Kids grow up, get married, and start families of their own. It’s at this point, or maybe it actually happens earlier – during the growing up bit, that kids start to become detached from their parents. Phone conversations become more and more infrequent, y’all see each other even less. It’s kinda understandable, but no less tragic.
Two people who invest so much in you as youngsters – time, money, energy, worry and love – drive you to soccer games scheduled way too far away from home, drop you off at the movies with your friends (and even return to pick you up despite not getting a “thank you” two hours prior) and “loan” you more money than they probably should, knowing full-well the odds are stacked against them ever seeing it paid back. Family dinners, always hot (although never the mashed potatoes) and mostly delicious, quarters for the arcade, packs of baseball cards (then) – pay the deposit on your first new car, paint the living room of your first house, wash/dry/rehang your curtains, trim unruly azaleas (more recently) – never show up empty handed when visiting your kids or refuse to host them for a sleepover so that you and your wife can head to the city to see your favorite band or go out to dinner as a couple (now).
In a perfect world, we’d never stray very far from those two people, but as is often the case, the world is far from flawless.
It’s why my family’s Christmas tradition is so special to my parents, myself, my two older brothers and, I hope, to our wives and all of our kids. Every year we assemble as a family at my parents’ home to watch football, enjoy my mother’s homemade turkey soup (made with turkey leftover from Thanksgiving) and, ultimately, to decorate their Christmas tree.
I’m not sure how many adult kids help to decorate their (able-bodied) parents’ tree each year, but we do and it’s one of the best days of the holiday season. We all have our jobs on this day. The middle son strings the lights. I, the youngest but tallest, am in charge of the star, a task that now primarily involves me lifting one of the lucky grandchildren up high and hoping we don’t fall into the tree together. My oldest brother, well, no one is quite sure what his job is on this day. I think it’s been years since he actually hung an ornament in their house. If I remember correctly, he used to hang just one each year, but I’m not sure he does that anymore. If so, it happens fast when no one is around.
Really though, the bulk of the work has been handed down to the seven grandkids. They now carry on the tradition of selecting the best branches to hang the shiny maroon and gold balls, fancy ribbons and teddy bear ornaments.
I’m not sure what the future will hold for this Christmas tradition or for us as a family, but I’m thankful for every year we still can all be together decorating a fresh Douglas fir in my parent’s living room. This year, thanks to a tripod I didn’t know we owned and a wife who figured out how to use the timer feature on our camera, we managed to pull off a family portrait in front of the tree that’s barely visible behind us – which is appropriate because as much as this Christmas tradition is about decorating that tree, what it’s really about is all of us spending a day together, being merry and showing our young kids (a.k.a., the next generation of moms and dads) what it means to love and to be a real family. The tree is just a symbol, the excuse to make all this happen.
A version of this first appeared on Out with the Kids.