When Marriage Means Learning To Love The Ugly

Please catch my newspaper column each week in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Dayton Daily News and other newspapers across Ohio.  Here’s this week’s column:

I did something this week I swore I would never do, managing to break not one, but two vows in the process.

And it’s all part of the journey I share with you on a regular basis—what many of you have figured out before me—compromises you make as a wife and mother.

For this broken vow story, you and I must go back to my own childhood.

With four Jewish grandparents of varying degrees of observancy, we three Kagan children were raised what I would call, “mildly Jewish.”

Sure, there were candles lit and gifts given on Hanukkah, and my parents saw nothing wrong with our sitting on Santa’s lap or awaking on Christmas morning to find a stash of gifts.

The line of “it’s not religious, if we decide it’s not religious,” stopped abruptly at what we thought was missing from the corner of our living room—a Christmas tree!

“If your grandfather walked in this house and saw a Christmas tree,” our mother warned, “he would drop dead on the spot.”

Nothing like effective parenting of raising your kids with a healthy dose of Jewish guilt.      Not wanting Papa Harry to drop dead on the spot, we’d let the tree begging go until the next year.

Fast forward to my junior year of high school, when our beloved Papa Harry, did, indeed pass away.  Come the next holiday season, we were sure we had the winning Christmas tree argument. “You can’t say Papa Harry would drop dead,” we pointed out so sensitively, “Because he did that last May.”

“If your grandfather knew there was a Christmas tree in this house,” Mom quickly replied, “he would roll over in his grave.”

And so, the Christmas tree conversation appeared to be tabled for all time.

Until it wasn’t.

Until I grew up, became an adult, and could make my own choices.  Rarely, finding a holiday that I didn’t love, I chose to embrace all the bright, shiny pieces of Christmas.  And so yes, I started putting up a tree.  Sometimes small–ornaments hung from a palm tree in my small apartment when I was a newbie TV news reporter in Santa Barbara.

Sometimes over the top big, borrowing my friend Betsy’s Ford F-150 pick up truck to get it home from the lot.

And so I will never forget the early days of dating the man who is now my husband, walking into his home, that first Christmas and seeing a “tree” that almost defies description.

He lost me at artificial.

“What about the wonderful smell from a fresh tree?” I asked.

“What about all the messy needles and the fire hazard?” he countered.

But his tree wasn’t just artificial. It glowed neon branches in colors I didn’t even know existed, bursting out from fake snow encrusted plastic branches.

In a word, his tree was ugly.

“Never in my house,” I vowed that first Christmas.  “Should we marry, we will always have a fresh tree!”

And so here we are, married, living together. Busy lives, so much travel, multiple jobs, children, animals.

The thought of hauling off to the fresh tree lot is overwhelming.

“The messy needles,” I caught myself complaining to no one but me. “The expense,” thinking, “Y’know,there’s that perfectly good tree down in the basement.”

“How about this weekend you haul up your fake tree from the basement?” I asked my husband sweetly early this week.

He looked at me like aliens had invaded my brain.

“I thought you always wanted fresh?” he asked.

“Y’know, the expense, the mess. Besides, no one else in the world has your tree. Truly must be one of a kind.”

Between you and me, I can’t imagine they ever sold more than one of these things.

So, in one hauling of a tree, I’ve managed to offend my late grandfather and break a vow to my long single self. Talk about overachieving.

Once it was up, I did indeed see the ugly fake neon colors. There might be even more than last year.

But now I also see a one-stop shop. Plug it in you’re done. I also see a symbol of how my husband did the best he could as a longtime single dad to the wonderful girl I’m now lucky enough to call my daughter.

That to me makes the world’s ugliest tree a thing of true holiday beauty.

Please tell me you’ve made similar holiday compromises?

See, I need something to tell my daughter.

“I thought you promised we’d have a fresh tree,” she pointed out as she about passed out seeing the glowing plastic up in the corner of the living room.

“Uh, you’re right, I did,” I admitted. “Next year. I promise.”



When Marriage Means Learning To Love The Ugly

by DarynKagan time to read: 3 min