It’s not like when they were little. When getting the Christmas tree brought all the joy and excitement of the season. When they would clamor over each other, fighting for their chance to be the one to put the angel on the advent calendar on Christmas day. When nothing mattered more than preparing for the joys of the season.

Now, lethargically, with little effort and a few forced smiles, they give up on decorating the tree halfway through the ornaments.

“It looks good enough,” they whine. “Can we be done?”

I see that all the large paper and playdough ornaments still sit in the box, their imperfect candy-can cut-outs laying on top of the crumbling Christmas-tree dough.

“But what about these? Your preschool ornaments that you made?”

“They’re too big. They’re not as nice as the other ornaments. They don’t matter.”

“They don’t matter? But you made them for us when you were…”

But I can’t finish. Mythili cuts me off. “We’re not getting rid of them, Mama. Don’t freak out. We’re just keeping them in the box.”

We’re just keeping them in the box. We’re just pretending to smile. We’re just going through the motions of the “magic.”

I don’t even like this holiday. How could I? I wasn’t exactly raised a Christian. I’ve just gone through the motions myself all these years. The lights, the tree, the advent calendar (homemade), the decorating of cookies, the baking of zucchini bread, the holiday cards, the portraits with matching outfits, the pies, the hours waiting in line to waste money on Santa pics, the presents.

Trying to build traditions. Memories. A family.

But now, not even grown, not even gone, they are boxing up their childhoods, their simple joys, their everything I’ve tried to build for them.

No one will ever tell you how hard parenting is because it is impossible to describe. From the midnight collicky cries to the ambivalent teen and everything in between, it is a constant struggle to raise a well-balanced, sentimental, sweet, and loving set of small human beings.

Yet, we keep trying. We keep putting up trees and stringing lights and playing Christmas music and baking cookies and trying to take every ornament out of the box.

We keep hoping that they’ll remember this. These small moments, these annual events, these attempts to win their love.

We keep hoping that they won’t leave us in a box as they grow.

But it is only a small hope.

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