and a prayer, but the order of my Christmas boxes would make a Nazi take notes. I don’t even want to tell you about putting the lights on the tree because you can’t handle the truth. Just know, it (the process) was not a pretty sight, but the tree was always gorgeous when our travails were finally over.
With Paul’s family of origin, everything was much more practical. If aesthetics were a consideration at all, it was minor. They bought their tree from a lot and at a certain point when he was still at home, they stopped getting a tree and it wasn’t really missed.
Given our heritages, specific to Christmas trees, and pretty much across the board, I don’t know how I had any hope we could do any better, but I did. So one snowy morning we bundled up Christopher and Lydia and headed out.
It was a Christmas dream of a farm. There was a cute little cottage decorated with garland where you paid. Christmas carols were playing at just the right volume. Around the corner there was hot chocolate and peppermint candies, the good, soft kind and across the way a fire with marshmallows to roast. Set on a hilly spot, there was a natural place for the kids to sled. Several farms dogs acted as greeters, including an enormous St. Bernard with whom we were all instantly smitten.
We piled into the back of a big truck and bumped along to the area where the particular variety I favored grew. It had snowed the day before and all the trees were covered. It was so beautiful. Just walking amongst them was a delight, but it was cold. I glanced about nervously trying to quickly find a tree but I didn’t see any tall enough, but not too tall, with pleasingly full shapes, but not stocky. I began to worry because I wanted to be cheerful and speedy…and happy.
“How about this one?” I suggested and Paul reached his hand up to the top. He’s 6’6″ so his fingertips stretch to about eight feet. It was just under, which with a star would be just right.
I wasn’t delighted but I didn’t want to be so picky. I wanted to be easy to please and how do you begin to be that other than to accept things as they are?
“Are you sure?” Paul asked, “Do you want to look some more?”
“Do you mind?”
He didn’t and the kids were happy to be out in the sunshine and the snow. In just a few minutes more we found a tree which was just right, or at least right enough. Paul cut it down, with Christopher and Lydia on their bellies watching and he dragged it to one of the stops with their help.
As we waited for the truck to pick us up, I don’t know who proposed a snowball fight but both kids joined Paul and ganged up on me. Lydia mainly hopped around in excitement and Christopher was not yet the crack shot he is today. Paul pelted me with snowballs, but marshalled his strength so they didn’t hurt. I maybe threw one. I have no aim and I couldn’t stop laughing. Finally I had to lie down in the snow.
While Paul paid and tied the tree on the car, I helped the kids roast one more marshmallow and find each of the dogs to say goodbye. Paul met us and we walked back to the car together. The kids clambered in but I touched Paul’s arm.
“We need to savor this.”
I looked him in the eye, “We have just lived a dream. All across America families are headed out with the hope of having an experience, even half as lovely as we’ve just had. This was perfect; we need to acknowledge it and be grateful.”
Every year we came back, adding Eden to our number and then Jack. There wasn’t always the perfecet snow like the first year. Some years it was mild and muddy and some it was bitter cold. Some years we went first thing in the morning, and some we were racing the sunset. But no matter what, every year, it was good.
Until one year we couldn’t come and it was very, very bad.
To be continued…