More specifically, I've always loved Christmas trees. Maybe it's because I'm from Montana and there we just call them trees.
Many of my fondest memories of choosing a Christmas tree revolve around my brother, my dad and me wandering through a series of evergreen trees while my we tried to come an agreement on a tree that not only Jason and I approved of, but that my dad, who apparently had better spacial sense than we did, figured would fit into our living room. This took some doing, as my brother and I are both perfectionists when it comes to choosing the perfect tree. There is a certain symmetry that must exist on at least three sides, along with a deep green color, and branches sturdy enough to hold lights (the old fashioned giant - one goes out, we all go out- lights), garland, ornaments, and at least four boxes of tinsel. Basically a tree had to be able to hold a family of giant possums on each and every branch to stand up to the kind of decorating it would be subject to at our house.
The biggest argument came down to size. It went like this. We would find the perfect tree and my dad would (patiently) explain that our house did not have 35 foot ceilings, and as much as he would like to climb 28 feet up the tree to cut off the top seven feet, he was neither a lumberjack, nor crazy, and we were going to have to pick another tree. This usually went on for about two hours before we finally found one that was closer to twelve feet, which was still five feet to tall, but doable.
I honestly didn't even know they made such a thing as artificial trees until I came to Texas to attend college. If I would have known most 95% of the state had fake Christmas trees, I probably would have ended up in Michigan. As the years went on, I continued to defy the artificial tree racket in Texas and buy a real tree each year. But something happened to my tree trimming tradition the farther I got from home. I stopped stringing popcorn, and the garland disappeared completely. My ornaments became color coordinated, and I couldn't even tell you if they make tinsel anymore. My last semester of college, which happened to be the one year I lived by myself, I stood back and looked at my finished tree and thought it was the most beautiful tree I had ever seen. Mind you, this was before Facebook, before Pinterest. I'm not even sure if Martha Stewart was a household name. But I had created this amazing tree, perfectly symmetrical, and not just the tree, but the placement of the ornaments. The colors and lights (not the outside kind), were all coordinated and just stunning if I do say so myself. And I do.
I loved that tree.
Then I got married.
To a Texan.
A Texan who did not understand my love of real trees. Our first Christmas I had to make the dreaded call to my father telling him that....we had.... bought....an....artificial tree.
To this day it is the only time my dad has hung up on me.
But still, Richie and I made our metal and plastic tree as beautiful as you can make a, you know, metal and plastic tree. By that time, adding ribbon to your tree had become in vogue and someone made us an amazing bow to top the tree. We started a tradition of decorating our tree in a different theme each year, to reflect that year in our lives, or you know, just because. When UNT went to the New Orleans Bowl the first year (oh, how long ago), we did a Mardi Gras tree with masks and feathers. The year our daughter was born the tree was adorned in all pink.
And then something else happened.
Our daughter grew into a toddler.
She wanted to help decorate the tree.
If you have small children or if you have ever seen a tree decorated by small children you know how it goes. First, you put up all of the ornaments that can break, which by this point are most of them, because you have been collecting all of these awesome ornaments for years. Then, you start handing the small child all of the unbreakable ornaments, which he or she proceeds to hang.
On the same branch.
Every single ornament.
On the same branch.
It doesn't matter if you encourage the child to move to the other side of the tree. It doesn't matter if you pick up the child and physically move the child to the other side of the tree or hold the child up so they can reach a high branch. It is as if the child is drawn to that one and only branch. So every ornament the child touches gets put on that branch.
Interestingly, if you have two small children, they will both be attracted to the same branch. I'm not sure why this happens, but it is true. I have seen up to five children all hanging ornaments on the same branch.
I give props to artificial trees on this point. Thanks to their titanium innards, their branches hold up to the barrage of ornaments much better than real trees. We have seen it go both ways, as Richie and I came to an agreement in order to save our marriage, which is I get a real tree every three years, or on years when I have a baby.
Once you have children, not only are all of the ornaments bunched up on one branch, but the small children (we now have two), start bringing home "ornaments" they made at daycare, preschool, kindergarten, church, in the back yard, during nap, and anywhere else they have a hook, some paste, and some clay type substance. I think we have one that is made of used bubble gum and a paper clip that one of the kids tried to pass off as a shooting star.
So as the kids started "helping" decorate the tree, I did what every proud and loving mother does; I waited until they went to sleep and re-decorated it. I re-distributed all of the ornaments, moving the less desirable ornaments to the lesser viewed side and using ribbon to hide some of the imperfections. The kids don't notice. The tree looks great.
This year is a real tree year in the Escovedo house (every third year - not a baby year) and to my credit, I let the kids pick it (with just a tad of guidance). And can I just say, it must be in their genes, because they picked an amazing tree. And they are getting the hang of decorating too. They are eight and four this year and I am to the point where I am starting to enjoy reminiscing as I look at the decorations made in kindergarten and Santa pictures from prior years.
As I sat last night with the Christmas lights on I looked at the tree and then down at our daughter my heart was so full as I said to her, "I think you did an awesome job. I really think this is our most beautiful tree yet. What do you think?"
"Anna, what do you think? Do you not like the tree?"
"It's not that I don't like it. I just think there is something missing mommy."
"What? What is it? What do you think is missing? Does it need more lights? Ribbon?"
"Hmmmm... It just needs....I don't know. Well, it needs more Ryan. It needs a little more crazy. It just doesn't quite look like, well, us."
As I looked at our beautiful, symmetrical, color coordinated tree, I realized she was absolutely right.
It didn't look like us.
We are not symmetrical, nor are we ever color coordinated. We are, well, a little more crazy.
So tonight, she and Ryan got to work fixing the tree. Out came the foam, scissors, tape, and markers. I watched and they worked carefully putting together ornaments that just a year ago I would have hidden in the back, but tonight I let them proudly hang right in the front where everyone would be sure to see them.
Because thinking back on my childhood Christmas trees, the joy in my memories is not because they were perfect.
It was because they had a little more Kristen.
They had a little more crazy.
I won't have imperfect trees forever, so you can bet your elves I am going to enjoy every bubble gum shooting star ornament while I can.
Turns out, they are priceless.