January 13, 2007
Last week I noticed my two year old son staring out the window with his face pressed against the glass. I came over and he pointed out to the curb. "Tree," he said.
I had worried about this. The night before we had undecorated the Christmas tree while he was sleeping. Now it was 6:30 in the morning and it was the first thing he noticed.
He had been pretty excited about the tree. The night we put it up he kept disappearing and reappearing from the living room as we arranged the lights. We thought he wasn't interested and was getting cars or something. He was actually hauling his pillows and blankets into the room so he could go to sleep in view of the tree. For the month it was up, turning on the Christmas lights was the first order of the day.
And now the tree was out on the street with the garbage. He insisted on an inspection, so we went outside. There it was on the curb wet from rain and with a single ornament dangling from it's lower branch. He immediately ran over and began a valiant attempt to drag the 7 foot tree back to the house. He's less than 3 feet tall. I explained the tree had spent a long time with us making us happy but now it was time for it to go away to be with the other trees. I pointed out the many trees scattered on the curb up and down the block. He paused, considered the explanation, and solemnly waved goodbye to the tree. We removed the ornament. Then, grabbing my hand he led me down the street and with real gravitas said goodbye to each and every tree.
Other than my own dim memories I knew nothing of the world of toddlers until I had one of my own, but I've come to believe that our early years are the ones in which we are the truest versions of ourselves. In those years we are without the accumulated layers of knowledge, the cruft of life, that gives our world boundaries. The truth was I was sad too and at that moment it felt unfair we couldn't keep trees in the house all year long. I almost believed my own white lie about the trees returning to the forest. Comforting. And of course that's how it starts, one day you realize the trees are just going to mulched and sent to the dump and you wonder why your father lied to you. You don't realize until much later that this is the lie he had heard from his father.
Afterwards we returned home and my son searched through the house until he found his Christmas book featuring a tree. Again, he said "bye bye," and then, satisfied, he threw the book aside and bounded upstairs ready for the next thing.