One of the traditions I started when Haley was a baby is the ornaments. Each year, each of my kids receive a new ornament to hang on the tree. Mostly I get these from Hallmark...Haley and Jake have both had a few different series; Nathan's ornament series started the year he was one and is still going, and Kaleb has a hodge-podge because I've not found him a series. (Boys are hard!)
Although the original impulse for this tradition started inside a craft fair, where I found this adorable porcelain baby shoe ornament that was perfect for my sweet 8-month-old baby (and I wanted to replicate that feeling of finding the perfect sweet thing over and over), what kept the tradition alive was knowing that I wanted them to have their ornaments on their trees when they were adults. Like opening the boxes and hanging up the things I'd given them, year after year, could be a way of packaging up all the Christmases of their childhoods and sending them into the future with them.
This year, as I watched Jake open up his boxes of ornaments, I had this thought: what if his wife doesn't want them? I've never thought that before and it horrified me. What if my tradition causes future holiday tension? What if she (his future wife) hates random, or cutesy, what if she only wants a pretty tree, what if his ornaments feel like a mother-in-law intrusion of the worst sort?
I had to leave the family room for a minute to make my heart stop pounding and to get the blush to leave my cheeks.
I think it's interesting that I never had this thought about Haley's future husband. I think it's because, in my experience, the wife is the person who makes most of the traditions. I have a few ornaments on my tree that Beth made (they felt more valuable this year than ever), I hang up Kendell's childhood stocking, and this nativity:
which I put in my kitchen, is the thing I took from Beth's mom's house when she died in 1998. (I love it, even though everyone else thinks it's ugly.)
But for the most part, our holiday traditions are based on what I have wanted to do. Some are things I've incorporated from my childhood (the Christmas Eve pajamas), some are things that have just happened and then stuck. But I honestly never thought about integrating my husband's traditions from his childhood into the mix.
(Cue intense wifely guilt with that realization.)
In fact, the only tradition I really even know about is his uncle Buffalo's, who always wrapped his gifts in brown paper bags. Kendell did suggest we do that, back when we were first married, and I was horrified.Horrified! My mom taught me to wrap presents the right way, which is as beautifully as possible, with pretty paper and no torn edges showing. Not a bundle of brown paper!
And there, right there: that moment is what I am getting at. My way, because I'm the wife and the mom and the maker of Christmas, is the way I wanted it. How would I have felt if my husband showed up with a hodge podge of ornaments from his childhood and he wanted to hang them on our tree? What if I hated them, what if they went against my vision of what Christmas looks like?
I'm afraid of the answer.
All of this gave me a holiday realization. Because, see, one of our not-so-awesome tradition is the Holiday Big Ugly. Sometime in December, with possibilities growing exponentially as Christmas gets closer, Kendell and I generally have a big ugly argument, the December version. I hate this and I dread it and whenever someone asks me what I want for Christmas my inner thought is always to not have a big argument. It always starts with something stupid and then feeds itself on all the tensions the holidays bring with them (the money and the planning and all the extra stuff and the pull between his family and mine), but what I didn't ever see is that maybe it also comes because Christmas doesn't feel right to him.
So much of the holidays, when you are an adult, is memory. Is reaching back to find the way it felt to have the world made magic both so your kids can experience the magic—and so that you can, too. This is why I started giving my kids ornaments to hang on their future adult Christmas trees, so that it would be easier for them to find their way back to the feeling I'd tried so hard to create for them. But I think I forgot somewhere, along the way, that my path to those memories cannot be Kendell's path. And maybe because this is the first year both of his parents are gone, but I realized I need to help him remember, too. Help him feel what it felt like for him.
Maybe wrap a gift in a brown paper bag even if it doesn't match my color-coordinated wrapping paper and ribbon.
And maybe because I had that realization, this Christmas was a good one. I tried extra hard to keep things smooth, to disappate the tension, to shop earlier and plan better. Or maybe it was just Beth looking out for us. But we had no BUA this year. We had a sweetness between us that we haven't had for awhile. And I have a few ideas in mind for next year, when I will try harder to help him find the magic, too.