Opinion

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Reporter's Notebook

Family Traditions

Viewing Christmas and the holidays in an entirely new light, through the lens of parenthood

When I picked up Fisher, my 2-year-old toddler, from daycare the other day, he presented me with his latest art project, a Christmas ornament. “Me make red,” he said. Indeed, it was quite red, and as large as his head. Hanging on our tiny tree at home, it looked like a hot air balloon had crashed into a well-lit pine tree.

The ornament is my favorite of his school creations since his piece entitled “Baby Gus,” an avant-garde depiction of his infant brother. The marker-drawn portrait is a fiercely minimalist showcase of disjointed lines, as if sketched by Picasso during a debilitating fever dream. The teacher included a quote from Fisher, with the young artist explaining his process: “Making purple.” Nobody can question the boy’s grasp of the color spectrum.

My mom still has a collection of my Christmas creations from childhood, some of which are displayed during the holidays. Their existence for many years mainly served the purpose, at least to me, of garden-variety nostalgia and providing a few chuckles at a clay Santa sculpture’s grotesquely misaligned joints and skeletal structure.

But now I see them as my mom does, through the lens of parenthood, and they seem far more vital. As I write this, it’s not yet Christmas, but the holiday spirit has fully taken over Fisher, who is now old enough to enjoy Santa and other Christmas emblems like Frosty the Snowman, and relish his role in the capitalist custom of burying children under mounds of gifts.

In other words, Fisher has reached an age where he can truly appreciate Christmas, which is to say we’re ready to begin our own family traditions. Gus, of course, is part of these fledgling traditions, but at 3 months old, he will experience the holidays much like Fisher did as a baby: gurgling and drooling, absorbing the hustle and bustle as an immobile observer, happily but not yet knowingly.

Yet, therein lies the beauty: the boys are blank slates, and we as parents have the privilege of filling in the details of shared experience, facilitating their future memories.

I look back at my Christmas art projects with fondness, not because of the results rendered, but because of the process that rendered them: sitting down at a table with my parents to build a little magic. The same goes for the annual tree-decorating missions of my childhood, an endeavor filled with Christmas music, ornaments of endless assortment and a pure joy not attainable for me during adulthood until I became a parent.

The clarity of those memories, largely dormant in past years and only partially awoken during the holidays, has now intensified, as I can literally see myself in Fisher and Gus.

Art projects and photographs may wither with time, but the accumulated experiences that permeate our essential being remain forever rooted inside us, somewhere, at times consciously felt but more often unconsciously, shaping the arc of our lives until we have the opportunity to shape the arcs of lives we bring into the world.

Kate, Fisher, Gus and I can now all make purple together, as a family, which everyone knows is the best way to make purple.