Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Tao of Christmas Tree Decorating

In retrospect, I would have done three things differently:

1. Strung the lights the night before when the children were sleeping.

2. Had a very clear plan as to what the “Tree Decorating Teaching Moment” would be.

3. Said, “No way in hell,” when Thad asked if, in lieu of decorating, he could go to the gym.

And still, even without the benefit of hindsight, it seemed like such a good idea at the time: placing several three-foot high stools around the tree and stepping from one to the next while artfully arranging the lights at the top of the tree as my helper--4-year-old Blair--followed behind on the floor, carrying a nest of lights that was three times the size of her head.

“Can we hang up the ornaments?” she asked.

“After we finish the lights.”

Eleven seconds later:

“Can we hang up the ornaments?”

“After we finish the lights.”

That, of course, was a lie. Because after we finished the lights, we had to hang up the garland--a 10-foot long necklace of tiny silver balls--which wouldn’t have taken long, if 2-year-old Drew hadn’t secretly confiscated them for her first-ever attempt at jump rope. Under my breath, I cursed Thad and that gym. It took one-and-a-half episodes of Dora to untangle them.

“Can we hang up the ornaments?” Blair asked.

“Can hang hornmats?” Drew asked.

“Sure!” I yelled, loud with the joy of the season, gleeful with timeless beauty of this holiday scene--two loving little girls decorating the Christmas tree with their loving mother, who never anticipated what said tree would look like when decorated by people who are barely three-feet tall.

I found myself, yet again, at a maternal crossroad.

If I were the kind of mother who wanted to teach her children that there was no right and wrong when expressing oneself artistically, I would have simply let it be--six ornaments above waist-level, 67 below waist-level.

Unfortunately, I am not that mother.

If I were the kind of mother who wanted to teach her children that all good things come to those who wait, then, much like my friend Sally who waits for her kids to go to bed and then throws away all of their artwork, I would have waited until Modern Family was over before I reapplied and rearranged.

Unfortunately, I am not that mother, either.

I am this kind of mother: one who managed to convince herself later--after, in full view of the minors, I plucked some of the low-hanging ornaments and placed them in the higher branch zones, which led to two girls in tears, one biting me on my thigh, one time-out, and me, aloud, cursing Thad and that God-forsaken gym and all of it’s God-forsaken thin and toned patrons of avoidance behavior--that the best teaching moment of Christmas-tree-decorating was the art of properly decorating a Christmas tree. (In some cultures, this lesson might be translated, “You can’t always get what you want, unless you’re me.”)

I should, however, have thought this through beforehand. If I had, I’d surely have been gentler when passing on the wisdom. I’d clearly have avoided the shock, the fear, the residual trauma sparked by my spur-of-the-moment explanation: “Girls, it’s like this: If your ornaments aren’t evenly distributed on the tree, Santa won’t come.”

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