Most holiday traditions evoke warm memories and images right out of a Norman Rockwell painting: crackling fires, sumptuous food and the angelic faces of small children listening in rapt attention to stories of sugarplum fairies.
When our four kids were young, my wife and I would bundle them up and drive far out into the countryside to choose the perfect Christmas tree. We would trudge through the new-fallen snow and inspect trees of all shapes and sizes until everyone agreed on the one to cut down.
I'd bring the tree out of the woods with the kids dancing and shouting excitedly behind me. On the way home, we would stop at a quaint little restaurant called Country Breads & More, where we would have hot chocolate and home-baked pastries.
Fast forward 10 years, and the kids have morphed into teenagers. Our holiday tradition has become a nightmare; think Norman Bates instead of Norman Rockwell. After checking the busy schedules of our offspring, we find a weekend afternoon when they are all free. They are thrilled by the idea of going for a drive with their parents.
We cram into the minivan and head south to the tree farm. The soft blanket of snow I remember has been replaced by a light brown sea of slush. As we walk through the woods, my daughters complain that their shoes are getting ruined. Yes, they both wear shoes; boots are so, like, unfashionable. I fondly refer to them as the PITA sisters (Pains In The . . .).
"Dad," says Number Two PITA, "Robin's family bought a tree with the lights already on it."
"Honey," I reply, "they got their tree at the Bon-Ton. This is the great outdoors."
"It is?" she answers, looking around. "Yech!"
Number One Son points to the first tree he sees, a three-foot bush that Charlie Brown would have passed over. "This one's perfect," he yells. "Let's go home." As he struggles to pull the tree out by the roots, the rest of us just move on.
"Here's a pretty good one," I say. I tell Number Two Son to mark it; he pretends to pee on it. "Gross!" shout the PITA sisters.
Amidst the chaos, mom wanders around in a teenager-induced haze. She reminds me of Kanga from the Winnie the Pooh books. She ignores her goofball kids and says things like: "Oh, that's too bad" or: "Be careful; we don't want to catch Lyme disease."
Number One Son has found another tree, a 12-foot blue spruce. "First of all," I say. "How do we get it out of here? And where do we put it in the house?"
"Put it on my back, man," he answers. "And we cut a hole in the family room ceiling."
The PITA girls are text-messaging the outside world -- no doubt describing their excruciating agony. Number Two Son has spotted a couple of cute girls. I overhear him telling them that he is a world-renowned expert on coniferous trees and he would be happy to help them with their selection.
I spy a good tree and get down on all fours to cut it down. As I work the saw, my backside starts to freeze. The boys are stuffing snow down my pants. The PITA sisters are laughing hysterically and mom is saying, "Oh, what a shame." I drag my frozen behind and the $60 tree out of the woods.
Wet and exhausted, I tie the tree to the car and we head out for Country Breads & More. As we walk in, Number Two Son asks if we can order a couple of pitchers of Molsons. Happy Holidays!