Friday, December 2, 2016

On the Homefront Vol. 13: Decorations a Reminder of Years Past

The oldest child in my house is a nonexistent teenager who only shows his face this time of year. It took him a year or two of going all out around the holidays to learn the hard way that less, sometimes, is more.
I am talking about my "inner" child, who is still relatively young when it comes to decorating the house this time of year.

For my entire childhood, December was a fun month. However, I always felt a bit like I was on the outside looking in, as up and down the block I lived on there were lights and Christmas trees. At my house, though, was an old cream-colored Hanukkah menorah with orange lights in the window.
Main Tree by the Fireplace
 During the time off from school at the end of the year, whether it was called "Christmas Break" or the more politically correct and inclusive "Winter Recess," my family and I traveled from our home to my grandmother's in Yonkers. From there, we went to my mom's step-family for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. In terms of religious upbringing, a quick rundown: both of my parents are Jewish, and both sets of their parents were Jewish, and all eight of my great-grandparents were Jewish, too. However, my mom's mom got remarried when I was three years old to a great man, who happened to by Catholic. It was to his daughter's house (my "step-aunt") we went for Christmas almost 20 straight years, to have a fine Italian feast, modified for a Jewish step-family.
The biggest difference? No Christmas ham. We had Christmas filet-mignon instead, bought fresh at the local butcher. Oh, and in case you're wondering, I never heard anyone ever complain.
We exchanged gifts on Christmas Eve, and there was always something special from Santa for my step-cousins (at their house) and my brother and I (at my grandmother's apartment) Christmas morning.
Looking back, I can count on one hand how many gifts I still have and/or still remember. What I do remember are the feelings of pure festiveness in both locations. While Bubbie (Yiddish for "grandma) and John never went "all out" with their decorating, the apartment was always a warm and inviting place. That same feeling permeated the house on Etville Avenue where we went on December 24 and 25. Understated Christmas decorations in the living room, a big tree with blinking lights in the den by the fireplace, Hershey's and Reese's candy in holiday candy dishes throughout the house, and multi-colored bulbs adorning the house and shrubbery outside. To me it was always a site to behold.
Dining Room Trees
It is why, since my wife and I started our family, December has marked a time of organized chaos in our house. Throw in the commercialization of just about every other holiday out there, and chances are high that if you were to stop by our house at any time of year, there is something hanging up or on a shelf somewhere to match the season. That's my fault, and it really gets nuts a few weeks before Halloween.
So, now that you have made it this far, getting through all that preamble, you're probably wondering what all of this has to do with being a stay-at-home dad.
I'll answer your wonder with a question that seems to have taken over social media feeds the past few years around this time: How many trees do you have up?
Thanks to my son's combination of impatience and excitement, last Friday I set up five trees. A sixth has no pre-connected lights, so I won't count it.
But yes. Five trees. FIVE!
We have the oldest one in our den, and it's the one my wife and I first purchased - on a December 26 - around the time we knew it was no longer going to be just the two of us.
The biggest tree is the newest, and it is located in the corner of the living room in reasonable proximity to the fireplace, making it easy for the Man in Red to drop in, drop off his goodies, and skedaddle.
Around the same time we got that new tree - also purchased on a December 26, by me, with both daughters in tow - two sets of pleading eyes convinced me it would be a tremendous idea to get a set of two small, potted, pre-lit trees to bookend a china cabinet in the dining room. That makes four.
Tree number five is the oddball. It's pre-lit, stands about four feet tall, and was originally bought by my wife for our son. I honestly don't remember why. It was used in his room one time. The past few years it sat in its box. But not this year.
No, this year, it is up and decorated with Hanukkah lights. I've called it our Hanukkah Bush, even though that's not really a thing.
Hanukkah Bush
As any parent can imagine, there is a lot of fun to be had decorating one's house for the holidays. That fun is compounded exponentially as children get old enough to understand the joy and warmth of the season. And I think it goes without saying that youth is truly wasted on the young in this regard, because time spent with family is always treasured because you can't get it back. Gifts are gifts, be they timeless or trendy, and in most cases, they can be replaced.
For instance, remember that list of gifts I can remember from my childhood? One is behind me as I type this (an original Nintendo that, yes, still works, and yes, I still blow into the cartridges to get them to go on from time to time) and a few more are in the basement (some CDs I requested once upon a time) and a few more are upstairs (some books that I still plan on reading but absolutely HAD TO HAVE at the time).
Oh, my brother and I were treated to eight nights of Hanukkah, too. As for those remaining gifts, I think I have bin of Micro Machines stored away, along with some old Transformers. I'm pretty sure the winter coat I have was a gift, along with a few clothing items made to stand up to years and years of wear.
Ultimately, I think what I'm trying to say is that the past decade for me has been 10 years worth of wide ranging December emotions. For the first time ever, I became the guy putting up the lights inside and outside the house. (I should note that we skipped outside stuff this year, but we'll be back with a vengeance next year!) I was the guy who showed his kids the proper way to light the Hanukkah menorah. In that regard I was a grown-up. I was "adulting" I suppose.
But last Friday, when my son kept bringing up tree after tree without any idea of what he was doing with them, and what went on them, and in which order, all while arguing on and off with both his sisters, I had to be the guy to put his foot down. "Slow down," I begged. "We need to finish one before we work on the next one, please!"
I'd be lying if I said that was the only time I said that. And I'm sure you'd think, "Yeah, right!" if I said there was no screaming involved.
There was.
Know what, though? We're going to put the finishing touches on everything this Friday afternoon, and the house will look great. I can't fault him for being excited to take the holidays out of their boxes. I mean, after all, in a way, he and my inner child are the same age. And we're excited for December, and all that comes with it, too.

Howard Balaban once wanted a Red Rider BB Gun, but his parents were afraid that he'd shoot his eye out. Instead, they bought him knife juggling lessons.