Last year, when I packed up our Christmas tree, it was with a huge sigh of relief. It was over. I was glad. I couldn’t shove the giant cardboard box labeled “Christmas Decorations” into the attic fast enough, as I literally closed the door and collapsed against it in a puddle of exhaustion. We had a new baby last year—three kids under the age of 5, two jobs, health issues, and several branches of the family to juggle, in addition to all the baking and buying and wrapping and general merriment required of the holidays. I was cooked. I was done with the whole thing, actually looking forward to the long, cold, isolated winter ahead.
I’ve been reluctant to pack up the tree this year. Maybe it’s because we’re sleeping through the night now sort of … sometimes. But, there it stands, still, a week after the New Year. Though we bought it waaay too early and left it unwatered for a week during a roadtrip from the East Coast to the Midwest, we came home to a still-perky, still-green Christmas tree, waiting for us, just as we’d left it.
I know it’s really time to pack it up now — the city’s curbside Christmas tree collection is coming up this week on our regularly scheduled garbage day. (I hate to call it “garbage,” because we always get a live tree. As much as the annual expense and the environmental implications bother us, the thought of a fake, plastic Christmas tree bothers us more. It wouldn’t be Christmas without the smell of a real pine tree in our house — the holiday is already too plastic to have a plastic tree. Hopefully it’ll be recycled somehow — turned into mulch or something useful?) Anyway, the point is: the ornaments. I don’t want to pack them up. At least, not yet. Because after I put the kids to bed, I sit down to relax in the living room in the warm glow of the Christmas tree lights, and as I scan all of the random ornaments on our tree, I can’t help but be reminded of how Will and I got to this place — how our tree, and our lives, have become so utterly (overwhelmingly?) full:
There’s the naked couple holding hands from the year we got engaged, a “Happy Nude Year” banner covering their loins. There’s the bride-and-groom-on-the-wedding-cake ornament; the crystal baby bottle ornament from the year we were pregnant with Julia; the picture of Charlie during his first year of preschool, framed in glued-together popsicle sticks that he colored with markers and decorated with sea shells; the felt snowman that Julia made in 1st grade, with Julia written across the bottom “in cursive, Mama!” There’s the pink teddy bear ornament my mother made when I was born, and the old-fashioned wooden sled ornament that my grandfather made in his workshop, his tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth as he painted it red, just as Charlie does whenever he paints with his water colors. All of the fragile ornaments are at the top of the tree, carefully hung by Julia, where the baby can’t reach them. The soft, fuzzy ornaments are at the bottom, happily/haphazardly hung by Charlie.
In the middle of the tree sits the sand castle ornament—my favorite—that Will and I bought together on a weekend at the shore, when the thought that we would one day be married with kids was still an unspoken hope. It has little windows that light up when you string the Christmas tree lights through it, and looking at it always makes me feel the way I felt that weekend — like coming home. Smack dab in the middle is a laughing Buddha ornament, clutching his coffee cup in one and his cell phone in the other — a gag gift from a friend years ago, who may not have known how much it would one day resonate in our current kid-filled lives. As I clutch my cell phone in one hand and my caffeine fix in the other, hurrying the kids out the door to school, juggling the baby on my hip, I remind myself again and again to try to just be content in this very moment, in the utter chaotic, caffeinated craziness of these days with small kids.
But really, with the kids back to school this week after the long holiday break, I am once again slumping against a closed door in the mornings with an audible sigh of relief, looking forward to the long, cold, winter months ahead, where I am sure that there will be moments of utter, quiet isolation, with absolutely noooothing to do, and days that our houseful of kids will no doubt fill with the magic of the mundane.