Wednesday, December 30, 2015

O Christmas Tree

There is so so much (SO MUCH) I like about Christmas, but one of my very favorite things is going to get a Christmas tree. As a kid, my family trekked out together every year to a tree farm and cut down the biggest, most glorious tree we could find. We believed that real trees were the only way to go, and furthermore, that real trees come from real farms, not parking lots or hardware stores. So one Saturday each December, we'd all bundle up, and set out on the adventure to find our fir. It was all very Christmas Vacation (little full, lotta sap!) mixed with Berenstain Bears (tra la, tra la, tra la la la la la!). It became a running joke that we would always have eyes bigger than our stomachs (or in this case: our living room) and end up with a massive tree that tested the limits of our bungee cord collection, and caused our van tires to sag. It always ended up being an all day affair, from the winding drive to the location we were sure was going to have the best trees this year, to the hayride + march up to the most scenic of hilltops, to the long walk back made even longer by my sister and my insistence on tying our dog's leash to our tree and pretending he was sled dog.

I remember loving it, but when I think back on it now, I realize what a giant hassle it must have been. Don't get me wrong, we did have fun, and I'm sure my parents enjoyed the tradition, but at the same time, I know it wasn't exactly all smiles all the time. I look back on it fondly, but if I think about it a little harder I can also remember being cold, getting lost, and always having to go to the bathroom at the most inconvenient time. I know that after I weighed in on which monstrous evergreen we should go with, that  I was pretty much the opposite of helpful, likely alternating bored whining with begging for hot chocolate as my dad cut down the tree, dragged it to the parking lot, heaved it on to the car, and attempted to tie it down without damaging anything (or snapping at us useless spectators). By the time we were on our way home, our Christmas cheer was covered with a layer of dirt, annoyance, and light frostbite. 

But even though I can see it a little more realistically now, the good memories still far (FAR) outweigh the bad. So now that I'm a parent, what do think is top on the list of traditions to recreate with my family? 

That's right. Tree chopping time!
Bring on the cold, and the mess, and the frustration...and the priceless holiday memories!! Tra la, tra la, tra la la la la la.

Before we could embark on our pine scented journey though, I had to convince Dustin the worthiness of this plan. (it turns out not everyone sees the value in an epic trek to find a commodity that is sold on every corner in town. weird). I could have maybe sold him on it by painting an elaborate mental picture of the joy and magic of it all...but I decided to go with the truth- which was a little something like this: 

I know it's going to be a giant, terrible hassle, but let's do it anyway. We'll pack some snacks, I'll take a million pictures, we'll walk around until it's not fun anymore, and if things go terribly wrong we'll bail on the whole thing and just buy a poinsettia at the grocery store and call it a day. Mmmkay?

And with that, the Bowden's excursion begrudgingly began.

We managed to bundle the kids and exit the house in just under an hour, which has to be a record. (Wrestling toddlers into cold weather gear is like herding cats. In mittens.) We had snacks upon snacks upon drinks upon snacks, plus a hack saw and a couple of old towels (not even sure why...just felt right at that point), so we were pretty much as ready as we could be. 

The kids were clearly thrilled, with 2/3 falling asleep before we were even halfway to the farm:

And after only making a few wrong turns and questionable merges (following my dad, after all) we made it! Zip your coats, and wipe your snot, kiddos. It's time to make memories for a lifetime!
After a fun (and bumpy) hayride to the "forest" (?) we arrived at row upon row of trees. The girls had a blast dragging each other around in the sled, while Dustin and I tried to find the perfect tree. And what I actually mean by that, is that we tried to find something close, not huge, and without major deformity that wouldn't be a total pain to cut down. 

We settled on something quickly, in order to respect the primary reality of dealing with little ones: "It's fun until it isn't fun anymore." We don't have a ton of hard and fast parenting strategies, but one of them is absolutely- if you need to get something done, and they're all (miraculously) happy, don't dawdle, because things can go south in an instant. Finding the nearly perfect tree before anyone has a meltdown is easily 10,000 times better than finding the absolutely perfect tree with toddlers crying in the periphery. ("She'll see it later, honey. Her eyes are frozen.")

Since I had dragged everyone on this activity, I decided I should be the one to officially cut down the tree. (plus Dustin was wearing a baby, which isn't exactly conducive to handling a saw and laying on the ground). But true to my history, I pretty much just managed to do a ceremonial cut before deeming the whole thing too hard and asking to swap. 

Dustin stepped in to get the job done, I got to snuggle my little bear, and we were back on the hayride before anyone had a chance to gripe about not being able to feel their fingers.

Somehow, we managed to protect a ratio of maximum fun to minimal meltdowns, which is basically saying we encountered a Christmas miracle. Well, for a minute the time we reached our car alllll the kids were throwing overtired tantrums, Miller had pooped through his outfit and was screaming to be fed, and we still had to coordinate a lunch outing for eleven people. But we had kept reasonable expectations of the whole thing, so we weren't terribly surprised, or even frustrated. This was pretty much all part of the plan. Remember my parenting adage? It's fun 'til it's not fun. 

But one of my other parenting mottos in this phase is: 

Worth it. 

As a parent, I now realize all the logistics that go into making magical childhood events happen, and furthermore, I realize that those logistics add up with each additional kid, and are then multiplied by a degree of toddler difficulty (with a baby exponential thrown in on top). So we give ourselves freedom to bail on endeavors that seem a bit too ambitious (which sometimes is anything that requires leaving the house). But at the same time, I try to push myself at least a little when it comes to tradition. They likely won't remember how hard it was to get their socks/boots/mittens/hats on. They probably won't remember how long it all took, how much it cost, or how tired we all were. They hopefully won't remember me yelling at them to just get in the car already!! But I know they will remember the experience in total. They'll see the hassle through a much difference lens, and hopefully just remember that it was special. 

And so are they.

{I'm thrilled to be partnering with Lily Jade, makers of beautiful bags that help provide at least a little bit of order to a wild (and wonderful) season of life. Madeline diaper bag care of Lily Jade. All thoughts are my own}
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