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its-a-wonderful-life-titleIt’s taken a few seasons, but I’ve learned that sepia-toned, bittersweet nostalgia—rather than Christmas cake with mulled wine—comprises the holiday fare of midlife moms.

And like the best Christmas pudding, fine cheese or wine, it ages well with each passing Christmas.

This year, Alex is seven, Lizzie is four—and I am forty-nine. I’m excitedly rubbing my hands together in anticipation because we are entering the era of real participation for the children in the seasonal festivities.

And I’m beginning to see what my parents saw over the Christmases of the 1960’s and early 70s. But my vision, like the Ghost of Christmas Future, stretches far beyond theirs as parents in their 20s and 30s.

Still, the sacred fest of decorating a tree cannot be praised without mention of the one relic that lies buried in those decades—tinsel.

Tinsel was the last loving touch to grace the tree. Perhaps the cause of its virtual extinction lies in its gleaming tenacity. Removing tinsel from a spent tree was a fine art with a requisite pair of tweezers.

In fact, I think young people should have apprenticed as tinsel-tweezers—a hallowed tradition with trade secrets similar to those of a watch-maker or seamstress.

Instead, the writing was on the wall for tinsel when, months after the tree had been cremated, we would still be finding crumpled strings of it under the sofa and in dark corners of hallways.

Now, the thready voices of old crooners and cherished story-tellers can be heard echoing down the hallways of Christmas Past—Judy Garland having herself “a merry little Christmas” (http://www NULL.youtube NULL.com/watch?v=5g4lY8Y3eoo),  Burl Ives (http://www NULL.youtube NULL.com/watch?v=7WzAyderAKU), and Perry Como (http://www NULL.youtube NULL.com/watch?v=QckR90tFmnQ); and from films like It’s A Wonderful Life (http://www NULL.amazon NULL.com/gp/product/7885729389?ie=UTF8&tag=flopowmom-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=7885729389) and A Christmas Carol (the original with Alistair Sim) (http://www NULL.amazon NULL.com/gp/product/B000SR0DDE?ie=UTF8&tag=flopowmom-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B000SR0DDE) which were staples of my childhood—an era when many of those singers and actors were still alive to breathe steam into the crisp air of a Christmas Eve.

But my most poignant memory was the ritual of decorating the tree while sipping on hot chocolate and savoring crumbling baked treats.

And, since having my children so late in life, my Christmas epiphany is the realization that I can no longer embrace it with the breathless, light-hearted joy of a child.

Like Scrooge witnessing all he had lost from days gone by, it would be in the almost painful pleasure of longing to reach out caress a distant past that is forever just out of reach.

When you have 30 to 40 years under your Santa belt, you feel the sadness of mortality—that sooner or later, like my mother and Frank’s father—loved ones will disappear from around the family Christmas tree.

But within that nostalgic “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” (http://www NULL.youtube NULL.com/watch?v=0Xbs4MWc-ss) longing—so much more intense than it is for younger parents—lies a Christmas gift beyond value.

When I look at my young children in their Santa hats, eyes sparkling with anticipation and cheeks glowing with the sheer glee of the moment, I really know what I have here before me.

I know it the way my grandparents knew it. They knew nothing was forever. They knew that young children were the perfect baubles showered upon us by an inscrutable universe and that each day we have with them is a gift and a blessing.

So every morning in the run-up to Christmas—which is beginning to feel like gymnastic try-outs for Santa’s reindeer team—I haul my perimenopausal heap out of bed and savor every moment of a new generation of Christmas traditions.

When we go to the local tree farm to chop down our tree, the owners are serving hot chocolate and cider, all wearing their Santa hats. We march up the hill with a saw in tow, to find the “biggest and best” tree we can find.

At the pinnacle of a tree-lined hill that is bleached clean of man-made structures, as I stand victorious and puffing like a winded old mare, little Lizzie suddenly announces that she needs to pee.

And Alex decides that he wants to cut down the Monterey Pine with a hole big enough to launch a nuclear missile through it.

And, after “timbering” the tree, Frank informs us that he wishes to leave a clean stump for the owners of the tree farm as a courtesy and spends an extra fifteen minutes seesawing a mere four “excess” inches of stump with the full weight of his six-foot-five frame lying on the ground in fetal position.

As we all look on silently (stumped for words) at the superfluous trimming of the small tree stump, Alex pipes up with genuine bewilderment:

“Mom, why is he doing that?”

I ruffle his hair reassuringly. “It’s alright, Alex. Dad’s just been working a little hard lately, that’s all.”

Back at home, we prepare for the Family Tree Decorating Party.

As Frank manages to squeeze the crown of an 11-foot tree beneath the remaining few inches of ceiling in our living room and string it with lights, he stands back to survey his handiwork with child-like satisfaction. I grimace with the sheer pain of trying to ward off the image of Clark Griswold and his 25,000 imported lights (http://www NULL.youtube NULL.com/watch?v=ian6NyXpszw).

Knowing I’m going to experience the bitter pain of regret of a parent-of-sugar-buzzed-children survivor, I fill a festively doilied platter with Christmas tree cookies, caramel popcorn and hot chocolate pillowed with fluffy marshmallows.

(Wasn’t it Bob Cratchit who said Christmas comes but once a year?)

Within minutes of their feast, Alex and Lizzie are glassy-eyed, dancing rings around the tree to the resounding chorus of Joy To The World (http://www NULL.youtube NULL.com/watch?v=Y5iRUABBiko), armed with shining ornaments and drizzling the dregs of their hot chocolates on the floor like a pastry chef with a hot ganache.

As I protectively cradle the few prized, hand-painted glass bulbs from the Bombay Company (http://www NULL.bombaycompany NULL.com/) as if they were newborn babes, Frank looks over at me with a wry, lopsided grin.

“At least they’re not eating the apple-ornaments this year!”

Alex is crashing from his sugar buzz and beginning to whine because Lizzie hung his coveted wooden, hand-carved salmon from Vancouver upon the tree.

I must remember this moment. I must savor every grain of my gratitude.

And I know why.

Yes, it’s messy, exhausting, and exasperating, and it’s perfect. Midlife moms are like George Bailey at the close of It’s A Wonderful Life (http://www NULL.youtube NULL.com/watch?v=ErrzjGCi3gY)—we are humbled by the miraculous munificence of our familial universe, having traveled a such a long, thorny road in search of our blessings.

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