Our first Christmas together we were mere days away from being married. I inherited a tree from Mom. It was the tree I had grown up with. It had seen better days, but it was free. We were living on love at that point, so free was our favorite color. I don’t remember a lot of details about that first Christmas together because the wedding was consuming my every thought.

Fast forward through the childless years. Christmas was fun, romantic, quiet, neat. We made more money, bought better gifts, enjoyed our time together. We could’ve afforded a new tree, but loved that scrawny little thing we lovingly put up every year.

Then we had a baby. Everything changed. She was only 2 ½ months old her first Christmas. I had wrapped all the gifts and then unwrapped them all, showing them with new-parent-glee to the gurgling, drooling, poop machine swaddled in her bouncy seat next to me. The next Christmas she could walk and talk, and while she was still a moderately efficient poop machine, she was way more fun.

Then came baby #2. He was a month old his first Christmas. His sister hated him and I spent most of that year with him attached to a boob while I wrapped presents with much less efficiency than I ever had before, all while chasing a toddler. Paul worked long hours and I cried a lot. We were still putting together that hand-me-down tree, but with considerably more duct tape now.

Then next few Christmases were delightful and magical and Santa-tastic. Then another baby! This one five whole days before Christmas. I had been on bed rest for six weeks prior to her birth. That was the year Paul dragged down the tree and I, in my hormonal state, declared the [blankity blank] tree to be inferior and not worthy of another Christmas. (See: hormones) I sent my poor, weary husband to Walmart with the checkbook with explicit instructions. It was pre-lit and full and beautiful. I don’t remember much of that Christmas other than exhaustion, cracked nipples, and tears. All I wanted that year from Santa was a gift certificate for Paul a vasectomy.

Christmases since then have been three times the chaos, three times the magic, three times the stress. They grew to dread putting up the tree because I was “gripey.” I probably was. Paul and I coined the term “Christmas Eve tired” because it never failed, we had forgotten to assemble at least one gift and it was usually the gift that needed 468 batteries, an allen wrench in a size we didn’t have, and by the time it was all put together, we weren’t speaking to each other and it was almost time for the kids to get up.

I didn’t gripe a single time while putting up the tree this year. Of course, I did it myself because the teenagers were gone and Paul was watching Swamp People. The grandbaby presents have taken over my dining room because there isn’t enough room under the tree. I now have two trees – one is now 16 years old and isn’t pre-lit anymore because of that one Christmas Paul and I spent four hours cutting the wires off of every branch because the lights quit working and we were too broke to buy new lights, much less a tree. We looked like we had fought a wolverine by the time we were done, but that was the year we cussed the tree and not each other.

While I miss my darling babies in their cute nightgowns and footie pajamas and all the Santa magic, I do enjoy the grumpy teenagers who sleep considerably later now. I used to buy for three. Now I buy for eight. Christmas Eve doesn’t involve batteries and last-minute wrapping – it’s all about the Mario Kart and ridiculous amounts of laughter. And while sometimes I get melancholy that the holiday has changed, I quickly shake it off because, while it’s definitely different, it’s just quite lovely the way it is now. All the Christmases past helped shape the Christmases now and yet to come. I like that. Merry Christmas, Constant Reader. I hope your stockings are just blessed right off this year.

Born a semi-diva and married to a redneck, through the magic of osmosis or just because of a serious lack of sophistication over the years, Kristin Hoover has found a balance of the two that makes her what she is today.