Tag Archives: Christmas

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.

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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.

Mendacity

8 Nov

When my son was eight, he and I were cuddled up in bed reading or watching TV or something. I don’t remember exactly what we were doing, but I’ll never forget the conversation.

“Mom,” he said. “Will you tell me the truth about something?”

“Well, yes,” I said, hoping he didn’t ask a question I would have to lie to answer.

“Even if you think it will hurt my feelings?”

“Yes, of course,” I said, crossing my fingers.

“Mom,” he said, “is there a Santa Claus or do you and Dad buy the presents?”

Whew, I thought. Nothing about sex.

“Are you sure you want to know?” I asked.

“Yes, just tell me.”

I swallowed hard.

“Dad and I do the presents.” He stayed still in my arms, head tucked against the soft spot just under my shoulder. He sighed.

“That’s what I thought.” We cuddled for a little while longer.

That September, we went to China. We came home with a little girl. Not too long afterward, I started preparing for Christmas.

“Pretty soon,” I said to my daughter, “it will be Christmas. Santa Claus is going to come to our house to bring you toys. Won’t that be fun?”

My son happened to be passing through the room. He stopped, looked at me and said, “So, you’re going to lie to her, too?” We lied to her for seven years.

This year, my daughter turned eight. She wanted the truth.

“Mom, is there a Santa Claus?”

“Why do you want to know,” I said, expecting her to tell me she’d had it with the years of lying and deceit. “Did someone tell you there isn’t?” Like your brother, I thought.

“Oh, some of the boys in school said that there’s no such thing as Santa Claus and that their moms and dads buy the presents. Do you buy the presents?”

“Yes, we do.”

She didn’t need any cuddling, just went back to whatever she’d been doing.

My husband used to lie to me all the time. Here’s how it would go:

“Will you give our daughter a bath?” I’d ask.

“Yes, right away,” he would say.

Ten minutes later, I would find that our daughter was still dirty and he was still playing card games on his computer.

“I thought you were going to give our daughter a bath,” I would say.

“Yes, I’ll do it right away. As soon as I finish this game,” he would respond. My brain would then explode trying to figure out if our daughter would get her bath immediately or when he finished his game.

Turns out, “right away” does not mean immediately. Silly me, I thought it did. In my world, right away meant that my husband was that very minute standing up, pushing his chair away from his desk, looking for our daughter and marshalling her upstairs for her bath. In my husband’s world, right away means, “in about five or ten minutes.” So, my husband was not lying when he told me that he would give her a bath right away. And I was not lying when I told him he was full of crap. He no longer tells me he will do something “right away.”

I don’t lie very much. It’s not that I’m not good at it. I’m a fairly convincing liar, but I was raised Catholic. When I lie, I do it well because I was told to always put forth my best effort. But then, the lie eats away at me. Even though I haven’t called myself a Catholic since I was 14 years old, I squirm and sweat, convinced I will be discovered and I will burn in a hell I don’t believe in for all eternity.

The range of lies I tell and squirm over is wide. I have lied about the beauty of everything from babies to bridesmaids’ dresses. “Yes, of course, I would love to wear a teal lace riding hat for your wedding. I’m sure I’ll wear it again and again.” I have lied about interior decorating, hair color, any number of peoples’ cooking and macaroni necklaces.

I will lie to the March of Dimes next year when they ask me to be their Mothers’ March volunteer. I accepted the task this year after copious amounts of pressure on their part. The volunteer kit came. It sat on my counter. I vowed to do it. I never did. I felt terrible. Next year, I will lie and tell them that I just don’t have the time. Someone else will volunteer, I know they will.

I have a friend who, like me, was raised by a Southern woman. We were taught never to say anything impolite or unkind. My friend is adept at finding something truthful to say in even the most horrendous circumstances. At a friend’s (terrible) movie premiere, she said, “What an exciting night this must be for you?” This is a woman to be admired and feared.

The lies I tell most convincingly are those I tell myself. Recently, I’ve been trying to write fiction. It goes slowly. Still, I enjoy it. I allow my husband to read it. He reads it. He responds favorably. I feel good about his responses. Then, my lying brain gets to work. I convince myself that he can’t possibly be telling me the truth, that every thing I write is terrible drivel and I am, in general, a talentless hunk of female flesh. When I tell my husband this, he rolls his eyes. He can’t win. He goes back to his card game. I go back to beating myself for thinking that I am a talentless hunk of flesh.

I told my kids that I was sad that Santa wouldn’t be coming to our house any more. They looked at me and said, together, “Why?”

After recovering from the shock of them doing anything together, I said, “Neither of you believe in him. I’ll wrap your presents and I won’t have to stay up ‘til midnight waiting for you to go to sleep so I can put the presents under the tree.”

“But I still want the presents under the tree,” my daughter said, pouting and looking extremely sincere. My son did his equivalent of pouting, which comes out something like, “Meh.”

So, we’ll pretend that we believe in Santa. I’ll stay up until midnight waiting for my kids to fall asleep so I can put their presents under the tree. I’ll enjoy it and that’s the truth.

Copywrite 2010 by Janice M. Lindegard. All rights reserved.

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