Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Family Traditions

jack o' lanterns

Pumpkin carving went shockingly well yesterday. Of course, neither kid would touch the inside of a pumpkin and wasn't permitted sharp objects, so I had to do the hard labor. My son was reading a book while I worked, while my daughter drew on the newspaper with the Sharpie and demanded I work on her pumpkin only. Every few minutes, she would wander over to the computer to learn the title of the song playing on Pandora's Halloween Party Radio and would close the Internet browser, requiring me to put down the carving tools, wash my hands, and restart the whole process. But no one got angry, not even me. We're making progress.

Family traditions are important, and none get me more excited than holiday traditions; carving pumpkins and decorating the Christmas tree are high on my list of things we should do together to form warm, happy family memories for my kids. These memories likely will omit my husband because he learned years ago that the greater my holiday exuberance, the faster he should retreat to his office because someone is bound to start yelling.

When we first moved to New England, I was ecstatic to discover we had Christmas tree farms nearby. What could be more spectacular than wandering the farm with the whole family, choosing your tree, watching someone cut it down, and then taking it home for decorating? For one, cold;  a tree farm in December in New England can be bitterly cold. Then we learned that my husband and I are complete idiots when it comes to choosing a tree, having absolutely no ability to accurately gauge the size of a tree while it's in the ground. We chose gargantuan trees that tipped over more than once until I learned to tie the tree to the molding with eye hooks and fishing line. I'm nothing if not a problem solver.

fallen Christmas tree

I'll allow you to use your imagination about how harmoniously a married couple can work together to put a tree this size in the stand. (Hint: not well.)

Christmas tree

Even if they look good and stay upright for most of the time, the trees we tend to choose are so large that we can't get them out of the house when Christmas is over without aggressive pruning. Luckily, I received a set of loppers as a gift the year of this tree.

pruned Christmas tree

We finally learned our lesson. Two years ago, we found a garden store five minutes away that will deliver your tree and put it in the stand for you. No more tree farm for this family. It's important to recognize your limitations.

I've similarly learned to lower my expectations and set aside my "just-so" ways when it comes to decorating the tree and and putting up decorations. I know the kids will only remain interested long enough to aggravate me while I try to put on the lights, then they will hang 2-3 ornaments, break something fragile, and move on to more interesting things. I allow them to put the Christmas decorations around the house as they see fit, and only move them to where (I believe) they belong after the kids are asleep.

Historically, carving pumpkins has been that way. The kids and I get very excited, my husband flees, the kids get bored, and I get frustrated. Someone yells. Usually me. This year, we all were more patient. When my son drew an elaborate three-eyed monster with a pig nose and forty tiny pointed teeth, he knew I wasn't going to be able to reproduce it in jack o' lantern form and was quite complimentary of the results.

Maybe we are all getting a little wiser and more patient as we get older. Either way, I hope my children's memories will be as rose-colored as mine are about my childhood, remembering only the effort I made, our time spent together, and the creation of family traditions that didn't involve yelling.

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