He came with us, willingly, to pick out a tree. He was engaged in the process, and he smiled mightily when the tree was chosen as he agreed with the choice. He helped his dad strap the tree to the car, managing to contain his disappointment when Pete pulled his tie out to double tie it to the Jeep's roof.
Arriving home, he was helpful in the tree unloading process. He carried the mistletoe up and, at ease with his trying-to-be-helpful little brother, he found a tack and a hammer and placed the mistletoe in a fabulous place.
When it was time to go to the lame-ass tree lighting ceremony in our smallish city, he came while his sister opted out. He stood in the light drizzle and didn't complain about the rain and the crowds and the chill. He even decorated a sugar cookie and devoured it. He nodded at the girl he knew who was serving hot chocolate. He stood by and watched as the countdown to the lighting commenced.
Before decorating our own tree, he pulled out the Bailey's Irish Creme we'd hidden for Pete, got a glass of ice, and said to his Dad, "Here's an early Christmas gift. This seems like the right time to give it to you." He helped decorate the tree, never once bemoaning my teary eyes as I pulled out his first Christmas ornament and the Woody and Buzz ones and Blue and so many homemade ones.
Later, he found the DVD with the early 60s Christmas shows -- Rudolph and Frosty -- and he sat upstairs with us as we watched (and I dozed).
It was a family day, and he recognized it for precisely that, prolonging the togetherness by suggesting we watch the shows.
Sunday, I said to him, "Thank you for a great day yesterday. I felt like it was a gift."
"Let's call it your early Christmas gift. That's what I'll give you. That, and the letter you want."*
He's 14 now. He spends most of his time not with us. How precious the moments are when he's in the here. And in the now. And in the family.
*I've told the kids that the only thing I want from them for Christmas is a letter to me. I see a new tradition forming.