Monday, January 4, 2010

Undecorating the Tree

Taking down the tree for me this year has been a strange experience.

I’m the type of Christmas decorator that loves to break out the boxes of ornaments and doodads on Thanksgiving weekend, filling my house with more than enough festivity. I love everything Christmas, everything sparkly…and it can be dollar store or from Macy’s, it makes no difference to me. I leave it all up, including a clock that plays carols every hour, until New Year’s. Then I begrudgingly take it down, glad to have the house clean and uncluttered, but sad to see it all go.

Not so this year.

It was a crazy year for the holidays. Not only had I started a new job, but it was one that required a great deal of time and energy through the holidays to prepare for big events on the job. Two weeks before wrestling season began, Addy the Musician decided to wrestle after all. (Mothers of wrestlers – and daughters of coaches – know that you MUST be prepared for the holidays before Thanksgiving in order to survive, as you spend most of December, January, and February at Tournaments and matches!)

It was more than that, though, as this year was so much harder than even last year in terms of the economy. Even though I am back to work, I have added expenses that have rendered my income LESS than what I was making last year on unemployment. More importantly, I see the signs everywhere that folks are struggling. Business has been sparse and sporadic, and no one knows what will happen next. It is impossible to predict business in any industry, as this is uncharted territory. As such, hours have been cut, budgets slashed in an effort to stay alive through the recession. Many businesses have failed in our area, and others are barely holding on.

It is changing life as we know it. This may seem simple, but I can illustrate my point with scrapbooking magazines. I’ve always subscribed to all of the different magazines, from Creating Keepsakes to Memory Makers and Simple Scrapbooks, Scrapbooks, etc. and anything else that hit the shelves. I love the ideas and inspiration, as well as the creative process. In the last year, most of these magazines have folded. Only the major ones remain, and who knows how long that will last? I have never seen so many cars for sale alongside the road. Even if you had money to spend on Christmas, the stores had bare shelves and limited stock on what they did have. The list goes on and on.

My own family is changing, too. With Tux turning 19 and attending community college, Addy in High School, and Todd in private preschool at his daycare, we are all going different directions. They are all growing up so fast, it’s hard to believe, and I’m not ready for my babies to be all growed up. Tux is straining at the apron strings. I’m not ready to untie him yet. Addy is thinking that he, too, can exert his independence in many ways…some of which are not age appropriate. Todd is the usual toddler, and having been raised with teenage brothers, he can hold his own in an argument – and usually does.

This changing landscape at home was more difficult during the holidays, as they no longer delight in all that is Christmas. Oh, sure, they want the gifts, and everyone sucked up to Santa throughout the month to ensure said gifts. But they didn’t enjoy the décor, or the joy of the holiday. I heard them complain constantly about my clock…which usually brings me joy. This year, I’m not sure if I left it up just hoping that it would spark that spirit in my heart, or if I just wanted to prove that I was still in control by leaving it up.  They refused to watch Christmas movies or specials, and I didn’t even try to fill the house with the usual carols.

We have had a longstanding tradition of driving to see the Christmas lights, and bellowing, “HO HO HO!” at the most beautifully decorated houses. Ones that are trying, but not quite there get a “HO HO”, and those that are pitiful receive something along the lines of “Ha ha ho” or simply an unenthusiastic “Ho”. Tux has endured it since he was six, but this year, he simply refused. Addy was too busy. It was nice that Todd got into it, however, so we did get a couple of good nights.

The tree, the lights, the ornaments, the Santa figures, the nativities…all wasted on the boys. They could have cared less.

Perhaps this is normal, particularly in an all male household. I tried to tell myself that as I decorated, but three weeks later when it was time to take it down, I wondered why I had bothered. It wasn’t as if I had a great deal of time to devote to it, but I had because I felt that I needed to be ‘that kind of mother’.

I imagine myself as the defender of our traditions. The keeper of our memories and joys. Each ornament has a story, a special place in our history. The “windows on the World” ornaments that began with “Feliz Navidad”, because I was taking Spanish in high school that year. The god’s eye that I made in first grade. The scratched up bulbs that were on my parent’s first Christmas tree some 45 years ago.

Each ornament has it’s own storage box, labeled with a description so that each is returned to it’s own place. I provide years and givers if they were gifts. I look forward to the night that we decorate each year…a Christmas movie playing on the TV (Usually “Christmas Vacation”), drinking egg nog, and talking about each ornament and favorite memories associated with it. I decorated alone this year.

I took it down tonight by myself. The family did come out to watch “National Treasure”, which I put in. That was a nice surprise, as they are usually so busy with their own activities. But I was the only one to admire the stunning ornaments like the Christopher Radko Mickey Mouse, the hand painted baby Jesus on a golden ball. The only one to reminisce about the candy cane that Tux made at his very first cub scout activity, or the gingerbread man that is dressed like Elvis that Addy made at school. To recall the time that Hubby whisked me off for a surprise visit to Las Vegas the beginning of December, and the Excalibur ornament that I bought to commemorate it. To ponder the true meaning of the season looking at the kneeling Santa before the manger.

And yet, some of those memories were painful, too. I found ornaments that were made during times of my life when I thought that I had good friends - nearly family - only to find out that I meant nothing to them when the bumps came along. I found myself trying to decide if I should keep them, or if they were just too much to hold on to. I've moved on, and I have a new life, one that does not include these toxic people in it, and I'm happy now. Did I want to keep those reminders of those that had hurt me so deeply? I eventually decided to keep them - one more year. To allow myself to really heal and evaluate them a bit more objectively. They didn't make the cut to the tree this year, but I wasn't quite ready to throw out so many years of my life forever, either.

I’d always thought that these things would be cherished as I cherish them. Not just the ornaments, but the memories. I thought that it would be something that I lovingly passed down to my sons and their families as they grew up. That they would look forward to sharing this each year. That even when I was old and grey, I would still decorate the tree with my grandchildren, and share these special times.

My mom didn’t even put one ornament on her tree this year. We usually do Christmas morning at my house, and dinner at hers. This year, we would be eating dinner at the Fire Station, where my dad was on duty. She just didn’t see the point. She put up half of the ten foot tree – which left it a bit misshapen and short – with simple strings of lights and called it good. No Christmas village. Just the sad tree.

She may not have missed putting up her decorations, but I did. Her ornaments are as special to me as my own, as I see my past hanging on the branches. I see my history, my memories, my childhood. Will I give up, too, when I get to that stage of my life?

It was especially poignant to me, as the older boys are balking at some of the other things that I have tried to teach them throughout the years. Not only our faith, but matters of family and personal growth. I am seeing that I am not going to accomplish all that I had planned as a mother. Yes, yes, I realize that they have their own free agency, and NO child is going to live up to the ideal that we set for our goal. (heaven knows, I have disappointed my parents plenty!) Faced with raising another child, I am torn between providing the same level of parenting that I did the first time around for Todd…or should I simply relax and not try so hard to be the perfect mother? Will it hurt less if he doesn’t become the man that I was hoping to raise, if I don’t put that much into it? Will my children even look back once they have left the nest? I know that every mother worries about these things…at least, I believe that they do.

I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be normal. I’ve had a depressed mind for most of my life, as near as I can tell, and I wonder if I am the only one that pines for such sentimental things as I do. Am I the only one that mourns the end of an era? That notices when the details are being lost in the shuffle, and the effort is no longer there?

Right now, I’m chalking it up to fatigue (work has really been draining this last two weeks), and the usual blues that come after the holidays. I’m blaming it on the weather. I’m throwing it out with the last year, ready to go into 2010 with a brighter outlook. But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t bid a more heavy hearted farewell to each ornament, wondering if I would want to bring them all out again next year.

I think that I’ll finish cleaning up and allow myself those moments of melancholy…just for tonight. Tomorrow is a new day, and I’ll rejoice in the fact that the clock is silent and so are the complaints, the family room is now 9 sq feet bigger, and my shelves and tables have all been cleaned and shined before returning their regular décor.

I will no longer have to check the nativities to make sure that the animals are not wandering off (thanks to the teenage boys) or that the Santas are standing up and not dead after Todd shooting them with a Nerf gun. And if nothing else, it gave me a good excuse to write for a minute… something that I’ve missed terribly and enjoy very much.

It’s all in perspective.

Here’s to 2010!

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