I'd like to apologise for my behavior.
I probably should have done this years ago, but I didn't really grasp the weight of my infractions until my kids started re-enacting them.
Let's start with last Sunday, the day I set aside to fill the house with fresh-baked cookie smells and songs of good cheer for the festive hoisting and decorating of our freshly cut tree. We would follow the tree trimming with bowls of popcorn in front of a Christmas movie. We would delight in each other's company, and our hearts would be glad.
But my daughter couldn't tear herself away from an undisclosed project in her room. ("Five more minutes, Mum!" Followed by 20 more.) And my son couldn't be extracted from his Legos. And my stepson was exhausted from a sleepover the night before. And I was getting a little tired of my own good cheer, to say nothing of the carols that bleated ad nauseam into our empty living room.
So I took a walk. "I'm going to Walgreens," I announced to no one in particular. It's three blocks from our house, and I needed to grab a prescription and, more importantly, a moment to clear the clutter that bangs around my head when my family reverie overshadows my family reality.
That's when I remembered the dollhouse.
My dad lovingly constructed it, piece by piece, for Christmas when I was eight or nine. It had shingles and shutters and scalloped trim. The rooms were wallpapered and carpeted. A charming little porch wrapped around the front.
He worked on that house for hours on top of hours after work, hidden away in a cold, damp room in our basement. I had no idea what he was building in there, though my brother and I spent many hours speculating.
When I finally saw the dollhouse on Christmas morning, I hope I reacted with appropriate joy and gratitude. I hope I threw my arms around my dad and thanked him for giving me the most beautiful dollhouse I'd ever seen. I hope I recognised the house as a feat of superhuman parenting. But I'm not sure I did.
I played with it a lot. For years I saved my allowance to buy furniture from Lolly's miniatures shop in Elgin. I loved that house. And I know that's ultimately what you want as a parent: to see your children enjoy their gifts, both material and non.
But I also know how frustrating it is to work your tail off to create a happy something - holiday, vacation, birthday - only to feel like your efforts were unnoticed, if not misplaced.
I remember driving through the mountains of Pennsylvania when my brother and I were kids, searching for the perfect boulder on which to enjoy our picnic lunch. I remember pleading with my parents to just pull over at one of several nondescript picnic grounds we kept passing so we could eat our stupid food and get on with it. I remember rolling my eyes at the perfect boulder, once we finally found it.
I remember being only mildly impressed when my parents brought me to some of the nation's most outstanding gems during adolescence: the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Badlands National Park.
I cringe to recall how I greeted something as banal as trimming a tree.
But here's the thing: I remember really, really loving to decorate for Christmas. I delighted in hauling the dusty boxes from our basement and finding my favorite ornaments. I couldn't wait to hang up the little handmade bells my mum sewed from fabric scraps as a newlywed. I think of those days as some of my very happiest.
I just wonder if I revealed my enthusiasm. Some years I think I did and some years I'm sure I didn't. That didn't stop me from feeling it.
I returned from Walgreens that Sunday to my husband and one kid decorating the tree. The other two eventually joined us. The Christmas carols were mostly mocked, and there was the usual bickering over which movie to watch. But it was, in all, a pretty delightful afternoon.
And I have to believe that's how my kids will remember it. Warmly and happily, the groans and eye rolls papered over with stronger, more lasting sentiments of togetherness, which is rarely perfect but always worth the effort.
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