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For me it’s a toss up.

My most precious Christmas tradition is in the subtle hum of carols playing softly with only the faint glow of the Christmas tree lighting the room on Christmas morning.

Or it’s the promise my little sister and I made with my parents when I was about six years old to forever and always dance around like ninnies any and every time we heard Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” (a pact we keep to this day).

For my husband, it was the time he got to spend with his extended family and that special bowl of ice cream he shared with his cousins at his grandmother’s house on Christmas Day.

And for us, now that we are parents to two beautiful little boys, I want nothing more than for them both to embrace my passion for tradition.

Or so I thought.

I honestly don’t know who will be more excited this Christmas – me or the boys. Because this is the year, I have been thinking. This is the year they both might remember that special thing we did on Christmas morning or who we spent Christmas Eve with. This is the year we will set some new family traditions in place.

But amidst the Advent services and holiday lights and Christmas music and present shopping, I realize something. I, at the tender undisclosed age of 30-something, still have a whole lot of growing up to do when it comes to being adaptable.

It’s not just bad around Christmas either. I have always been a creature of habit, a lover of tradition. If something went well the first time, why would it not be just as perfect the fifth or fiftieth time?

As I began plotting just how the picture-perfect holiday season would look for my family, I found my answer: for all the goodness that comes along with trying to replicate the past, we are missing out on one of the best gifts of all.

The present.

It may not be fancy or wrapped up in all kinds of beautiful paper and ribbons. In fact, it could be a complete and total mess. It could be anything from a missed holiday concert to the loss of a loved one. Or it could be just the right amount of spit up or ketchup or grape jelly on that new (expensive) sweater vest your child is wearing.

Yet now that I’m a mom I can say with some level of confidence that the present really is a gift.

So this year, I will not discard tradition.

I will still wake up early to make sure the Christmas tree is lit and the music is playing before anyone else is awake in the house. I will still turn the radio up way louder than necessary when Mariah comes on.

But I will also prioritize making sure Carter and Conner understand that change is okay. That traditions are important, but when something doesn’t go quite right there is an opportunity for adventure.

This year, all I want for Christmas is real life.

I want real life in all of its untraditional, messy, not-quite-perfect glory.

That is my grown-up Christmas list.

Ty Schmidt is a freelance writer and the mom to two boys.

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