“She’s a Beaut, Clark!”

So here’s a fun fact. There is a whole list of movies I couldn’t watch as a kid because of the bad words in them. My parents were not about to have it. The “D word” and the “H word” in very small doses were passable sometimes, but anything other than that? Absolutely not. And lest I try to say, “Come on Mom, the PG-13 is only because of violence. There’s no bad words,” she and my dad found a website courtesy of Focus on the Family that would give a complete list of the bad words, their context, and number of times they were said in the movie. 

My parents even bought a “cuss box” for the TV. Most of the kids I went to church with had one. It would bleep out any bad words that came on movies and shows. The funnest thing about it was trying to watch TBN with it plugged in because every time anyone said “God” or “Jesus” it thought the Lord’s name was being taken in vain and it would bleep out all of the preachers while me and my cousin laughed. We loved movies of all kinds, and frequently communicated with each other using only movie references, but because of the bad word rule some of the Christmas classics I didn’t see until after I got married, including all the Chevy Chase Vacation movies, A Christmas Story, and anything with The Simpsons.

Now, every year, Christmas Vacation and A Christmas Story are a tradition with me and Other Half, usually followed by a trip to Hooters on Christmas night. We’re classy like that. 

On Sunday morning when I woke up, I got this idea that I wanted to go to a Christmas tree farm in the mountains and get a real Christmas tree. It wasn’t something we planned for or talked about ahead of time. I’ve never had a real tree before, and it’s not part of our family tradition. We usually go with the prelit tree from Lowes, thank you very much, but I wanted a new experience for the kids. Something they could look back on and remember that wasn’t tainted with the absence of the people we love who we’ve lost in the past couple of years. Something that felt like a fresh start. 

“You mean like the Griswolds?” Other Half said. “And the needles on the floor and the fire hazard and the probably it’ll die before Christmas? Like ‘She’s a beaut, Clark?’” 

“Yes,” I said. “Exactly like that.” 

So we piled in the truck and headed to Boone. Mary Ann was perfectly content because she shares my love for long car trips. Benjamin Button was not amused. He hates anything that takes him away from home for more than a couple of hours, preferring to be near his basketball goal in the driveway and his video games and his snacks. 

“I know you don’t want to go,” I said to him, “But I have cried for months for literally no reason than sadness and this is the first family thing that sounds like pure fun to me, so you will get in the car, and you will act like you’re having the best day of your life no matter what, or when we get there I will push you down the mountain.” Because that’s how the best moms in the world communicate with their kids, right? He wasn’t intimidated and he didn’t miss a beat.

“Good. If you push me down the mountain I won’t have to look for the stupid tree, Karen.” I wanted to thump him in the forehead, but was also low-key impressed with his wit. I let it slide and tried not to let him hear me laugh. 

When we got there, it was such a beautiful day. It was cold but not miserable. Everything felt peaceful. I suddenly understood why all the Hallmark movies involve saving Christmas tree farms. I decided I should’ve had one of those instead of going to NP school. 

We checked in and the lady at the gate gave us this tall PVC pole to measure the tree, and said, “When you find the one you want, just shake it so it wiggles really good and we’ll know to come cut your tree down.”  Benjamin Button made a grab for the pole. Mary Ann said, “Don’t threaten him with a good time,” and I pretended I didn’t hear her so maybe the Christmas tree farm woman wouldn’t think I was the kind of mom who thought inappropriate humor was a good idea from your 11 year old. 

We walked every row looking for the perfect tree, and a couple times I thought Benjamin Button was going to throw his own self down the mountain accidentally, tripping over his own feet and toting around at 10 foot long PVC pipe, but he managed to survive. We finally found the perfect one, and he shook the pole so they would come cut it down for us, got it prepped to load in the car, and gave us the ticket to check out. 

We took some pictures in front of a giant hay bale snowman, and Benjamin Button learned the hard way that if you photo bomb your pre-teen sister, you will probably get pushed and fall down. He laughed the whole time. Mary Ann learned that making Benjamin Button happy is the best feeling in the world. She has told me before, “Seeing him happy just gives you this funny feeling in your chest. It’s the best and nothing else does it.” 

In the car he admitted, “OK, so maybe this didn’t suck as bad as I thought it would.” That is the most glowing review I could have ever hoped for from this kid.

On that note, we started the Amazon search for a perfect tree topper. I saw some really beautiful stars, some super cute Santas and snowmen, and then there was King Kong. With the thought of how good it feels to make Benjamin Button happy, I let him pick. 

“We have to get this one Mom,” he said. “Nothing can top it.” The price was ridiculous.

“On a scale of 1-10 how much do you like this one?” I asked.

“9.8.”

And that’s how I paid $49.95 to have King Kong on the top of my first ever real Christmas tree. 

I got some lights and learned how to put them on through trial and error, and dug out the ornaments. We don’t do fancy and formal. Every year I just buy a ton of mismatched, fun ornaments that have memories attached to them.  

“We’re going to make cookies and not fight with each other and act like a real family, got it?” Benjamin Button said as we got ready to decorate. I couldn’t help  but smile because all the real families I know fight all the time, no matter how much they love each other, but I wasn’t in the mood to shatter his rose-colored glasses.  

Tonight when I got home from work, Amazon had delivered King Kong, and I stood Benjamin Button on one of the kitchen stools and let him put the tree topper on. “I’ve been waiting for you to get home so we could do this part!” He said. 

There might have been some bad words during the trip. OK there definitely were. Maybe not as many as in the Chevy Chase movies. And I’m pretty sure we are the Griswolds. Nothing on the tree matches, we talk to each other like our family is in a sitcom, all while Benjamin Button wants us to be a “real family this year.” But we made the best memories with this tree. At this point no cat has been electrocuted, and unwrapping the the tree didn’t break any windows in the house. Cousin Eddie hasn’t shown up, and there hasn’t yet been a jelly of the month club subscription gifted to us. But I kind of get what Clark was trying to accomplish now.

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