I don't know that anyone ever warned me, but in case you don't know, once you leave home for the first time, holidays lose a hint of the magical power they once held.
Nearly every year since, I've made it back for Christmas at my parents' house in Pullman, but my brother's out of the house now, too, and I find that some of the traditions just don't feel right anymore. Where he and I used to sit curled in blankets on the couch, waiting for my dad to pass out stockings, and later, gifts from under the tree, my parents and I now look forward to a Skype session with him and his wife in California, the joy still there, just kind of pixelated.
I've never been a big fan of the work of hanging up ornaments, but there are a few that always make it onto the tree, carrying the memories of decades of holiday fun. The more things change, the more I find comfort in these tiny trinkets, like a half-open blue sphere with a tiny plastic deer walking through a snowy scene. It was one of my mom's favorite ornaments when she was growing up, too.
Without fail every year, tucked between the tinsel and shiny orbs, my mom makes sure to find a place on the branches of the tree for a clunky, white cardboard snowman.
It's something I still remember proudly making, secretly hoarding what looks like paper container lids, sticking them together with crisscrosses of Scotch tape and the fine motor skills of a 6-year-old. I had to cut out the smallest circle myself, using the cardboard insert from a pair of tights. Apparently, I kept asking my mom, who I intended to give this gift to, for supplies. She tells me now that I had to assure her I wasn't taping my little brother to the bed or planning to give him a haircut.
When I finally finished the scribbled face and gave it to her on Christmas Day, she cried. I was proud of myself then; I'm sure I didn't think she'd keep it and continue putting it on the tree year after year, but she has.
"It's one of those things," she says, "if you ever decide to have kids, when your little sweet pigtailed daughter hands you this present she has made from scratch, and she is just beaming and happy that you're happy, of course you're going to keep the ornament and hang it on the tree for the rest of your life."
So while my parents' kittens have since taken our place at home (my mom literally called me "kitty" on the phone by accident when I called her to talk about this), there'll still be a part of me proudly beaming at that snowman when we put it on the tree.
It means I'm home. ♦
Samantha Wohlfeil is a staff writer at the Inlander. With a December birthday, she wants to remind you that Christmas doesn't start the day after Thanksgiving.