When our kids were still running around in those great footie pajamas and giggling at any escape of a bodily noise, Ann worked hard to make a wonderful Christmas, both on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning.
You know, the kind of Christmas that small children lay awake all night for, waiting in anticipation, until at 3:00 a.m. they can’t stand it any longer and begin the bouncing on top of a sleeping Mom and Dad, who have only very recently themselves pulled the covers up over their heads.
Alex especially loved to unwrap packages. Looking back, we think that she probably helped Nick unwrap the majority of his as well.
But grumpy and OCD Dad had a hard time enjoying the magic of the morning while seeing all the giftwrap spread around, those bows and ribbons that were still perfectly good and needed to be saved for use again next year, and just the general chaos of it all.
Just imagine a manic perfectionist dad with OCD who sees EVERY detail and has a definite opinion of just EXACTLY how it should be – combined with a mom trying to make the season magical for two young bright-eyed children who loved mixing and matching things that just shouldn’t be mixed or matched – EVER.
Looking back, quite probably all the things that make Christmas so much fun for small children were all the things that could set me off.
It didn’t take long until putting up the holiday decorations was something that we all just “got through” rather than enjoyed.
Fast forward to the year that I lost my job and money was tight.
The kids refer to this as our great depression.
This was when we chose to make a pretty significant change in the way we celebrate the holiday. New traditions of family gifts consisting of books, games, music, movies, and trips to restaurants replaced actual wrapped presents under the tree.
We begin our celebration Thanksgiving weekend with a treasure hunt in the house to reveal a small box with some games and books and things. We then work hard to enjoy every evening and weekend together through New Year’s Day.
None of us have any regrets. We’d do it again, given the chance.
Fast forward again to when a grumpy and OCD Dad got grumpier and more OCD and manic and comatose. All superfluous activity was abandoned, including all Christmas decorations.
This all happened around the time that my hair also disappeared. The kids refer to this as our great recession.
There is something pretty precious about having adult children who have the confidence and the love to let Mom and Dad know when they are being, well, like old fuddie duddies.
I treasure the feedback I get from Alex and Nick. I try to listen carefully and then to step out of myself (which is easier than one would think when one actually recognizes some of the voices in one’s head), and really look carefully at what others see when they look at me.
As Christmas approached this year, and we were Skyping and making plans, I once again asked if anyone cared if I didn’t put up all the decorations.
They were, of course, fine with it.
And I realized how sad that was.
So, my little squirrels began to spin and a plan emerged.
But just the trees, no decorations.
Nick had asked if we could have our treasure hunt the day we picked Al up from the airport. After a missed flight and delayed arrival times, Alex finally got home a day late.
We weren’t on schedule. But after a thousand deep breaths, that was okay.
When we finally got everyone in the family room I brought up all the boxes of tree ornaments and Christmas decorations. We turned on some Christmas music and the kids went to work on their tree (which was actually placed upstairs in the same room with Ann’s fancy tree – nobody saw that one coming) and Ann pulled out the first item from her box.
Nick began to laugh as I said “Oh, that’s for the top” and as Ann reached out toward the tree I couldn’t resist “Here, let me put it up for you.”
Looked like you can’t teach the old dog new tricks.
But this old dog still wants to learn.
I smiled at Ann and then sat on the couch, listened to the kids laugh about each of the ornaments they had bought over the years, watched Ann throw herself into her tree when she finally realized that I wasn’t going to take over, and pondered how incredibly blessed I am.
Our treasure hunt this year was actually just an invitation to come out and see the wrapped packages Ann and I had quickly placed under the newly decorated tree.
Would Ann, Alex and Nick have been fine with the quiet and very simple holiday we had grown used to?
But that doesn’t mean they should have to be.
Here’s the point:
Traditions grow and evolve; hopefully those who participate in them do as well.
If you are an old dog like me, open your eyes. Try to see what those surrounding you see.
And then learn some new tricks.
You may be surprised at how the evolution solidifies the time honored traditions.