A few weeks ago we headed out to hunt for our perfect Christmas tree. It was sunny and warm (normally I am not a big fan of the snow … but I find myself missing it this season) with a brisk wind. We never look for a traditional shaped tree, we like them tall and slim, with lots of shelves for ornaments to hang on. We don’t like them trimmed to the “perfect” Christmas tree shape, preferring a natural chaos … limbs sticking out here and there. The hunt usually takes several hours — and we have been known to abandon tree farms that don’t have what we want — sometimes visiting three or four before we hit pay dirt.
Aiden’s requirement is that the tree farm have hot chocolate, horses are a plus … he wants to see and hear and feel Christmas. Jackson usually picks a Charlie Brown tree that pulls at my heart strings. Coop is usually impatient — impulsive being that he is, he wants to find the perfect tree and get it done. Eric and I – we just want to be together. The five of us, walking and talking, arguing some for certain. But together.
We have done just that eighteen times. This year, it was different. It was the first Christmas that there were four tree hunters … not five. Cooper had to work on the only day it fit to get a tree, and frankly my Christmas loving boy (Aiden) had waited nine days of me continually saying … maybe tomorrow it will work. So … we went for it. The fun part was Cooper was working … at a Christmas tree farm.
When we got there my heart was a little heavy. I have been keen to pay attention to our “lasts” this year. Last first day of school, last first football game of the season, last home football game of the season … watching and feeling and marking time as this “last” year slips through our hands. This was our last Christmas Tree Hunt and we were doing it without my oldest boy.
When we drove up and I saw my son, smiling and talking with a customer, shaking and wrapping the result of their Christmas tree hunt, I felt my heart lift. This may be the last Christmas that we have as a family all living under one roof – but it is the beginning of a lot of firsts. Firsts that, although it hurts to give up the lasts, are exciting and sweet all the same.
He was working, earning his own money, chatting with people and laughing. He looked happy. He was happy. I decided … really decided … to be happy, too. Holding the two boys hands I had with me, we set off in search of our “perfect” tree. I missed Coop, but I knew he was there, laughing and smiling, covered in tree sap and needles, helping other families build their memories.
Every Christmas I have picked out a Christmas story that echoed our year as a family, a lesson we learned or even a Christmas book with characters from a bedtime story we have read a thousand times. I wrap it up and the boys open it on Christmas Eve, along with new pjs, and we snuggle in bed and read our new story before they try and go to sleep. We have sixteen years worth of books now. We read one a night on the evenings leading up to Christmas … I have read quite a few so far this year … and every time it has been just Aiden and I snuggled in his bed with the lights of his little tree in the corner keeping us company the older boys busy with homework or not home. When I started buying the Christmas books, it never occurred to me that I would come to a point where I would … stop buying them Christmas books. What do I do with our family traditions as our family changes? How do I give them up?
The only thing I am sure of is that I will lighten up on counting the “lasts”. Near the end of the football season a very dear friend of mine who had a daughter graduate last year said to me that while it may be the last time he plays on his home field and the last time he plays high school football is imminent – he is coming to a new round of firsts. The first day of college, the first day he lives away from home, the first times are coming … it’s not just about the lasts. I am keeping that close to my heart this season. Savoring the lasts as the first are unveiled, bit by bit I can see a new shape of my family.
Eric went shopping with me this year to buy their Christmas Book – he has in the past but hasn’t offered much input. I am the book lover, this is my tradition, and honestly I never asked for his opinion. This year standing in Schuler’s I was a bit disappointed with my choices. Beautiful books, but nothing that struck a chord or felt right. Eric walked up behind me with a lovely copy of Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol”. “Let’s get this one.” he said. “Yes, let’s get this one.” I answered. Our family tradition was already changing, on its own, bending and twisting with the times. I have begun to see it’s the memory and the purpose of the tradition that’s important — being together — instead of the repetition of the exact same journey. I don’t need to give anything up, if I am willing to let life happen and bring to me a new journey of firsts.