Saturday, December 04, 2010

Christmas Trees: Fake vs. Real by Sharon O'Donnell

My youngest son, Jason, 10, and I were driving past a Christmas tree lot several days ago, and I saw in the rear-view mirror that he was looking at it longingly. I thought of the nice fake tree that we've had the past four years -- the one that requires no water, the one that retains the same shape year after year (wish I could say that for myself) and we don't have to worry about cutting off limbs to make it fit in the tree stand, the one that doesn't drop its needles behind requiring constant vacuuming. Such convenience. So I turned the radio up, hoping the moment would pass. Then came the words. "I wish we could have a real tree this year," Jason sighed.

"But the tree we have now fits the spot by the window in the family room perfectly," I responded, smiling at him to hide the guilt I felt by denying him the same memories I'd had at the holidays and even the ones my older sons -- ages 19 and 16 -- had. I felt bad because I knew that Jason was paying the price for being the third child and so much younger than his brothers. Mom and Dad had simply gotten tired of the whole life tree scenario by the time Jason was a pre-schooler. "Besides," I added, "you've had a real tree before."

"Yeah, but I can barely remember it." I quickly did the math in my head and realized that he was probably right. When our family finally succumbed to the logic of buying an artificial tree, Jason had been only six years old. His memory of the years we had a real tree might indeed be foggy. "I can sort of remember going to pick out the tree, and that was really fun," Jason said staring dreamily out the window at yet another Christmas tree lot. They were everywhere, it seemed. I wanted to cave - to say okay, we'd go pick out a real tree. But that fake one was already standing in the family room just waiting for decorations. It's be so much easier, so much less time-consuming - just to go with the fake one again this year.

But Jason is 10. And next year he'll be 11, and then the teenage years aren't far behind. I, of all people, should know how quickly a boy goes from being a bright-eyed child filled with wonder to a skeptical teen on the brink of manhood. But that damn tree stand, what a pain it was to get the trunk of the tree to fit just right and then to have hold the tree up in place while my husband got under the tree and turned the screws on the stand to tighten it. Only to discover the thing was leaning to the left instead of being straight, so we'd have to repeat the process all over.

Ah, but the aroma of real trees. There is nothing like it that signifies Christmas is here. When a real tree is in the house, you know it as soon as you come inside. I can remember standing by the tree when I was a little girl and leaning over close to the branches, taking a deep breath, savoring the aroma of evergreen or fir.

As I stopped the car at a red light, I turned and looked at my son and asked, "Do you really want a real tree?" Wide-eyed, he nodded his head up and down quickly. Then sensing he might be about to get what he wanted, he smiled. Not willing to agree totally to such a sanity-altering decision, I told him, "Let me talk to Dad about it." Yes, Jason now had hope now, but he also knew that his Dad is a frugal person who can calculate in his head how much we've saved over the years by having an artificial tree. There was still some convincing to do.

Help arrived in the form of a letter from Jason's school that he pulled from his backpack when we got home. It was a congratulatory letter because Jason had qualified for the Duke University Talent Identification Program since he scored in the 99% in reading on a recent national test. When my husband walked in the door that night, Jason and I shared the good news with him. My husband told Jason how proud he was of him and had Jason call his grandmother to tell her. Then I knew it was the right time to bring up the Christmas tree request. "Jason," I exclaimed, "tell Dad what you want this Christmas!" And he did, with the awe and excitement of a 10-year-old.

We are going to pick out a real tree this afternoon.



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