Traditions & Decisions & Real Christmas Trees

My family and I are “live Christmas tree” people. We love the difficulty getting it in the front door, vacuuming pine needles literally all year long, the daily shouts of, “Did anybody water the tree?”

Okay, maybe those aren’t the reasons we love live trees, but clearly the positives outweigh the negatives, because as long as my husband and I have been together (and it’s been a looooooong time), we’ve had live trees for Christmas. In fact, we traipse out into the wilderness (okay, a tree farm) and wander about, inspecting needles (not too sharp), branches (not too weak), trunks (not so gnarled it won’t fit in the stand), looking for holes, gaps (that can’t be filled by lights and ornaments); searching for the perfect temporary addition to our rather small living room, which also happens to have low ceilings. A challenge, to say the least. But we’ve always been up for it.

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Once we had kids, they joined our annual excursions. Occasionally willingly, sometimes, not so much, but that’s kids for you, right? Eventually, my daughter became opinionated enough (who am I kidding? She’s been opinionated since she was born) to want to have a say in which tree we selected, which of course lengthened the visits to the tree farm. But hey, that’s what it’s all about. The experience.

And then the kids were big enough to be able to take the hack saw to the tree trunks themselves. The first year my daughter wanted to give it a try, there was a fight with shoving and harsh words and crying because they both wanted to be the one to take that final swipe that would send the tree tumbling to the snowy ground.

Last year, my son did the entire thing himself. Laid down on the ground and sawed away, with my husband standing over him, until it was almost there, and then my daughter yelled, “Timbeeerrrrrrrrr!”

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And now he’s gone.

So what do we do this year? I’ve been mulling over this; okay, stressing over it, for months. I’ve mentioned this in past posts, but I handle things (like life) better when situations are different from the way they were when my son was alive. I recall when we went to Dallas to visit my best friend over spring break, only a few weeks after his death. It’s an annual road trip we’ve made every year since we moved back to Michigan in 2001. This year, we deliberately planned several fun excursions that we’d never done before. It was great. I got to spend loads of time with my BFF; my daughter got to be our entire focus; and I could pretend my life hadn’t just fallen apart at the seams, at least for a little while.

And then we stopped at the grocery store, tried to figure out what we wanted to do for dinner. We decided to do a “raw bar:” cut veggies and fruit, a variety of cheeses and crackers and summer sausage, and of course, lots of wine. Something my family did on the regular. Usually a Friday evening tradition, where we gathered around the coffee table with the kids, turned it into a picnic, and watched a movie together.

And I stood next to the gourmet cheese display in Whole Foods and cried for the son I’d lost, the memories that I love and hate with equal passion.

I had a similar experience in May, when we took my daughter to Florida for an impromptu long weekend, something we’ve never done before. Her first time in an airplane, her first time going to Sea World, swimming in the ocean. It was so fun, so relaxing, so nice to, once again, forget about the hell that had become my reality… Until we arrived home and I walked in the backdoor and his pictures were still there, his coat was still hanging on the hook, his bedroom remained untouched … and I remembered that he was gone, forever.

On and on, I’ve had countless experiences like this since his death in March. Now we’ve entered that time of year when holidays and tradition go hand in hand, and I am one of those people who loves, loves, loves traditions. I hate the idea of giving up the traditions we’ve started as a family, and yet I hate the idea of continuing them without my son.

And I don’t want an artificial tree.

The solution to this specific dilemma came from my brother and sister-in-law. They have always had an artificial tree, because my niece had childhood asthma, a result of having been born prematurely. But she’s eleven now, and has outgrown the barrier they’ve had to having a real tree for Christmas.

They suggested we go chop down our Christmas trees together. My daughter will be thrilled, because any time she can spend with her cousins is a win in her book. My husband has wanted to try a new place anyway. And I’ll get to keep the best part of the tradition, while at the same time creating a new one, one that hopefully won’t make me cry.

At least, until we open the boxes of ornaments. But that’s a blog post for another day.

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