One of the most challenging experiences I have in my daily life is to stay focused on the present moment. It is so easy for my mind to skip forward to the future or lapse into stale memories. Although I’d like to think I’m older and wiser, I have found children are much better at enjoying (or being grumpy about) what is happening right now. If you don’t believe me, try convincing an infant to wait two hours to be fed
or a three-year old with a full bladder he or she can wait until you get home to pee.
However, the one occasion where children DO put their minds into the future is Christmas time. Who doesn’t remember being a kid and anxiously counting the days until the holidays? Unfortunately, as I have aged, and in spite of every retailer putting up holiday decorations on display in September, the holidays have a way of sneaking up on me. Last year I didn’t trim the tree until Dec. 20th!
Fortunately, I learned from my mistake. This year, I decided to put up my Christmas tree up before I polished off my Thanksgiving leftovers.
My Tannebaum is a straggly old, plastic thing but I love it. After my divorce I got rid of a lot of things I didn’t want to move. My old tree went to Goodwill. For a few years I did not put up a Chanukah bush. Between limited finances and lack of holiday cheer, I could not face the idea of putting up a tree by myself. My marriage was over, I lost my job and my future prospects were looking pretty shabby. My oldest daughter, Alicia was newly married, so I went through the ornaments and gave her many of her hand-made decorations, as well as colorful balls that said things like Baby’s First Christmas 1980.
I eventually remarried, but my new spouse, CB, did not want a tree in the house. I put out a bowl of ornaments and placed a couple of holiday items in the music room. I complied with the request to go treeless for a year or two, but finally decided that enough was enough. This Boo Jew (a semi-kosher gal who converted to Buddhism in the 1980s) decided to take a stand and buy a tree to put it on. I decorated the tree alone. Eventually I convinced CB to place one ornament, a trumpet, on the tree.
However, as soon as my first grandchild was born (five years ago) I made sure I would have company when I celebrated the holidays. Little Rosannah was only a few weeks old for her first tree-decorating experience. I spread out a blanket and put her on it as I engaged in my tree trimming festivities. She seemed to enjoy the colorful lights and didn’t cry when I sang holiday tunes.
The next year Rosannah was a little more active and I had to work hard to keep her from eating the ornaments. But, with her company (although not her help) I got the job done. The following year a new granddaughter was a part of the mix. Putting the tree up and watching them was a real challenge, but I got it done.
This year Rosannah and Briannah are 5 and 3 years old. Rosannah helped put the tree stand together and placed the branches into their slots. Briannah was mostly focused on one ornament that she kept trying to hang before the tree was ready. However, both girls enjoyed looking at a lifetime’s worth of memories disguised as wooden reindeers, Santa Clauses and stockings.
After Briannah hung up her favorite ornament she became obsessed with the candy canes. I can’t even tell you what decade it was when we got those sugary sticks. However, I DO remember my youngest daughter, Brittany, was in junior high and was supposed to sell the red and white stripped peppermints to earn money for her school orchestra. Unfortunately, our dog, Rusty, ate a box and licked a bunch of other ones. The candy canes have been part of our holiday decorations ever since that incident.
After an hour or so the tree was up, the lights strung and my two granddaughter had placed numerous decorations on the tree. Unlike when I was growing up, I didn’t enforce any decorating rules. In my youth we weren’t supposed to put two of the same color balls next to each other, and, when possible, we tried to color coordinate the hue of the ball with the nearest light. Green ornament next to the green light, red ball by the red light etc. Candy canes were distributed evenly. Briannah decided they should all be placed together in a sort of candy cane family clump. Needless to say, all the decoration were on the bottom half of the tree.
Years ago, that decorating scheme would have bothered my sensibilities, but now I enjoy seeing their handiwork. I also admire how they appreciated each item. They didn’t reminisce about holidays past, they were perfectly happy to take part in the present activity.
It made me pause and think of how much I can learn from my grandchildren. I have an advantage of age and experience, but they are experts at living in the moment. And it’s truly a gift to have these adorable girls in my life.
To all of you reading this story, I hope you have a great holiday. My wish for you is to be kind to yourself and others, release past hurts and embrace the season as if you were a child again. Happy Holidays!