A Treppenhauer Year to Remember

When Emily was little, I always worried that her birthday would be overshadowed by all of the fuss leading into Christmas. While other families would throw up all of their Christmas decor as soon as Thanksgiving was over, I would wait. I waited until at least December 15th before we bought a tree, we waited to play Christmas music, and we waited until the birthday balloons started deflating before replacing birthday decorations with Christmas decorations. Maybe to make up for our shorter Christmas season, I decorated like a fiend. Every surface was festive – for our first Christmas in Hawaii I even sprayed all the windows of the house with snow-in-a-can and sprayed the tree with pine scent. Palm trees be damned – inside our little house it was Christmas in Narnia. Decorating the house was a frantic activity, but I fiercely protected the days leading up to Emmy’s birthday because I always wanted her to feel that it was her special time that she didn’t need to share with anyone or anything. On January 6th, we would pull down the tree and put all the decorations away, having had a brief but glorious season. And all the while I patted myself on the back for successfully pulling off yet another birthday celebration for Emily without any interference. I felt like Wonder Woman, pulling off the annual feat.

One December, when Emily was a teenager (I think – memories are blurring), long before her birthday, she asked me, “Why do we wait so long to decorate for Christmas? Other families get their tree at the beginning of the month and they get to enjoy Christmas for so much longer than we do.” I was shocked. I replied, “Honey! I thought your feelings would be hurt if we decorated for Christmas and then your birthday would get squished by the season. Wouldn’t that bother you?” Uh, nope. I still shake my head, when I remember this, wondering why I never thought to ask her opinion. The joy on her face when I told her it was totally up to her when we would start setting up for the holidays, it just lit up the room.

Last Christmas, for the first time, Markus and the kids set up the house for the season. To hear them as they opened up the dozen or so storage bins filled with all of the decor was a glorious din. I was in my study, my head in my books, but every exclamation was crystal clear, as they pulled out ornaments they made in kindergarten and all of the others we had collected over the years. Dried macaroni glued to a cardboard star, painted with gold, with Emily’s smiling 6-year-old face beaming out of the center. More dried macaroni glued to construction paper, signed by 5-year-old Simon. Little glass globes painted with polka dots and rainbow colors, signed by little Hanna. All precious.

One family tradition we had was to buy five new ornaments every year. My end goal was to have a big box of ornaments to give to each child when they became adults as they set out to decorate their own trees in their own homes. Last Christmas, I tried to convince Emily that it was high time we boxed up her ornaments so she could have them for her new home this year. She teared up and insisted that it was too soon – we were going to have more Christmases together and she wanted her ornaments all mixed up with the others on our tree.

Then came 2020. At the beginning of the pandemic, the five of us huddled together and stayed well. In April, with the threat of the Canadian border closing and separating Emily from her Love, we forced her to pack up the car and head for Banff. We knew it was the right thing because her heart yearned to spend the rest of her life with Andrew, but we also knew it would tear her heart in half to leave us behind. Adulting is painful. We comforted each other every month as the border closure was extended, vowing that we would have Christmas all together this year.

So we decorated early again this month, long before Emmy’s birthday. Markus went out and bought the tallest tree he could find. We opened up our dozen boxes of decor and filled the new apartment with Christmas cheer. And we hung up the cardboard star, the dried macaroni, the little hand-painted globes, and all of the rest of the family ornaments. All the while, Emily and Hanna were in our hearts.

One of the hardest parts about growing up in our family is that our birthday celebrations are so joyful and full of love that when birthdays roll around in adulthood, there are pangs of homesickness that pierce through, no matter where you are. As the oldest, Emily has had to experience more of this than the younger ones, although Hanna and Simon both had their share in this awful year.

Today is Emily’s birthday. She knows that this Christmas won’t go as planned. She will remain in Banff with Andrew and his family, Hanna will be in Idaho with her Kristian and his family, and Simon, Markus and I will be here in San Francisco. Her heart is still torn, but she knows that in doing this, we will all be healthy enough to see each other in 2021. This year, on her birthday, she and Hanna are giving me the gift of safety. A priceless gift that I will always be grateful for.

In the Age of Pandemic what is age, except the perseverance and wisdom that comes from learning through experience? You might say that survival in 2020 is random – that only lucky people are spared from Covid-19 – but I know that it takes much more to survive and thrive. It takes willpower, patience, sacrifice, and hope. Add a sprinkling of good humor, a large dose of love, an appetite for knowledge, simmer for 28 years, and you have our lovely Emily. To give Emily and Andrew someone to share their hearts with, we helped them adopt their new furry baby girl, Roxanne, today. This is a birthday to remember. On this day, our darling Emmy was born, I’m a furbaby grandma for the 5th time as we welcome Roxanne Treppenhauer into the family, and we are Treppenhauer Strong in the face of a pandemic. Never before have we been further apart geographically, but closer together in our hearts. Happy Birthday, Emily! We love you forever, we like you for always, as long as we’re living, our baby you’ll be.

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