I carefully unwrapped the tissue paper surrounding each delicate ornament and set it on the counter, only to have a little set of hands grab it a moment later.
We'd started a tradition: Mom unwraps the ornaments, boys wrangle for and grab the "interesting" ones and run them to the tree where Dad is waiting to guide the placement of the baubles on the tree.
I insist on unwrapping the ornaments myself. It serves as a mini-trip down Memory Lane for me: the handmade ornaments from my childhood, the trinkets I collected as a single gal in my twenties in anticipation for the family tree I would one day have, and the souvenirs from trips Hubby and I took as newlyweds.
Many have long since been broken; shattered by overzealous little hands unable to resist the glittery shapes of trains and snowmen and rocking horses. As I unwrap the ones that have survived, I remember certain ones that had meaning for me - ones whose shattered pieces I regrettably had to scoop up and throw in the garbage. If I had known that having a family meant my precious memories would get destroyed, would I have rethought having one?
"I want this train," the four-year-old yells as he takes a cable car ornament that Hubby and I picked up from a street vendor in San Francisco. I clearly remember the moment. After months of trying, we had found out that day that we were pregnant. We had the artist write "The Glows" on the top in anticipation of the family that we were starting.
Two weeks after returning from that trip, I miscarried. We struggled to get pregnant for a year after that and had two more miscarriages on our journey to become parents. If I had known having a family meant struggling so much to obtain something that should have been so easy, would I have rethought having one?
"Here's a Joey ornament," the ten-year-old announces as he picks up a star with the name of the brother he lost to cancer. I look in the box and see Joey's smiling three-year-old face on another ornament and his bloated, sick cancer face on another. If I had known having a family meant I would have to hold my child as he took his last breath and bury him at the tender age of six, would I have rethought having one?
If I had known that having a family meant heartache and pain, struggle and sadness, would I have wanted one so badly? If that twenty-something single gal had known that she would suffer unimaginable losses and wail tears of utter heartbreak, would she have been so eager to share her love with others?
"It's done, let's light it up!" Hubby claps his hands together as the eleven-year-old runs to turn off the lights.
As the tree lights up and the dark living room floods with lights, my heart and mind flood with memories:
The midnight proposal on New Year's Eve.
Holding my two newborn babies in my arms.
Dance parties in the basement of our first family home.
Camping in the backyard all huddled together in a small tent until it became too cold and we had to cuddle inside.
Movie nights and popcorn - always popcorn.
Reading "oldies, but goodies."
Vacations and discovering new things and places
So many hugs and kisses, cuddles and sweet compliments.
Memories that are unspeakably sweet and bitter at the same time.
Memories that don't need a vessel to contain them - only my heart.
I know what it means to have a family. It does indeed mean heartbreak and heartache, but only because it also means total and complete love and joy. It means that the memories we'd rather forget coexist with the ones we want to relive over and over again. It means cherishing both the light and the dark times because they have equally made us a family - a family who loves and laughs and lives and cries and remembers.
We hold on tight because we are a family. Through syrupy thick and bitterly thin, we stick together. That's what it means to have a family.
Read my latest post on Her View From Home about a sweet and sour Christmas family memory.
Let's connect on Facebook.