Tag Archives: Christmas tree

God, Help Me! They Want To Help!

12 Dec

My husband calls me Thor. He does this partly because I am one-fourth Danish but mostly because I will try to do anything myself before asking for help. I move furniture. I haul wood. I reach for things on the top shelf.

I don’t have some “I am an island” complex, but I really would rather do many things myself. I like working hard and it feels good to be independent. Frequently, too, I’ve found the help people want to give doesn’t really feel helpful to me.

When I’m in the middle of making a big-deal dinner, say Thanksgiving, the last thing I want to do is find some job for someone to do. Someone comes at me with a “what can I do to help” while I’m in the middle of trying to strain the gravy and I’m likely to feel more irritated than grateful.

A friend pointed out to me, after asking how she could help with our Passover Seder preparations, that I was delusional. Preparing a seder, even a small one, is a lot of work. I said I did not need help. If my life were a western, this woman would be the rancher’s wife, ready to shoot marauding varmints right between the eyes. She looked at me with a “Puh-leeze” cock of her head and said, “You need help.” I felt her will seep into me and my head nodded in acquiescence. I accepted help. It was painful.

I’ve since developed a strategy that allows the helpful to help and me to keep my sanity. I plan in advance what tasks will be delegated and what things only I can do. Ok, that sounds really arrogant, but when I’m making dinner at my house, I get to decide who’s going to season the sauces and who’s going to set the table.

I helped around the house when I was a kid and I expect my own children to as well. Finding things they can help with that are truly helpful has been a bit of a challenge, though. My daughter believes it’s helpful to run a day spa in the family room on the weekend we’ve planned to decorate the house for Christmas. While my husband, son and I were moving furniture and digging boxes out of the crawlspace, my daughter and her best friend were coercing us into making massage appointments. An hour later, my husband was getting a massage in the family room, while I struggled and cursed to get a tree made of wire and green plastic bristles to look like something other than a tree made of wire and green plastic bristles.

When it comes to getting help, I may have painted myself into a corner with the boy who cried wolf. I’ve been so insistent that I don’t need help that I don’t get it when I truly do. Not too long ago, I was cleaning a particularly heavy and unwieldy fountain pump at the kitchen sink. Every summer, I convince myself that a fountain is exactly what our deck needs and I contrive one out of the variety of pots, tubing and buckets that proliferate in my garage.

While the fountains are usually charming, they generate copious amounts of algal slime. Cleaning the pump is, therefore, a rather nausea-inducing task. So, I was at the sink, attempting to clean the pump without regurgitating lunch. Pump clean, I transferred it from one hand to another while reaching for a towel. The pump fell on my big toe. It hurt. I have a particular string of profanities that I only utter under extreme duress. I’m pretty sure I uttered them.

Once the initial surge of adrenaline subsided, I assessed the damage. My toenail was crushed, awash in blood. I pushed aside the visions of blood and algae slime and found the calm center of my mom brain. Efficiently but painfully, I washed the wound, bound it with a clean towel and made an ice pack. I hobbled over to the couch to watch Food Network while I iced my toe.

I turned on the TV to find my son had left it in video game mode. Now, I could have hobbled over to the TV, fixed the viewing mode and hobbled back to the couch. No, I thought. There are people in this house, my toe hurts, those people can help me. So I shouted, “Help!” My son, I knew, was in his room listening to music. My daughter was in mine, watching Sponge Bob. I shouted louder. “HELP!” No response. “HELP! HELP! HELP!” I yelled. I yelled for about a minute. Finally, I gave up. I hobbled over to the TV, hobbled back to the couch and iced my toe while watching Paula Deen make something like pork shoulder donuts.

Later, I asked my kids, “Did you hear me yelling for help?”

“You were yelling for help?” my son asked.

“Yes. I was. For quite some time.” I glowered at him.

“My door was shut,” he said.

“You could have heard me,” I said. “I was yelling pretty loud.”

He covered his lack of concern by deflecting guilt to his sister.

“Well, what about her?” he asked and pointed out that the door to my bedroom was open the entire time. My daughter could well have heard me from the very first pitiful cry for help.

“Did you hear Mommy?” She looked at the floor.

“Yes,” she said. “But Mr. Crabbs was yelling at the same time, so I couldn’t be sure.”

“You didn’t think you should come downstairs to make sure Mommy was ok?”

“No,” she said. “I really wanted to see Sponge Bob.”

We had a talk about empathy, thoughtfulness, caring for others and being grounded.

This Thanksgiving, my son actually asked “What can I do to help?” He was serious; I was astounded. My daughter made our signature ground cranberry and orange relish, operating the food grinder by herself.

I’m not confident yet that I’d win out over Sponge Bob, but I’m holding out hope for the future.

The Family That Hay Rides Together

31 Oct

There’s a family I know of that runs together. Mom, Dad, the kids, all tie on their kicks and hit the streets together. I picture them, run complete, trekking into the kitchen together. Glowing with health and familial esprit de corps, they share a glass of orange juice while Mom starts breakfast. Dad helps the kids set the table, pausing to give the youngest a hug and a noogie.

Never mind that I come home from a run stinking, trail dust stuck to my skin, glued there by sunscreen and sweat. Never mind that no one in my family even likes to run and half of us don’t drink OJ. I want to be that family.

I’ve tried to arrange family outings with my own gang, mostly with disastrous results.

For years, I tried to turn us into a Christmas Tree Cutting family. My sister’s family cuts a tree every year. It’s a big deal for them and they speak fondly of it. I thought I could get my own family into it. The last year we cut a tree as family, my son came down with a fever at the tree lot but insisted that he be involved in tree selection nonetheless. I no longer let fevered four-year-olds push me around, primarily because there are none in my home. But he was our starter kid so he stayed bundled in the car while my husband dragged specimens that I had selected over to him for his approval. We have an artificial tree now.

Autumn seems to bring this family outing urge strongly to the fore for me. Every year, I resist the urge to pile us all into the car and drive miles away to pick apples. The realization that after driving twenty-five miles I would feel compelled to pick entire pecks of apples and then have to do something with them other than watch them rot holds me back. So I visit the local Farmstand, alone, where I can buy a reasonable number of apples minutes from home. Sometimes, I can drag my daughter along if I promise to buy her a honey stick.

Actually, my daughter is game for any number of bonding opportunities. She’ll even run with me. This spring, she accompanied me on a windy, rainy day and ran one-and-a-half miles before bailing. We saw Bob o’ Links in their mating plumage. Apparently, this is something of a treat in the bird-watching world. I feel like a massive geek even typing the words. If I’ve written of this before, though, indulge me. It’s a fond memory. But it still doesn’t count as a family outing.

No, family outings must involve my entire family. My husband claims I suffer from Norman Rockwell Syndrome, the sickness that has one believing that a painted vignette is a realistic model for modern family interaction. To which I say, “Yeah. So?”

My most recent syndrome-induced lunacy was signing us up for a hayride. I was inspired by a field trip I chaperoned for the fourth grade of my daughter’s school. A highlight of the trip was the hayride through a working farm. Why I thought an activity enjoyed by 120 screaming fourth graders was tailor made for my crew, I’ll never know. My daughter was gleefully on board, though.

Presented with the news that we were going to have fun, damn it, on a family hay ride, my son said, “That might be ok if you take the redneck out of it, like the hay. . .and the ride.” He advocated, instead, for something with concrete and skyscrapers that ended in deep-dish pizza at Uno. While that sounds appealing, it also sounds expensive. Twenty-eight dollars for a hayride for four sounded great to me.

We arrived at the hayride site and my “oh, crap, this was a really bad idea” radar started beeping. There was no hay in site and no apparent imminent arrival of hay. I opted for a cheerful “hay will arrive soon” attitude. My husband and son, being manly, opted for the “we’ll figure this thing out” approach. They wandered off in search of hay. Time passed. I began casually approaching random strangers until I found someone who looked like she knew where she was going or at least looked like she was wandering around with purpose. She had her head down, reading instructions, the instructions for finding the hay ride that were included in the reservation confirmation, the confirmation that I left at home. My bad idea radar started beeping more insistently; I ignored it.

Eventually, we found hay in wagons and groups of people waiting to pile onto the wagons and have a wonderful family outing. First, though, we were offered hot chocolate, which my daughter scurried off to find, father and I tagging along though I noted that I did not want hot chocolate.

I have been getting things for other people for so long that now, even though they are probably very capable of getting things for themselves, I still get them for them. So, I scooped the hot chocolate mix into a little foam cup, added hot water and began stirring it. I turned to hand it to my daughter just as she jumped for joy again. “For Christ’s sake,” I said, as the cocoa spilled on my glove. I turned to make my husband’s cocoa as another family, clearly happy, arrived at the cocoa station. Though there clearly was room for more than one cocoa maker, Mr. and Mrs. Happy stood watching me make cocoa. I grabbed another cup, now in a hurry so as not to inconvenience the happy, waiting couple. As I stirred the cocoa prior to handing it to my husband, he scooted around me and started filling a third cup. Still being surveyed by the Happys, I said, “Jesus Christ, I’m making this for you!” At which point Mrs. Happy said, “Wow! Maybe you should just step away from the cocoa.”

I chose not to ruin our lovely family outing by accidentally spilling cocoa on Mrs. Happy. Walking back to the hay wagons, though, my son, who looks like Jesus and dresses like a Ramone, said, under his breath, “Maybe you should just step away from my fist before it hits your face.”

Now, I know this is a completely inappropriate thing for a young man who looks like Jesus to say and that I, as a responsible parent, should have been mightily appalled. But I wasn’t because at that precise moment I realized we were having our version of a fun family outing.

 

Christmas Melts Down

13 Dec

Andy Williams is a liar. According to his famous Christmas tune, this is “the most wonderful time of the year, with kids jingle belling and everyone telling you ‘be of good cheer’.”

Be of good cheer, my sweet behind, Andy. Tell it to my dog. The poor thing just had to “do his business” with a 50 mile-per-hour North wind blowing straight up his nostrils. In Naperville, the wind is whipping down the former plains. So, no, Mr. Williams, I wouldn’t call this time of year wonderful.

My idea of a wonderful time of year is late May. The irises and roses are blooming in my garden. Last year, for the first time, a climbing rose I’ve allowed to grow despite never producing a bloom, bloomed in a profusion of cherry red. It was gloriously beautiful against the deep purple of the iris my dad gave me when we moved here.

I brought the rose with me from a prior garden. Actually, I brought a lot of roses from the old house to this garden. They grow like weeds for me. Within a week of planting at the new house, every one of my roses was gone, sheared to the ground by the local gang, Hell’s Bunnies.

Naperville rabbits are a rapacious lot. Whatever went into the ground went into them, thorns and all. I imagined them hopping around the neighborhood, my roses hanging from their bloody bunny mouths. I planted again, they ate again. I planted, they ate. Plant, eat. Plant, eat. Finally, I gave up on roses. I researched. I found plants that both grow like weeds and are poisonous to rabbits.

I was content with my garden full of noxious flora. Then, one day two years after moving here, I noticed a rose growing at the back of one of the beds. I left it, knowing the hellions would be through to mow it down shortly. They didn’t come. The Circle of Life seemed to have finally found its way to my yard. Now, where there once were fat, juicy bunnies by the hundreds, there is the occasional rabbit and the more than occasional hawk.

The rose grew undisturbed as I showered it with neglect. I left it alone. It did nothing. I thought I had acquired another teenager. But then this year, it bloomed. Lots and lots of fluffy, fragrant blooms, each as red as the bunny blood I imagine spilled by the neighborhood predators.

The rose has long since gone dormant. The apple trees are right now being whipped around by a blizzard force wind. The ornamental grasses are bent in half by it. I fear for my beautiful Japanese maple.

The weather sucks. I’m freezing. I’ve got the house to decorate, presents to buy, presents to make, meals to plan, cookies to cut out and cakes to bake. Because I’m not earning any money, all of this has to be done with masking tape, yarn and bag of flour.

I could handle all of the Christmas pressure with my usual aplomb, if I had a usual aplomb. Instead, I handle it with my annual Christmas Meltdown.

The Christmas Meltdown usually occurs on the day the house gets decorated. Every year, beginning in about September, one of the children will want to know when we will be decorating the Christmas tree. My daughter will ask me if we can finally have Christmas lights on our house like everyone else. I point out to her that we have luminaria in our driveway at Hanukkah, but apparently real flames are not garish enough.

Finally, the day will come when we have ushered Hanukkah out the door and Christmas decorating can begin. This year, I prepared my family for Christmas Decorating Day. I gave them a schedule of the day’s events. My family would be coming for lunch to see our tree. We need to get the tree set up before they come, I said.  We need to get the lights on. We need to put the ornaments on.

No one remembered. I decided, in my usual mature way, that I would do everything myself. Christmas is an ideal time to become a martyr, I reasoned. Reason went out the window when I couldn’t get the Christmas tree box from the basement by myself. I would have to ask one of them for help. I went with the son, as the husband was nowhere to be found.

With the tree box in the living room, I began the Christmas Mood preparations. I was, after all, creating a lifetime of memories for my children. I set my laptop to Pandora’s “Swinging Christmas” station and started putting the tree together. My son came through the room, rolled his eyes and said, “You’re NOT listening to Jazz Christmas songs.” He didn’t wait for a reply. My husband wouldn’t know what I was listening to. He was sitting less than 10 feet away, working at his own laptop, wearing his $400 noise-cancelling headphones.

I was undaunted, though. I had my eyes on that lifetime of Christmas memories prize. Then my daughter danced through the room, pronounced the undecorated tree “ugly” and pirouetted away. “She’s right,” I thought. “It’s ugly. Christmas is ugly. I’m ugly.”

I did what any Christmas-crazed overwhelmed woman would do. I got in my car and drove to my happy place. There was no line, so once I had my tall, skim, no-whip hot chocolate, I drove to my other happy place. I sat in the car, in the rain, staring out at the prairie wetlands. I cried. I cried and drank my hot chocolate until I felt like an idiot. Then, I drove back home. Meltdown accomplished; Christmas pressure released.

No, this is not my most wonderful time of the year. My son, though, is down with Andy. He loves winter.

“It’s blowing fifty miles an hour out there,” I said to him recently.

“Yeah!” he said. “This is great weather.”

“Prove it,” I said. “Go outside and then tell me this is great weather.” He grabs at any chance to show Mom how wrong she is so he ran out onto the deck. Realizing his shirt was on inside out, he took it off, did his best impersonation of Captain America and put the shirt back on. He came back in the house, still warm. By this time, I was laughing out loud.

The weather outside is frightful, but as long as I can laugh out loud now and then, it may not be the most wonderful time of the year, but it can be just fine.

Oy, Tannenbaum

6 Dec

I am old enough to be my daughter’s best friend’s grandmother. This does not humble me, but it proves that certain arguments are ageless. You see, the mother of said best friend, separated from me by a generation, has the same memory of why we had artificial Christmas trees growing up: our parents had one of the worst fights we can recall while shopping for the tree. The next year and every year after, our families each had a fake tree.

I remember something about a very cold night and a JayCees tree sale in a parking lot. I can picture my mother vividly: pursed lips, dagger-flinging eyes, her arms crossed tightly over her body, purse clutched to her stomach as she stomped to the car. I remember being very cold and the trees being very imperfect. My mother was from Georgia and liked everything just so. You do the math.

I had real Christmas trees once I was on my own. Granted, most of them were pretty “Charley-Browny,” scraggly things that I somehow managed to convince myself looked pretty good covered with pink and aqua glass balls and tiny white lights. Hey, it was the 80s.

Once I was married, the combined incomes meant bigger, nicer Christmas trees. Our first Christmas, we lived in the heart of the city and shopped like big city Christmas tree shoppers. We went to a local garden center and bought a beautiful balsam fir after just a few minutes of blissfully agreeable tree inspection. The garden center then delivered the tree and set it up exactly where we wanted it. Where was the fighting?

The next year, we no longer lived near the magic garden center with the incredible Christmas-tree-setting-up elves, but we found a nice lot and bought a nice tree. We took it home. It was then that I realized something I should have known all along. My husband had no idea what to do with a Christmas tree. Of course not, he’s Jewish. Why would he know? The year before, his lack of Christmas knowledge wasn’t an issue. Without the magic tree elves, though, it was pushed to the fore. I was on my own in Christmas tree setting up.

While I felt sorry for myself, married to the Christmas clueless, my friends and relatives had the opposite problem. Their husbands thought they knew everything.

Consider the woman who reports that every year, for many years, her husband would insist that their giant tree would fit into the discount marketer Christmas tree stand. Most people who have Christmas trees have this stand. I believe it is made in China at a wok factory. Every October, the wok factories in China retrofit thousands of woks, painting them bright red, adding green legs and three eyebolts and selling them to unsuspecting Americans for $12.95. My friend’s husband would insist that the tree would fit in the stand, that the tree would not fall over. My friend would say “It will fall over.” My friend would take bets. Her husband would put up the tree, balance it, and then the two of them would watch it come down, at first slowly, then with increasing velocity. My friend would laugh uproariously. Her husband would curse.

My sister’s family regularly put a tree at least 12 feet wide into the wok every year. Why? Because a proper Christmas tree stand, one that will safely hold up a tree more than 6 feet tall, costs at least $100 and has things like Army-grade straps and ratcheting gears. My sister now owns one. So does my bet-taking friend. I have another friend whose husband nails their wok stand to a large piece of plywood, hoping to stave off the military Christmas tree stand. It’s only a matter of time, though. Their trees are often 15 feet tall.

Over the years, it became clear to me that, if we had a tree or we didn’t, my husband would be fine. There would be no gaping hole in his December if a large evergreen were not sacrificed in the interest of holiday décor. With my typical maturity, I decided to pout. Well, I thought, if it isn’t important to him, then I’ll just do it without him.

One year, my son and I accompanied my sister’s family on their annual “Cut your own” foray. It was fun. I have a terrific picture of my brother-in-law helping my son cut down a tree. Another year, Mr. Christmas Clueless came with us. Naturally, that was the coldest year since we’d begun cutting our own tree. On the way to the lot, our son came down with a fever. But, he didn’t want to leave without a tree. So, we got him to the car, laid him down on the back seat and brought pre-cut trees to the car for him to select.

Though I had gotten my husband back into the selection process, I still didn’t have a Christmas-savvy set up assistant. I was still on my own in struggling with the wok, testing the strands of lights, replacing burnt out bulbs, etc., etc., etc. The pity party continued.

Then the pre-lit tree was invented. I swallowed my real-tree insistence and bought one. I was in Christmas purgatory. Not quite heaven, because my husband still thought the tree was just “nice,” but no longer in the hell of setting it up all by myself.

Last year, the lights failed. No biggie, I thought, I’ll take the old ones off and put new ones on. That’ll be cheaper than buying a whole new tree. And, it was. Though I lost an entire day and a few ounces of skin as I clipped away the wires, scratching my arms on every branch. The tree looked pretty good with its colorful new lights.

This year, I realized, I had been released from the tyranny of the pre-lit tree. Though they are convenient, pre-lits are also expensive. If you’ve got one, you’re going to use it. And you’re going to have the same tree every year. The exact same branches in the exact same places at exactly the same height.  Every year. This year, I can buy a real tree if I want to. And maybe I will. I know my husband won’t argue. In fact, he’ll probably say it’s “nice.”

Copywrite © 2010 by Janice Lindegard. All rights reserved.

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