Congratulations, you made it through Thanksgiving! I hope you had a wonderful day.
Now that Thanksgiving is over my attention quickly turns to Christmas (it’s hard not to since they’ve been playing Christmas carols for a few weeks now).
It’s been a tradition of mine to trim the tree and decorate as much as I can the weekend after Thanksgiving.
Unfortunately, not everyone in my house has always shared in my enthusiasm! Larry preferred to watch football, whether college or professional. As for my children, they would excitedly hang a few ornaments and then turn their attention back to their toys.
As much as I loved to decorate there was one task I absolutely detested: stringing the lights on the tree. Surprisingly, Larry didn’t mind putting up the lights. I saw this as an opportunity to create a win-win situation: early on Larry and I agreed that if he strung the lights on the tree I would absolve him of any further decorating. It worked!
This arrangement fostered peace and the holiday spirit in our home and worked well for quite a few years.
Until Larry died.
When someone you love is no longer in your life their presence is missed in so many ways.
The first two holiday seasons after he was gone I didn’t have to face the tree lighting issue. Since we sold our house and put all of our belongings in storage right before Larry died, I didn’t have our big tree to put up.
For the sake of my children I purchased a small, already-lit tabletop tree. I hung some stockings and scattered a few snow globes around the house. It was a far cry from my usual decorating, but it was the best I could do under the circumstances.
At the request of my son I did venture outside to hang a few strands of lights around our home. As I retrieved the ladder from the garage and proceeded with a heavy heart to hang the lights a well-meaning neighbor walked over and offered to help.
When Larry passed away family and friends offered to help at every turn. But like a stubborn adolescent I dug in my heels and kept refusing. I’m all alone now, I thought to myself over and over, I have to learn to manage on my own.
“No, thank you,” I responded politely, “I’m good, I can do it myself.”
I believe the pain I felt inside blinded my ability to believe people truly wanted to help out of the goodness of their hearts.
This is a belief I carried with me for a long time.
Then in 2012 we moved into our new home and I got all of my decorations out of storage. I decided I wanted to decorate like I had in years past.
I mean, it had been over two years since Larry died and it was my third holiday season without him, surely I could handle putting up the tree by myself.
But by the time I had assembled the tree and plugged in all the strands of lights to separate the good strands from the bad ones, I was emotionally undone.
Seeing all my holiday decorations for the first time in over two years brought back all the memories of past holiday seasons spent with Larry.
My emotions quickly evolved from sad and crying to angry and royally ticked off. As I stared at my naked tree I had one thought: I can’t stand doing the lights!
In that moment of despair I called my then eleven-year-old son to help me. I’m sure he could tell from the look on my face that I had been crying and he quickly tried to comfort me and agreed to help.
Well, as much as I love my son and appreciate his efforts, in that moment the mix of an eleven-year-old trying to rush through getting the lights strung on the tree and my already incensed feelings was enough to create an argument.
It certainly wasn’t a parenting moment I’m very proud of. I nit-picked the way he tried to string the lights and he in turn expressed his frustration right back at me.
Needless to say he walked away not knowing what he did wrong and I went to my room and gave myself a much needed time-out.
I was angry with myself for the way I had interacted with my son and I was angry in general because I had really hoped this holiday season in a new home would give us a fresh start. Plus I truly hoped I could find some beauty in it all once again.
But just like a kid who finds out Santa Claus really doesn’t exist, my hopes were dashed and the disappointment was acute.
After a while I emerged from my room and apologized to my son for my behavior and dug down deep for strength to finish the tree.
The following year I wasn’t sure how I would cope as the holidays approached, but I knew one thing: I wasn’t going to put up the lights!
I didn’t want a reenactment of the prior year’s fiasco with my son. So after some thought I decided to do the one thing I always had a hard time doing. I asked for help.
My parents had made the move to Arizona the prior year to escape the harsh winters in the Midwest and to be closer to me and my children so they could lend a helping hand when needed.
I decided for my sanity and to preserve the peace of the holiday season- and the peace in my home- to go ahead and ask my mother to help me trim the tree.
One of the great qualities about my mother is that any time I ask her for some help she is more than eager to be there for me. Little did she know I’d give her the task of stringing the lights. But she did it with an attention to detail my son and I no longer had the patience for.
And this year, well, my mother was there for me once again.
This time, though, it became a family affair. With some good-natured moaning and groaning the boys were enlisted to help put up the tree and we did it together.
As I reflect back on this past Friday I recognize it was more than a simple exercise in tree-trimming: it was all about the memories that we created.
And the holiday spirit is in our home once more.
Of course we had some frustrating moments: the angel kept leaning and threatened to topple over, the lights went out on half a strand after they were already strung on the tree, a few ornaments were dropped and shattered, and the boys kept repeating, “Can we be done?”
But there was also laughter, Christmas music (until my eldest son decided he had heard enough and changed it) and good-natured joking while the tree got trimmed and stockings got hung.
Most importantly, I’m learning I don’t have to do it all on my own.
So as I sit in my living room with my laptop and write this post, I’m grateful once more for all I have: a beautiful tree to glance at as I gather my thoughts and reminisce about a nice afternoon I shared with my family.
As for next year…you can bet I’ll enlist the help of my mother once more.
If you’re having a difficult time deciding what to do about decorating for Christmas I encourage you to reach out… And let someone else put up the lights!
Wishing you a holiday full of light and blessings,
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