It’s a tradition…

A sure fire way to make Christmas the most un-wonderful, exhausting and dreaded time of the year? Work in retail. I’m certain restaurant veterans could say the same, but retail is where I spent entirely too much time during Christmas. So much time, that when the boys were younger, December 23rd rolled around and the Millers didn’t have a Christmas tree.

Yep, December 23rd. No tree. And Santa was coming soon. Yikes!

Kroger to the rescue – that year and every year since.

I’m a traditions girl; once I have settled on “We’re doing this every year.”, there can be no end to it in my book. I think it must be a little bit of control, mixed with knowing what’s coming, a dash of “I’ve done this before; I can do this again”, a touch of stability, and the ownership of it being uniquely us – “This is our thing; this is what we do.” So each year, the Kroger tree it is. Sometimes, it’s a tree that looks like a total reject; other years, no one would guess we didn’t get it from one of those expensive tree lots or the ever popular “cut your own” tree farms.

And because I got back in line four times when Jesus was handing out the gift of being strong-willed and then another four times when He was passing around the stuff that would pull on my heart strings, I don’t do well when “tradition” goes out the window; if it’s a Miller Life tradition, you better believe Mama is going to become a contortionist to keep it going. As J & C have gotten older, the traditions I hold so dear have become more difficult to keep, but we’ve managed to hang onto 95% of them.

Until this year. And it has sucked.

Heart wrenching, heaving sobs more than once a day. I was frequently tempted to just get out everyone’s presents and put them, unwrapped, in the middle of the floor and scream, “Merry Freakin’ Christmas – have at it!” My Fave heard me say, “I just don’t even want to celebrate this year.”, more than I care to admit. Even worse, J & C both said, “It doesn’t even feel like Christmas.”, which is like a dagger through a Mama’s heart – and they didn’t just say it one time. (And, I’m sure it being 60° in Cincinnati in December didn’t help but I’m certain Mama losing it carries much of the blame.)

No matter how I tried, the “This is what we do at Christmas.” just wasn’t happening. Cookies – not a single one made. Kroger tree – My Fave and I picked it out 10 days before Christmas; it was dried out before we got around to decorating it 4 days before Old St. Nick would arrive. Outside lights – none. Inside decorations – put most of them out solo. Our annual trip to Pier One to pick out Li Bien ornaments and then Buca di Peppo for dinner – postponed twice; we finally managed to buy ornaments one evening, but dinner fell victim to a party, so it happened two nights later and the ornaments never even made it onto the tree. The Christmas Eve service we haven’t missed for 10 years – missed it and with it my method of measuring milestones, a Christmas Eve family picture. The picture perfect outfits – flannels. And Vans. And forget tucking in the shirt – My Fave went so far to ask if he had to tuck in his; you can imagine the glare he got as an answer. A flannel is technically a button-down shirt and they agreed to khakis – I had not an ounce of energy with which to battle them any longer so flannels it was.

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“This Mama of teenagers thing will get easier.” ranks in the Top 5 of the lies I continue to repeat to myself. Our sweet boys are 15 and 16 and want nothing to do with Mama’s traditions. Okay, that’s harsh and certainly an exaggeration but it’s felt very much like that for weeks. The combination of a med change (insurance companies are stupid – really, really stupid and in no way should be considered a means to caring for one’s health; I will continue to wish their stockings be filled with coal each year.) and no longer being able to ignore that my babies are, by the second, quickly looking/acting/talking less and less like my babies and more and more like young men who will soon leave me has been brutal. I’ve had a lot of tough Christmases; this one has been among the most difficult.

I think this Christmas season was a means to force me to deal with a hard truth: “Mama, your Christmas past and Christmas future are going to be miles apart and Christmas future will be here before you know it.” I know I’m not the only parent out there struggling with this same reality. It only makes me feel one-tenth of an ounce better knowing I’m not out here solo, but I will take what I can get. Over the next week or so, I will spend some quiet time updating my eulogy. It’s become an annual exercise in moving from where I am now to where I want to be, while also seeing how far I’ve come; in short, I write what I want people to be able to say about me, even if it isn’t currently true, and celebrate where I’ve made strides toward becoming the person who can hear “Welcome home, My child. Well done.” when Jesus takes me from this earth. My prior efforts contain many of the traditions I hold so very near and dear but don’t mention traditions our family will establish as the boys get older and land wherever life may take them.

So, the writing of some new traditions it is. Who knows, I might even manage to dream up one or two we can put into practice sooner, rather than later. But let’s be clear, there’s one tradition I refuse to give up: the Miller tree will continue to come from Kroger – weird or not, some things should simply never change.

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