On Matthew’s 2nd Christmas, I promised him that I would always make the season magical for him. For his first Christmas, the Grinch stole our Christmas Tree. I was so incredibly sad that year, that I didn’t even buy a “Baby’s 1st Christmas” ornament. Over the years, I have thought about kijiji-shopping for something from 1998 to replace that stolen moment, but I still can’t bring myself to do it. I was so hurt that I cut out a photo of Matthew and scrapbooked it onto a page with a beautiful tree. But it was fake, and I knew it. The memory burns like a little black piece of coal in my heart, forever singed and branded in a deep, dark place. I’ve never brought it up to Matthew, who won’t remember. It’s best that way. Childhood memories should be full of happiness. The sleigh “landing” on our roof (thanks to a crash over at the neighbour’s house!) Cookies and milk for Santa. Reindeer food … which ended up feeding the wild hares who then started grazing on our bushes. The weather was exceptionally mild that year, and the rabbits didn’t hibernate or whatever bunnies do to celebrate the season. I’d do anything to erase the memories of opening gifts around the television and not a Christmas decoration in sight. Our lives weren’t dusted with the glittery pixie dust of St. Nicholas. Nothing felt special. I pasted a smile on my face and forced myself to cook the traditional dinner of Sage & Onion Stuffed Turkey, creamy gravy, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, green beans and carrots.
My son received a robotic dog that year … and had more fun playing with the wrapping paper tubes. Lesson learned. It’s not about the money. It’s who is around the tree, not what is underneath it, but there still has to be a Christmas tree.
I wept alone that Christmas Eve, thus starting the first of two Christmas traditions.
By the time Christmas rolled around for 1999, I was eager and ready to show my toddler how to really celebrate Christmas. The tree went up. But it didn’t quite suit our little family. It was full of fanciful ornaments and twinkling white lights. Nothing to let Santa know that a little boy lived there.
I shopped the Boxing Day sales and bought strands of multicoloured mini lights and a mix of blue, red, and gold Christmas balls. And wondered aloud how to make Christmas pure magic for my son.
“A theme!” I said aloud, to no one in particular, but all the Canadian Tire shoppers turned to stare at me. I smiled and pretended to look for someone while I talked to myself. I decided right there that the only ornaments to adorn our tree would be transportation themed. Trains. Planes. Automobiles. Vintage Trucks. X-Wing Starfighters. A Hot Wheels track. The Millennium Falcon. We somehow lost the Death Star …
Since his Y2K Christmas, I have added transport ornaments to the collection each year. I slowed down to just one a year since we now have a tree full of things that move. There are locomotive engines. Tonkas. A batmobile and a bat motorcycle. A firetruck and a police car. And a 1969 Corvette. We have lots of vintage cars. I never did buy every Cessna in Hallmark’s “Sky’s the Limit” series … but we got the ones we liked. The Enterprise from Star Trek is still the largest ship/ornament in our fleet. Matthew and I unbox them and remember each of their stories.
“How did a T-Rex get on the tree?”
“You stomped around with two-finger claws and roared …” I replied with a smile.
“Oh my God! Remember this one?” Matt said as he held up the Scooby Doo Mystery van. I rolled my eyes, freshly recalling the hours and hours of Scooby Doo I endured for this child.
“And the horse?” he asks, holding the ornament above my head.
“My preferred mode of transportation” I replied, swiping the pinto from him. It reminded me of my Johnny Best of the West action figure horses circa 1970.
“Just like the Tim Hortons coffee mug is your preferred fuel!” he laughed.
“Exactly!” OK, so I stretched the transportation theme a tad …
A silver “2013” sleigh to commemorate the year my Mom passed away. She was the second person I promised myself would always have a happy Christmas. Each year, I’d pick her up and bring her to our humble home, then return her packed up with half of the turkey and all of the trimmings, boxes of cherry chocolates, mints and several gifts. The stockings alone cost hundreds of dollars to fill.
Last year my living room was piled high to the ceiling with donations for a women’s shelter. I wanted to to give back the joy that I have always been given. We made so many people happy last year … not one resident, woman or child, at the Denise House was forgotten. I spent days searching for the right long-sleeved tshirt with a digger on the front for a special little boy who lived there. I asked folks to grab an extra Crock Pot for $25 and received eight! The staff and families sent their heartfelt thanks the day after Christmas. It still brings a smile to my face.
This year – 2017 – the most trying year of my life … I forgot to buy an ornament. The Hallmark ornaments usually arrive in their stores mid-October. I eagerly await their arrival, the date entered into my online calendar. But this year, I had cancer, broke my leg … and I gave up on shopping for anything but necessities.
It felt like I didn’t need another ornament until today. Staring at the tree, I realized that I just broke 17 years of promises. So I packed up my son, his gifts for his girlfriend and her family, cookies from me and we drove to the Hallmark store before it closed. Since he was with me, he got to choose his ornament this year. A StarWars X-Wing Starfighter – complete with interactive lights and sounds – except I don’t have the required Hallmark’s Keepsake Power Cord …
I would love to change the theme of the tree to dogs, but until Matt leaves home to start his own tree tradition, I will stick with our Transportation Tree.
Maybe I will buy myself a skinny tree in the post-holiday sales and begin looking for doggie themed ornaments. But the main tree will always be for Matthew. When he has a child – boy or girl – I will pull all of the transportation ornaments out again and restart tradition take 2.0.
I bought rolls of new Christmas tags and wrapping paper (Santa cannot use paper already seen!) to wrap all our gifts tonight except one. We picked up Matthew’s new Samsung S8 today ($99 with our Bell plan) and it’s already activated in his hands. A Visa gift card and his favourite chocolates and cologne. Lighter than our usual bustin’-at-the-seams Christmas … but he understands the true meaning. Everyone who meets him comments on what a wonderful young man he is … and to me he deserves the best. I try so hard to give him a leg up in this cruel world.
That’s all I want for Christmas. His happiness.
And that brings me back to the first Christmas Eve tradition. Each year since Matthew was born, I have a good cry. I wrap the gifts and place everything under the tree, then I turn off all the lights except the tree lights and cry. For family lost and friends found. For all that we have and don’t have. Tears of gratitude for being able to still provide him a home. Prayers for the year to come.
And then I will dry my eyes, smile a wobbly smile, unlight the Christmas tree and go to sleep. Carly, our chocolate lab, is like a three-year-old on Christmas morning. She knows there is a gift hidden in the tree for her. And she will pester me from 5am to get up and get on with it so she can treasure her bully stick and new toys. Annie, too. The first time I saw Annie play was Christmas 2015 … captured on video as I laughed with joy.
Cancer or the Grinch cannot kill our spirit or sense of family.
It looks like we are finally getting a white Christmas here in Toronto! The snow is again falling softly outside. Hope everyone is snuggled inside by Christmas stockings , fire places and special someones! Merry Christmas to all … and to all a good night!