This year's Christmas decorating has been a little slow going. Normally I've got the tree up by Thanksgiving and all the pumpkin crap thrown into the creek behind our house to make way for red and green lights and pine cone wreaths on all the doors. But my mood has been sluggish the past couple weeks since Matthew died and I am not very holly jolly. Let's be real. I've been downright grinchy and bah-humbug.
The kids have been asking where the damn elf is and when are we putting up the tree and can they have candy canes for freaking lunch. Deep breaths. As much as I'd like to hibernate in my bed with Friends reruns and fast forward time well into the middle of January (my 40-somethingth birthday is in early January that I won't be observing), I know I need to suck it up and carry on with the tradition of making this "the most wonderful time of the year" for four kids.
We passed a neighborhood store with Christmas trees stacked up outside, waiting in all their green, piney glory to be taken home for the holiday. My mind flashes back to mine and Matthew's first Christmas together, when I brought a real Christmas tree home to our farmhouse we had been living in for just two short months. My husband repeatedly told me it wasn't a good idea because he was allergic to pine trees and wanted to deny me my desire to wake up to that glorious pine scent every morning. I fought him. He lost.
I told him about the Christmases of my childhood, crammed in our family car, headed to the tree lot where my sisters and I would give dad the thumbs up from the car on which big, fat tree to pick. I told him I couldn't live without the colored, sparkly lights on that real tree that brought back memories of my Christmas wonder as a child. So we kept a real tree up and my poor, newlywed husband coughed, sniffed and itched his way through an entire month saying, "I told you so." I feverishly tried to keep up with the pine needles, telling him it couldn't be that bad and he must be exaggerating.
Needless to say, that was the last time we had a real tree and I've been putting up a fake, pre-lit one in my house ever since. Until now.
Mom! Let's get one, can we get one? Can we, can we, please? Hmm, I think. I suppose we could, kids... yes, you know what? Mom had a real tree as a child and there's absolutely nothing like a holiday house filled with the pungent smell of pine you can experience from any room. So as it ended up, my awesome neighbor volunteered to deliver to us one of those Christmas trees as a gift. Genuine smiles and excitement all abound here when he brought that tree through the front door. The smell alone brought me back to the time I was 8 years old, giggling with my little sister trying to stay awake for Santa on Christmas Eve. The year I got my first Cabbage Patch Doll, a Peaches & Cream Barbie and brand new corduroy culottes I wore the hell out of. It reminded me of Christmas dinners at my sweet grandmother's house with all my cousins and nougat candies and egg nog before bed. The smell of a real tree is pure Christmas magic.
It's also the smell of hives. Seriously. Hives and itchy skin and watery eyes and many, many whiny children.
It wasn't 10 minutes that this beautiful Douglas Fir was sitting in our living room that all three girls started in with the itching. One twin was itching her neck so bad she looked like she was a back-alley crack addict. The other twin started coughing. The youngest started whining about her legs itching. I tried playing it off, saying, it's probably just dry air in here, just go in another room. I vacuumed the needles up. But apparently putting the needle-fresh aroma in the air can make it worse. Now they are all rubbing their eyes, itching their legs, necks and arms and I'm pretending this is not happening as I get out the magical, twinkling lights. I'm stranding this tree up to the tune of White Christmas, all the while trying to ignore the sound of unhappy children crying about the beautiful beast before us.
This time I lost. After a couple hours, I took off the lights and dragged that divinely-scented holiday tree upstairs and out to the second floor balcony overlooking the street. I decorated it with the multicolored lights that remind me of that amazing Christmas of 1984. I sat there as long as I could to drink up the scent before my toes froze and I had to come inside and close the door.
My children have inherited a big fat allergy to real Christmas trees from their Daddy. Their once-again-always-right Daddy. Their no-doubt-laughing-in heaven Daddy. I will have to enjoy this tree through the window. The only lesson here is that there is no statute of limitations on "I told you so's." They most definitely can come from the grave.