Co-authored by Maria Rodgers O'Rourke, author and voice of the blogcast Everyday Inspired
Every holiday season, I promise myself that this year will be different.
I'll shop and plan ahead, and have plenty of time for meaningful get-togethers in cozy settings filled with laughter and comfort food. My Christmas-loving mother taught me well. As mom to my two girls, I now understand how hard she worked to pull it off, with only Mary Bailey's wonderful life as her guide. Every year, the glossy magazines, greeting cards, music, movies and now Pinterest boards create even higher expectations of a comfy Christmas with none of the stress.
Consider decorating the tree, the centerpiece of a perfectly-executed holiday in my home. I imagine my family gathered around a fragrant, fresh-cut evergreen as "Feliz Navidad" plays. We laugh and reminisce over each ornament, munching on home-baked snickerdoodles while snow falls gently outside, our cheeks warmed by the crackling fire. In my home movie, the children never age; they still believe in Santa and save a few cookies for his Christmas Eve snack. But one year, the scene played out in a way that this perfectionist mom could never have imagined. That Christmas, it held the kind of surprise ending which can only happen when parents let kids be kids.
There were various levels of tree-trimming enthusiasm in our home. My husband's contribution was putting up the artificial tree and stringing the lights. Our teenage daughter was bored by the thought of hanging ornaments, but our 7-year-old gazed at the tree and begged. "Can we finish decorating it tonight, Mommy?"
It was late on a school night. I stalled, still hoping for the perfect tree decorating scene. I felt like the Grinch, lying to little Cindy Lou Who as I patted her head and sent her to bed. Days passed. Then one evening, on my way to a meeting, she called and pleaded, "Please Mommy! Can I decorate the tree?"
"What's that gonna look like?" my inner movie critic said. But my heart won out; she'd been dying to decorate the tree. A solitary evening stretched before her, at home with a sibling too cool to hang out with a kid sister and her dad out of town. "OK, honey, you can put up some ornaments," I said. "I'll help you with the rest later."
When I arrived home, she greeted me at the door with breathless instructions to "close your eyes!" Dodging storage boxes, she led me into the living room, my hand over my eyes. I took a deep breath and, at her command, dropped my hand.
The tree was packed with every ornament we own. (You know the ones that are left at the bottom of the box, and never picked for reindeer games? With my daughter as coach, they all made the team.) A real tree might have buckled, but the artificial limbs held up under the weight.
The floor was strewn with tissue and tinsel, but the tree was meticulously organized. The ornaments hung in groups: A herd of reindeer flanked the host of angels who hovered by the forest of candy canes. She proudly directed my attention to her circle of ornaments, and her sister's. In our house, it's a cherished tradition for our girls receive a special ornament, just as my mother-in-law gave to her children, each Christmas.
I took a step back to take it all in. Only then did I see that the top of the tree was bare. Left home alone, she'd dragged the stepladder in from the garage, but her kid-sized self still couldn't reach the upper branches. "Mom, I need your help to finish," she said. We dispatched the angels and candy canes to fill in, and crowned the tree with her favorite topper, a shimmering, beaded star.
The brightest star of the evening was my giggling, elated daughter. Her pale blue eyes searched mine, as if to say: "What 'cha think?" Gazing back at her, I said, "Honey, you've done a great job. This is the most beautiful Christmas tree I've ever seen." Somewhere, I'm sure, a bell was ringing.
We sipped hot cocoa and snuggled on the couch. I felt redeemed, like Charlie Brown when Linus saved the pageant with his true meaning of Christmas speech. My idea of a silver screen Christmas was a predictable plotline from a too-tired mom. When I let it go, my family's Zuzu joyfully put her twist on our tradition. A 7-year-old's version of tree decorating was the reality show I needed.
So, go ahead, mom. Pass the reins to your kids, then sit back and watch your own Christmas story become a family classic.