On Christmas ornaments & attachment
Posted on December 12th, 2012
here’s a distinctive sound that an ornament makes when it falls off of the Christmas tree to its death—sort of a crunch and musical tinkling sound that happen almost simultaneously.
I hate that sound.
On Friday, our family decorated the Christmas tree together. This is not so much a quietly joyous occasion to which I look forward as much as an extended exercise in self-control, conducted while I perform an exacting inventory of my personal and parental priorities. Our children have been mobile for enough years now that you think I would be better prepared for this by now, that I’d have girded my psychic loins at the very least in advance of that first inevitable sound of glass breaking, but no.
Every year, The Three get bigger and faster and louder. Lively and quick and not entirely unlike St. Nick, they are up to their elbows first, then their shoulders, digging through packing material and squealing with the discovery of each rediscovered treasure. They mourn anew the loss of the precious, first-Christmas cat ornament that finally vanishedto the mists of time because the recipient wouldn’t stop playing with the damn thing. They recount the glory of the creation of this or that hanging piece of art, relentlessly detailing their (largely embellished) memory of the labor exerted in kindergarten to bring that clay-tastic sun-like thing into existence. Occasionally, they invent what I can only describe as Legends of Loss, accounting for the absence of some precious ornament with an obviously fabricated memory of one of the others having broken it.
And they hang ornaments. Poorly.
Last Friday, I hung back at the dining room table, my presence lending some nominal supervision to the proceedings while keeping me far enough away from the real action so that I couldn’t ruin the fun. I kept trying to remember my friend’s words about attachment and all of the tiresome, preachy reams on the subject to which I’ve been exposed, but in the end none of it could stop me from flinching.
We only heard the noise once that night. And when that inevitable crunch-tinkle sound rang out, it was sad to see their faces, still so little. Eyes round, they looked at one another and then at me. ‘What had been lost?’ they asked, and I realized then that they dreaded the noise as much as I did.
Nothing important, I told them, meaning it more than I have in the past.
When The Three were finally nestled all snug in their beds, Scott and I talked downstairs until we were interrupted by a new and terrible sound. No crunch-tinkle this, but a whooshing waterfall of white noise, fast but distinct, followed by an abrupt, cushioned crash.
The tree, in all its nearly-decorated glory, was in a heap on the floor. On hands and knees we soaked up water, swept up shards and, finally, redecorated with what we had.
It wasn’t the same without them.∗