Monday, December 14, 2009

christmas in 2-D

My memories of Christmas seem to focus in and out --- fading from one image to the next in one montage of nostalgia. I think of a house crammed with people and lots of baking smells (cinnamon rolls, oh heaven). I think of the Christmas tree in the living room, c
overed in a million faded ornaments (elves and sleds and toy boxes made of foam and plastic). I think of Christmas Eve with Aunt Chris and Uncle Clyde and their four kids - how I'd watch mom work on the dinner that afternoon, hoping that the whole thing could just get underway so we'd EAT and then OPEN A PRESENT. I think of exchanging gifts with Stacie, and how fun it was to watch her open the present I picked out just for her. I remember the one year she gave me the most brilliant wallet (a wonderful forest green with a zipper all around the outside--- and how it got STOLEN at school just a few short months later). I think of the Christmas music that we'd have playing, the familiar songs like worn flannel. I think about that whole magical feeling of wonder and hope and imagination like anything could happen in the very next moment. And I think about our annual trip to get our Christmas tree.

I grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles, so it's not like there were a plethora of choices for rustic Christmas tree farms tucked up in the mountains. Somehow, my memory has us cutting down our own tree every year. There was some kind of actual tree farm about twenty minutes away from our house. These people were able to plant and grow living breathing Christmas trees right there in the Southern California smog. My memory has us cutting down our tree in the chilly December air, strapping it to the top of our car, and then going home to eat donuts and drink hot chocolate. It's one of those memories that is all the more real for its compaction of one year's image to the next - year after year doing this same ritual. Magic.

On Saturday, we got our Christmas tree. With a great deal less fanfare and pomp than my childhood. Here's us getting into the car (coats! hats! mittens!). Here's us driving ten minutes to a
parking lot with some trees leaning up against a fence. Here's us buying our tree and strapping it to the top of the car. Here's us going grocery shopping and then driving home. The end.

As I hung ornaments on the tree later that evening, I wondered about Alice's recollections of our own little Christmas traditions. (Can we call driving to a random parking lot to buy a Christmas tree from some dude named "Bob" an actual TRADITION?) Chip was lying on the couch keeping Alice entertained (the latest casualty of The Sick is, yes, my husband). I worried that the things we do or don't do around holidays will never compare to those magical moments of my childhood. Where I had fuzzy warm evenings with hot chocolate and donuts while dad got the tree in the stand and hung the lights, Alice has her mother demanding angrily WHERE ARE THE ORNAMENT HOOK-Y THINGS--- STOP TOUCHING THAT! No matter what I do, the magic diminishes with my every over-wrought attempt to make things perfect.

I want a snapshot of Bean sitting with Santa.

I get a blurry image of a screaming toddler reaching in terror for her father (while inexplicably clutching a white plastic spoon in her Toddler Death Grip - go figure).

I want an afternoon of festive merriment listening to Bing Crosby sing Christmas songs while we joyfully unpack Christmas stockings and hang them by the fireplace.

I get a nearly comatose husband wheezing on the couch as Bean runs amok around the living room (with the occasional DON'T TOUCH THAT and PUT THAT DOWN thrown in for good measure).

I want an afternoon's adventure procuring The Perfect Christmas Tree with my family.

I get a valiant attempt at Alive and Kicking from my husband as Bob, the teenage Christmas tree vendor, stands helplessly to the side of our car holding some twine (Do you want me to, um... like... help you? Or something?)

As I wound the only two surviving strings of lights on our tree (somehow these two strings of lights survived a summertime Garage Purge from yours truly), I thought about the impossibility of living up to a perfect childhood memory. My recollections of these events are two dimensional, at best. I saw everything through the lens of a small girl--- she saw lights and fairy dust while her parents toiled heavy behind the scenes. I don't doubt that in the fat succession of Perfect Christmas Memories are just as many failures, or so my parents would tell me if I asked. I remember laughter, music, spectacular food, twinkling tree lights reflecting off shiny toys. Now that I'm a parent, I don't doubt that behind the laughter and music and food and lights are bickering and irritation and complaints and blurry-eyed exhaustion.

I understand that this is what we parents do for our children. We present even the most mundane thing in the Christmas Wrap of Wonder. We laugh when we want to cry, we smile when we want to faint, we hang lights when we'd rather be hiding underneath the bed. And then we wake up for another day and know that this season of joy can be just that, if we let it. If we try to see it in the way it is meant.


Swistle said...

I think, too, that our happy memories are from when we were a little older. Toddlers don't sit in cozy chairs watching the festivities and drinking hot chocolate, they GET INTO EVERYTHING, so things are a little different during that stage.

Shelly Overlook said...

I am much more Christmas-y since we have a kid b/c I find it is a lot of work that no one really appreciates. Plus, I also have to be the one to clean it all up after the new year.

I love your stockings!!

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more with your comments. I laughed until I (and Abram) had tears in our eyes (PUT THAT DOWN!!! DON'T TOUCH THAT!! -- both frequently heard expressions in our house lately as well). You should see our Christmas tree: now most of the ornaments are crammed at the top of the tree, out of the reach of sweet Shelby who came to me this morning, with 3 ornaments in her hand and 7 others on the floor at the base of the tree. Hey, at least she brought them to me. *sigh* I hope she sees the magic, glitter and wonder of this season and forgets mommy's crazy rantings! K8

Midnight Rambler said...

I totally agree with Swistle. My Christmas memories date back to age 6 or so. Nothing sooner. So, don't worry. You have plenty of time to instill that joy and wonder! In the meantime, take a big breath and make yourself a cup of cocoa and a donut! :)