Rerun allows family time

This week I’m focusing my time and attention on my husband and children. We’re enjoying some rare family time. It’s the natural order of things for children to grow up and begin creating lives of their own. That makes it increasingly difficult to get together. When we saw the chance to celebrate Christmas together, we took it!

I share with you a column I wrote the Christmas my kids were 4, 7 and 9. I look back on that year with great fondness. I hope you enjoy this “Best of” column as well. Merry Christmas dear readers.

“All right everybody. Zip up your jackets and keep me in sight. Dad’s got the saw, so call out when you see a good one!”

It always begins on a good note. Filled with anticipation and energy, our five-member family fans out to find a Christmas tree. Filled with contentment as I hear their little legs scurry through the rows of trees, I think back for a few moments to my own childhood when picking out the perfect Christmas tree meant driving five minutes to the local YMCA Christmas tree lot, located just south of Candy Cane Lane that lit up the night’s sky each December. We always went at night after Dad got home from work. I liked the way the trees looked in the glow of Christmas lights strung overhead.

It was rarely cold or wet because southern California winters are typically mild. And it was an easy process. Dad did not mind what the tree looked like as long as Mom was satisfied and it didn’t cost too much. My brother and I did not pay a whole lot of attention to the selection either. We each kept busy picking out a tiny tree for our bedrooms.

As soon as the family room tree was lightly flocked we went home to get everything set up. No muss and no fuss. Easy breasy! At least, that’s how I remember it.

Moments later an excited voice, springing out from behind some tree out there in the great sea of green brings me back to the present. My seasonal fear also returns.

It is a small worry, at first, as I hope against all odds that this year will be different. But when the first Christmas tree gets a big thumbs down from some on the committee (it’s too short, not full enough, has an ugly section, will touch the ceiling, is too dense, not green enough, or won’t hold some of our homemade ornaments) somebody turns on the tears. In an instant frustrations, hurt feelings and anger (dare we mention such an attitude at Christmas time) fill the air.

Tree trauma. It began the moment the two eldest Klope kids felt confident enough to express an opinion about each and every tree they encountered. When child number three grew old enough to enter the fray...well, you get the less than pretty picture. Last year, someone went to cool their heels in the car for a few minutes and came close to missing out on the hot cider. Another year someone else cried most of the way home.

As always, the kids recover. But it always take me a while to get over tree trauma. I anguish over the hurt feelings. I strategize various ways to validate everyone’s opinions and still create enough consensus to get the tree home. I privately worry that someday one of my grown children will buy an artificial tree and blame me for their post-traumatic tree trauma.

And I always wonder if any other families experience the disappointment I do.

I have never seen it pictured on any Christmas card or portrayed in a Christmas special. And that is the point: most of us want the holiday time to be extra special. We want things to look great, taste great, the kids to behave great and everything to run smoothly. When perfection is portrayed all around us, we begin to buy into the thinking that the Christmas holiday will fall into ruins when the first burst of tears fills the air.

I think we should question our expectations and the self-imposed stress.

I went through a similar process years ago as my husband and I worked to develop our family life as Christians. How does church membership, prayer, Bible reading and instruction fit into our lives? I read numerous books on the subject and watched those around us. Eventually we both realized we had to look at our own strengths, interests and God’s direction for our family. We had to develop our own style and traditions. We chose to trust and move forward, whether it fit in with the rest of our friends or not.

The best news? God never has expected perfection. He is honored by our good intentions and our desires for a healthy, happy family life. For Christians this time of year, it may mean knowing enough about the Christmas story to explain it to someone unclear about the details. Capturing the spirit of giving and modeling that for our kids with a project. Making positive changes in a relationship in need of repair.

This year the advent candles I set up in the wreath atop our kitchen table won’t stay up and my husband insisted on wrapping his gifts in newspaper funny pages. Martha Stewart would be appalled. But we did get the tree decorated without a tear. Now that’s progress!

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