I remember when I was little that my mother would cry about everything. When we decorated the tree each year, she cried. (Except for the year when I was a teenager that I decorated the tree all by myself. That year, I cried, but I’ll spare you that story.) When she saw baby pictures of us, she cried. Oh, and forget the home movies. We dreaded the home movies. She was a slobbering, blubbering mess by the end of the first reel. She used to tell us to stop growing. I was never quite sure how I was supposed to do that, but I remember always feeling guilty that I was growing. I had a lot of self-imposed guilt. (Come to think of it, I still do…Might be time for some counseling.)
Anyway, I promised myself that I would not do that. It always bothered me that my mother cried, mainly because I felt like it was my fault for growing, and I couldn’t fix it. I did not want my children to feel guilty for growing.
I never used to cry when decorating the tree. It was a happy time. That was when my kids were young and little. Now, their hands are bigger than mine, and when I look at their tiny little hand prints and itty bitty foot prints, I can’t help it. I tear up. They were so sweet and cute, and they didn’t tell me no (or at least they were cute when they said it). Good times, I tell you, good times. I miss the days of simplicity. I thought mothering was so difficult back then, and I had no idea how easy it was! I love that my babies are somewhat self-sufficient, and I wouldn’t want to go back to the dependency days, but I do miss their sweet little heads that smelled so good. Now, if I sniff their heads, they just roll their eyes and walk away, and they don’t smell nearly as good as they did back then.
So, this year was going to be different. I wasn’t going to cry. We decorated the tree last night, finally. Tradition has it that I sit in the chair and pull the ornaments out of the box. I hand them to the kids, and they hang them. My kids get a new ornament every year, so the Beetle hangs his and the Goose hangs hers. They both hang the ‘family’ ornaments.
We started the evening with the Goose fully participating (as she does in every aspect of life) and the Beetle playing a game on his tablet as he absently hung the ornaments I handed him. Then, a Christmas miracle happened. He put down the tablet and became engaged. He actually looked at his ornaments and enjoyed hanging them. They argued over who got to hang a few that were just ‘family’ ornaments and weren’t assigned to anyone. Then, there was the bell that no one wanted to hang, for some unknown reason. After ten failed attempts to hand it off to either child, I threw that one back in the box.
It was going well, until I hit the part of the box that held the baby ornaments. I just handed those to them quickly and held my breath. Then came the ornament that Mr. E and I bought on the day we closed on our house. It was the only home we had ever known as a family until we had to leave it at the end of 2007. I still miss that house, and my heart is still there. I just didn’t make eye contact with that ornament and just passed it on. That was when I found the ornament that helped me get through. It’s a ceramic flower that I painted in 2008. It says, “Bloom Where You’re Planted.” That ornament is like a special message that the past-me left for the future-me, and it helps me every year. No matter where we are in life, I refuse to wilt. I will bloom, and that ornament reminds me not to feel sorry for myself.
So, with that bloomin’ ornament, I sucked it up and made it through. I made it through the handprint snowmen, the three eyed Santa that the Beetle made and the reindeer with one regular eye and one very large eye that the Goose painted. I made it through the “Expecting Baby” ornaments and the “New Baby” ornaments. I made it through the 1982 Disney ornament that our friend V gave us in 1998. I even made it through the creepy Santa that sits on the top of the tree, and I emerged from the ornament box victorious! I made it without shedding a single tear. I was so proud of myself; though my family, being my family, did not even acknowledge this great feat.
Then, it happened. The Goose was hanging our stockings, and all at once, she rushed over and hugged me. I realized quickly that she was crying, and it was all over for me. I was quickly in tears with her. I thought we were crying over the emotions that a single red and green box could hold. I thought we were crying over the memories. I said, “It’s okay, Goose. We’re okay. We still have good memories to make together.” She said, “What?” I asked her, “Aren’t we crying over the memories of Christmas?” She said, “No. I’m crying over Peanut.” Then, the laughter kicked in, at least for me. She didn’t find it funny.
You see, Peanut was a turtle we had until he was murdered earlier this year by the fish AKA The Murderer. He had a stocking, as all of our animals do, at the Goose’s insistence. (The Murderer does not and will not have a stocking. He is not our pet. He is just a feeder fish gone terribly wrong who just won’t go away.)
The Goose had found Peanut’s stocking and realized that we no longer have him. I refused then and still refuse to cry over a reptile, although I did love that little guy. Reptiles are related to snakes, so I couldn’t shed tears over him. However, I do miss seeing him wag his little tail at us. (If you don’t believe a turtle can wag its tail, you haven’t spent much time with a turtle.)
In a way, the Goose and I were crying over the same thing. So many things change in a year. So many things can happen. Turtles die. People die. People are born. Babies grow up. Kids become teenagers who become adults. Families move away. Businesses close or even burn down. The world keeps turning and changing, and the world goes on. Life is sometimes great, but most of the time, life just hurts. That Christmas box is just a reminder of all those changes that take place. Each year, opening that red and green box reminds me of how quickly life can change, and every year, I cry. Next year, I’m not even going to fight it. I’m just going to let the tears happen. They, like the wrinkles on my face, are just a reminder of what I’ve been through and how much my life has changed over the years. I may start crying in November just to be sure I get it all out. If you see me in the store next summer and I’m crying, don’t worry. I’m just getting prepared to decorate the Christmas tree. -Al