I used to be a freaky mom. Sixteen years ago, when I had my first child, I thought I could do it all. Control it all. Be the perfect parent. I certainly had seen enough examples of what I considered ‘bad parenting’ – those kinds of adults who would make excuses for their kids, send them to school without their homework, and blame their teachers and the school for everything wrong in the world – plus some.
I waited to have a child. I had a husband, had finished college, had a career I loved, and we even bought a house. American dream, huh? And then she came along and rocked my world.
She was a summer baby. Sweet and tender and absolutely perfect. She kicked and rolled furiously for the last five months of pregnancy-I should have known it would be a battle for dominance. According to her father she was an angel; never cried, never fussed. I believe otherwise.
After six months of bliss (no sleep, aching limbs from carrying her ‘just so’, and a complete refusal to eat according to my schedule), we entered the holiday season. Our favorite time of year, really – we loved the traditions, the music, the crisp change in the air….and couldn’t wait to share it with our baby.
Enter the Christmas tree tradition. With visions of how it is supposed to be, we strapped baby into a backpack and headed out. The first problem arose when we realized that in central California, Christmas trees don’t grow the way the look in the movies. Here, our 100+ degree summers produce scraggly, misshapen and downright ugly pine trees. At least the ones we saw.
Humbled, muddy and on our last nerve, we loaded back into the car and headed for Target. The price was right, and the Christmas carols over the speaker system did add a certain festive charm. If Charlie Brown could do it, so could we. It would look better with decorations, we decided. 30 minutes later we shoved the tree in the car and headed home. Mission accomplished.
Year after year, we tried it all. Not ready to give up on our Norman Rockwell vision, we lugged both babies (eventually #2 joined the quest), confident we would ultimately find the perfect tree and the perfect tradition for our family. Each year, we managed to bring evergreen home, struggle with burned out lightbulbs, and smile with satisfaction as we gently and carefully placed each ornament of our growing collection onto our tree. We started ornament collections for each child and ourselves, adding specially chosen symbols of the previous year.
Somehow, we finally realized that Home Depot was our spot. No mud to trek through, no saws to negotiate, no tromping around with crying babies, hungry toddlers, or frustrated parents. My dreams of a traditional Christmas tree expedition had shifted just a bit. Instead of hiking in the hills, we were tossing the Nerf ball in the parking lot, unwrapping tree after tree, spinning them around and tripping over ourselves to find the perfect one. We were laughing, smiling, posing for photos and breathing in the fresh pine scent. We were just doing it on asphalt, not a mountain top. We began worrying less and less about how it happened, and more and more about the hours we would spend together once we got it home.
I realized then that so much of parenting is not about hanging on, but letting go. Step by step, we navigate the path together, no guidebook to tell us where to go or how long it will be before we get there. We plan, we prepare, and we persist in creating the dreams we’ve held since we first became parents, but we do so gently, cautiously, and oh so carefully – for it’s not the exact replication of the mind’s picture of the ‘perfect’ moment, but the creation of the moment that means the most. We might not do it the way other families do, but we do it the way our family does.
And so our tradition continues. Each year we load up in the car, blast the Christmas music on the radio and merrily sing our way to the Christmas tree lot –this year, with my newly licensed driver behind the wheel. We bundle up, pile out, and this year we agreed on the very first tree we set our eyes on. My kids smiled. They giggled. We high-fived our speedy decision-making process, headed inside to pay, and loaded back up in record time.
An added bonus? We bought lights, a gingerbread house kit and a tree, finishing in an hour-all the more time to spend together at home, where Christmas traditions really matter the most.