Today I took the lights off my roof. I could see downtown in the distance, sticking up over the tops of the leafy trees, and I admit it, I felt that Christmas-is-over sadness, just like when I was a kid. I spooled the lights around rolled-up sections of newspaper and thought how much easier it was to take them down then hang them a month ago, lying on my belly with a hammer in one hand a nail in the other, trying to get them straight without tumbling head-first on to my front lawn. The tree is still up, but that too is coming down tomorrow. Last year I raced through the de-Christmasing process, stuffing boxes with ornaments, stacking all those beautiful Holiday cards. It was too fast: what had taken over a month to build was gone in an hour. The tree, so much lighter without water in its needles, lay toppled on its side on our parkway, leaving a space in our living room that felt giant, as if the tree had been standing there decorated for years. It was like tearing off a bandaid, as if I could make it less painful if I did it super-fast. I needed more of a transition. A friend of mine said to me yesterday that she couldn’t wait to have everything “Holiday” out of her house. I don’t feel that. I drive through the neighborhood, where many houses are still lit up, and wonder why we can’t have twinkling lights all year long.
Here is how I did with my list:
- Perhaps the goal of this super-fun-memory-worthy Christmas was in itself, unrealistic. Between the Nutcracker, with its annual illnesses, and my determination to “enjoy” holiday activities, I ran myself ragged and ended up with another sinus infection and an extended-dose Zpac.
- I did not make last minute travel plans, but I did consider it. (The kids were out of school a week before Christmas and I imagined popping over to the East Coast to see my family) Joe considered it too, trying to escape on a last minute solo jaunt to Mammoth, but then totaled his car (no one was hurt!!!). That put an end to his trip, but added the stress of dealing with insurance and buying a new vehicle, which was no small item to add to our Christmastime bills.
- I made a rookie error with the flu shot when a close friend’s daughter came down with whooping cough. Terrified, I got myself a dpt booster instead. I forgot the flu shot for Tess or myself, who were about to be cooped up in a theater with 120 dancers and their parents. Sure enough, Tess got the regular-old-ass-kicking flu. On the weekend of the Nutcracker. Fun Times.
- I did well with the timing of my shopping.
- But not so well with my cards. Tess was still sick on the day I shot the photo and I was cursing myself (and anyone who came near me – sorry!) while I sat, late at night, handwriting even the return addresses. (Because I am too lame to input the info into my computer and print out labels like the rest of the modern world).
- Yes, we baked cookies. Here’s the thing: I liked to do this kind of project before I had kids. I like to be perfect and neat and Martha-Stewarty. As Ronan said, he “goes for the abstract,” when decorating. I would probably prefer it if the kids just sat there and watched. But that would defeat the purpose, which was for them to have fun, not for me to prove how clever I can be with colored sugar. So I relaxed and went with it and my little matchy-match angels were the least popular cookies of them all.
- We went to The Grove in a monsoon. We were driving home after Ronan’s allergy shot a few days before Christmas and the rain was coming down so hard I thought: perhaps LA will dissolve. Ronan said: “Hey, Mamma? Can we go The Grove?” It was a block away. The thought of an entire afternoon cooped up in a house I was trying to prepare for Christmas dinner with two kids who were determined to undo any progress I made, was enough for me to hit the turn signal and hydroplane off of Third. I drove up the ramp with water rushing under our tires like rapids, then we ran under the Santa in the sky in the pouring rain. We were rewarded with a giant double rainbow that seemed to end right at our house.
- I don’t know why, but I suck at Christmas carols. I’m using music left in the bench of the piano I bought at an estate sale and the arrangements are just too hard. Tess wanted to sing Deck the Halls, which is easy accept for that “Don we now are….” part. “I think I’ve got it — you want to sing along?” I asked her several times. We’d start off fine, but then I’d get to that bridge and hit the wrong keys, slur the chords, and slow to a near stop. “Um, Mommy, I think you need a little more practice,” she’d say. I did learn O Tannenbaum. Our tree is next to the piano, so playing that fit nicely into my fairy-tale image of Christmas.
- I wrapped all the gifts myself and bought so much tape that I didn’t have to worry about losing a roll. As soon as the kids were asleep and the cookies and carrots (for the reindeer) were set in front of the fire place, we dug out all the presents and piled them under the tree, just like my mother always did for us. In the morning, the kids were overwhelmed by their good fortune and said things like, “Oh thank you thank you thank you.” And, “This is the best day of my life.”
- Tonight is the last night with the tree. The stockings are still hung on the fireplace. It appears that Ronan still believes in Santa, though he now recognizes the fakes. There were gingerbread houses, candy canes, fevers and coughs. I ironed linens and polished place settings and hung wreathes and garlands with red bows. Did I enjoy it? Yes. Was I stressed out? Yes? Was there a moment when I said to myself: This is crazy. I won’t do this again, it’s just too hard? Yes. Will I do it again next year? Of course.