I remember walking my daughter to her first day of kindergarten when she was five. Since she felt like a big girl, she walked alone ahead of me, with her big sparkly princess backpack which she chose. I held her brother’s hand, which was tiny at the time because he was three. I remember that I could fold my hand around his little hand to get a good grip, since was a busy little guy who tended to dart away from me when I wasn’t looking.
Today my son’s hand is almost my size. My daughter still walks ahead of us but not because she’s a big girl with a shiny backpack, but because she’s a teen and we are embarrassing.
Every year my husband and I get smaller in comparison to our kids. My daughter is now 5 feet 6 inches, which is my height. My son isn’t far behind. Every year their hands are bigger and less likely to hold mine. But they still snuggle us and call us “Mommy and Daddy” which my husband and I definitely did not by their age.
Last weekend, we put up our Christmas tree, the lovely fake tree we bought 14 years ago as a temporary tree since my daughter was putting everything in her mouth and we didn’t want her eating the tree. We kept it through my son’s oral stage too. And then the tree became part of the family, since every year the kids would beg to keep it and not chop down a live tree. Even though each year more of the bottom branches have fallen off, it still looks amazing after all the ornaments are on. So every year, we get down the four dusty boxes from the attic, we unpack all the ornaments, even the fragile ones now that the kids are old enough not to break them, and take turns putting up the ornaments.
The first year that we had the fake tree, my daughter was one and my husband hoisted her up to put a few shiny ornaments on the tree and then she was done. We finished up on our own later. That went on for a few years and then by the time the kids were four and two, they wanted to decorate the tree all by themselves, which meant one very small section of the tree and that was it. (We had to shift things around after they went to sleep).
Then there was the year my son was having a terrible three’s tantrum and pulled the head off my favorite ornament from my childhood– a lady with a purple shiny dress. He pulled her head right off and threw it across the room. The preschool years meant a lot of art and homemade popcorn ornaments that graced the tree. Then there was the “let’s buy some new ornaments every year to add to the ornaments from our parents and grandparents” until the tree was bursting at the seams.
Every year, my husband and I argue about how to hang the lights and why we forgot to get new Christmas lights since the bottom rows never work and start flashing or just stop shining if you move too quickly near the tree. So we tiptoe around the tree, like it’s a sleeping giant or some old man we don’t want to wake.
Every year, we listen to our Christmas albums, which include Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby. But this year, my almost 15 year-old daughter, pulled out her phone and her play list and introduced us to R&B infused pop songs that vaguely resembled Christmas songs. Even she agreed ultimately that the music sounded more loud than festive, so we finally got to put our usual songs on.
Every year, we vow that this year, there will be no fighting when the tree goes up. In the early years it was, “It’s not fair that she got to put up more than I do.” Now it’s, “I can’t believe I had to put up so many since I have a lot of homework!” It’s easy to feel like we’re doing it wrong, and that everyone else is in a Norman Rockwell painting that has come to life, as they patiently unwrap each ornament and laugh and compliment one another.
I think what our little fake Christmas tree has seen over the years.
What really helped me to enjoy our rambunctious, slightly complaining tree decorations this time was to realize that how we show up is how we show up. The main thing is that we do. Someday soon, before we know it, our kids will have moved out, and we’ll be lucky if they help decorate the tree when they’re home from college or grad school, maybe still insisting on the same old fake tree that was part of their growing up. And maybe later their kids will decorate it so that they don’t get real tree stuck in their mouths. And then they can decorate one small part since that is what they can reach, or pull the head off the doll, or fight over who does what. And the cycle continues.
As Joni Mitchell wrote so beautifully in her song, Circle Game, which is about growing up: “…And they tell you take your time/ it won’t be long now/Til you drag your feet/just to slow the circle down.”
As you seek your world stage, relish the imperfect gatherings you have with your family- whether it’s your kids, or your parents or other relatives and friends, because the end of the ride comes too soon, and you will wish you had dragged your heels to slow the circle down.