I’ve been learning a lot about myself since I got married. For example, I am coming to realize that I’m the kind of person who really cares about things going the way I imagine they should.

I was that kid who freaked out when my ice cream sandwich broke in half. I remember being five years old at my grandparents’ house, shrieking in agony over the broken dessert. My mom was holding the two pieces gently in her hand while she tried to reason with me. “It’s the same ice cream sandwich. It’s just in two pieces instead of one.” I continue sobbing. “Sarah, it’s all going to end of in lots of pieces in your stomach anyway. It will taste just the same.” Sobbing intensifies. Finally my mom lost all patience. “Fine. You can eat this one or don’t have one at all. I’m not giving you a new one.”

This compulsive behavior transferred into my adult life in the form of traditions. I now realize—when compared to Mike—that I love traditions. Especially as they pertain to holidays. My family has been doing the same traditions for Christmas for as long as I can remember. And if those traditions are altered, then (internally) I revert back to that five-year-old, freaking out over a broken ice cream sandwich.

This information is necessary to explain last Saturday.

It is Mike’s and my first Christmas together: our first time putting up twinkle lights on the windows, our first time hanging up stockings and wrapping presents, and—most importantly—our first time putting up a Christmas tree.

We were going with my family to a lovely Christmas tree farm to pick out our tree. It was a picturesque little farm where a horse-pulled wagon took you around to the various trees. When you picked yours out, you could then get some free cocoa or coffee. Perfect.

I was so excited about this excursion. I spent the morning curling my hair and doing my makeup just so. I was going to wear my favorite chunky knit sweater. Basically I wanted to look exactly like they do in those Target commercials.

At the farm, my sister took pictures of Mike and me holding our perfectly-shaped, four-foot Blue Spruce. I was eagerly anticipating going back to our apartment, putting on some Sufjan Stevens Christmas, and busting out the ornaments.

But, of course, the day couldn’t go perfectly. We had all cut our trees and brought them to be wrapped. That’s when we saw the price sign. “Fifty bucks for a four-foot tree?” Mike exclaimed. “We can’t do that.”

“That must be the price for the pre-cut bigger ones,” I said. But no. It was standard rate for any tree we pick, big or small.

Julia came up to us and said, “We’re not paying that much for our tree. Maybe we should just leave the trees and go somewhere else.” All of a sudden, the image of being at home, putting up lights with Mike, and drinking rum and cider vanished from my mind.

“I was really hoping to be home soon…” I said. My mom suggested that we just drive home and stop at one of the places on Plainfield that sells trees in the parking lot. I agreed grudgingly, but the five-year-old version of me was kicking and screaming and saying, “It’s NOT THE SAME!” It was the same feeling I had when my ice cream sandwich broke in two.

We ended up buying another tree for about half the price of the blue spruce we had cut down at the farm. We stuck it in the trunk and drove home. It was an altogether anticlimactic end to the day, and it was not how I had wanted it to go.

Thankfully we still had that picture of us holding our first tree like a trophy: we are smiling, bundled up, and my hair looks perfect. And, as far as I’m concerned, when someone asks us about our first Christmas together, that’s the picture I’m going to show.

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