Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Comfort Of A Christmas Tree

by Amy Ruhlin

In the late afternoons and into the early evenings as the sun lowers and the sky darkens, my children move towards our lighted Christmas tree. They sit as close to it as they possibly can, with their laptops and their iPods and their earphones; they are, after all, 17 and 20. They are constantly plugged into the world with its breathtaking beauty and unspeakable horror. My daughter looks up from her laptop and says that it is time for gun control after the Newtown tragedy. Then she tells me that our tree is really pretty. My son takes his earphones off and asks me if I have heard the news. I say yes and then he tells me that he does not want to watch it on TV and he puts his earphones back on and listens to the soaring of his music. He knows what he cannot bear to see. They are, both of them, on the cusp of adulthood, swimming upstream, doing their best to understand that both light and dark inhabit our world.

Our tree is full of angels. I have collected them over the years. There is one made out of newly picked cotton, another forged out of metal, one that is hand carved from oak. There are angels everywhere, in different shapes and sizes, all of them made from different materials. The tree is fully alive. It drinks so much water that we have to refill the stand each morning.

I argued against putting up a live tree this year. We've had one for many years and I didn't feel like dragging the ornaments out of the attic. Here at midlife, I become weary and I crave change. "The kids are older," I said. "Let's just go with a nice poinsettia perched in the corner." But my kids knew better. They encouraged me to buy a live tree.

Our children, all children who are moving into adulthood, are brave. They take in horrific news, and like us, they try to cope with grief and to seek solutions. They are aware of the world that awaits them as adults and yet they keep moving towards light. Here at midlife, they bring me comfort and give me hope.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Best Christmas Gifts I Have Received

by Amy Ruhlin                 

This will be my 51st Christmas.  When I look back on all of the gifts that I have received over the years there are a few that are my all-time favorites:

A 2 day TV rental -   My  husband and I were living in a second floor apartment. We were in our early twenties. I was in graduate school and he had just started his first job out of college making very little money. We had managed to furnish our apartment with a used sofa, a kitchen table, a queen size mattress and a small black and white TV.  One evening near Christmas I told him how much I was looking forward to the holiday television specials; how I had loved them as a child and how I felt a little sad that we would be watching them in black and white. A few days later around 5:30 in the evening I heard him walking up the stairs coming home from work, just as I always did.  But his steps sounded different, they were slow and labored. I opened the front door to take a look and all I could see was a large TV moving towards me up the stairs. My husband had it perched on his shoulders and it looked like it would break his back. “What are you doing?” I asked. I knew we couldn’t afford to buy a new television. "I rented you a color TV. We have enough money to keep it for two days,” he said.   I opened my mouth to speak but could not find the words.

A Christmas ornament made of Popsicle sticks -   My  daughter  was five years old and spending the day at a friend’s house. She was there for a long time, longer than she usually stayed for a visit and so I began to worry.  A young mother’s worries: Was she okay?  Maybe she is missing me. What are they doing? Should I telephone the friend’s mother?  Finally, in the late afternoon she came home, safely bundled up  in her puffy blue coat. “Look mommy,” she said. "I worked hard on this all day.” She placed a Christmas ornament in my hand. My first handmade ornament from a child. She had spent the entire day cutting, gluing and aligning little sticks together to create a miniature wooden sled. She had used her best handwriting to print “To mom” in red and to sign her name in green. The beauty of that little sled stunned me. The time and care that she had taken to create it nearly broke my heart.
A recycled Sprite bottle -  When my son was in preschool he made me an ornament out of  a plastic 2 liter Sprite bottle. The teacher had sliced off the bottom portion and my son added the glitter.  Because of  it's shape and transparency the ornament looked like an exqusite sea creature. When he brought it home we placed it on the tree directly in front of a light. At the sight of this my son's face lit up and he said, “It glows!”  My face lit up too.

A little girl's selfless devotion given with popsicle sticks; a small boy's sense of wonder at the sight of light filtered through green plastic; a young man’s extraordinary kindness offered up as a cheap rental. On my 51st Christmas, these are the gifts that I remember as the best presents I’ve ever received.