Recently, our family went to see the musical Once, which I recommend everyone see at least once in their lives, in either musical or film format, because it is a genuinely nice little story about a boy and a girl, and meanwhile the music is fantastic. Seeing it performed live does make it all the better, because there is something magical that happens as the performers dance around the stage with their guitars and fiddles and accordions, making the story of their songs, not just singing songs about their story, if that makes sense. From the start, the music catches up your heart and doesn’t let it go, so you find yourself just sitting there on your bar stool in a pub in Ireland, and it doesn’t even matter anymore that you could only find enough seats together so far away from the stage that the actors officially have no faces, not that you could have afforded seats together in any other section of the theater, but you are there, living it, and oh, that music, though.
Our three children are old enough that they’ve left the accumulating fun-and-temporarily-exciting things stage of their lives and entered the, “I don’t really want anything,” stage, so year before last we decided that instead of giving socks and sweaters for Christmas, we would begin a new tradition of doing our best to give them memories. That year, the week of Christmas, we took a real family vacation to Colorado, which is something we had never done before. We weren’t there to visit anyone, but to simply enjoy the mountains, so tall I cried a little every time I stepped outside, and snow, so deep in places I felt like a little kid getting lost in it again, and the peace of true solitude, which was unfathomably awesome.
On the drive out, all five of us crammed in our little Ford Fiesta, we got stuck in a snowstorm in the panhandle of Texas, and it took us six hours to travel twenty miles. The next day, when we reached our cabin, which was up in the snowline of the Chalk Cliffs, we were so cut off from the rest of the world that in order to get a single, iffy bar of cellular service, we had to travel two miles east. Meanwhile, we aren’t exactly made of money, and the vacation had tapped us nearly dry, so the only Christmas tree we could afford was a tiny, five dollar potted plant that we decorated with strung popcorn like the olden days, and while we did give the kids money to buy small gifts for each other, my husband and I exchanged small presents, and of course Santa Claus came down the chimney in the middle of the night, bringing us one plastic sled and some candy to share between us, we agreed that it didn’t feel like Christmas. We missed many of our old family traditions and sitting around the tree at home on Christmas morning, unwrapping our surprises, even if they had only been surprises of the socks and sweaters variety.
Don’t get me wrong, we had a wonderful time, but we learned some valuable lessons about adventure on that journey, and needless to say a few rules came of the endeavor:
1. If we ever go anywhere for Christmas again, we must be able to afford a tree and decorations while there;
2. Any trip over three hours requires we take two vehicles or we fly, especially if there is a possibility of snow;
3. Decent cellular service is required wherever we are staying, not two miles away. We must be able to text from our beds at night and receive Snapchats from friends in a snap, as the name implies.
I’m still not sure why this last rule is necessary, because I was perfectly content out there on our own in the wilderness, though I should probably admit, I’m the proud, yet begrudging, owner of this little bad boy, which I only use for playing Sudoku when I’m waiting for swim practice to end.
What can I say? I am forced to carry it. My husband said something about needing to be able to get in touch with me in case of emergency. My children were all like, “Embrace the millennia, Mom.” Most of the time I can’t even hear it anyway, but now I’ve gone totally off topic.
In honor of what we learned from our trek to Colorado, this past Christmas was full of joy, old traditions we appreciate more for our newly acquired perspective on things, and a little traveling under three hours for ice skating’s sake. We decorated the entire house, made garland and wreathes of cuttings from juniper trees, practically drowned in all of the cheesecakes and chocolate chip cookies we made for family and friends, the kids decorated their stockings (as they will probably still be doing when they are old like me), there were random outbursts of Christmas carols, and of course there were plenty of presents under our tree–mostly sweaters and jeans, no socks. When it came down to the last presents left to be opened, the kids knew they would be special because I held them out until the end and made them open them at the same time. At first I think my son was a little confused that they had each received day planners, probably because he is forgetful, and I have handed him more than his fair share of planners in his 19 years, so this was a little inconsiderate on my part, but as they read the message I left them, telling them to proceed in silence, so as not to give anything away for the slower readers among them, and to try not to break anything, and they began eagerly turning to the dates I had marked in their calendars with little envelopes stuffed with tissue paper, there was a swell of quiet elation that felt a lot like staring up at a 14,000 foot mountain for the first time and wishing never to leave. The hush was quickly broken by peels of laughter and stomping of feet, as they unwrapped in turn their tickets to the theater to see a traveling Broadway show, to a cello concert and then a proper music festival in the summer. In the end, when the jumping up and down and happy tears gave way to text messages to friends and Facebook posts, I knew we had just made the best Christmas memory of my entire life, and the best part was that I would get to relive it at least three times.
So we went to see Once, and it didn’t matter that we couldn’t see the actors’ faces, or that our water heater died that morning forcing emergency shower maneuvers, or that just before we entered the balcony to find our seats the alarm system on our house went off and one of our dogs bit an investigating police officer, whom we owe new pants and a doughnut bouquet for his troubles. We were all legitimately happy–the sort of happy that lets you see the humor in everything.
One of these days, I will be an Aged P., and when that day comes, I intend to have a decent list of wise things to tell those who will listen. This will probably be number three on the list:
Give experiences to those you love, even small ones, whenever you can, as much for your own happiness as for theirs.