Rockin’ around the Christmas tree….When Charlie was at college, we started the practice of putting up our Christmas tree on the Friday after Thanksgiving. School schedules often interfere with family traditions and, since we enjoy decorating the tree together, it was either do it right after the leftovers were put away or wait until so close to Christmas that there wasn’t enough time with the tree to make all that work worthwhile.
At the Christmas party hop…College days are behind us and Charlie is a new husband yet, this year, based on everyone’s busy schedules, tree day arrived right on time. So, just as the Thanksgiving dishes were finally washed and digesting was officially over, the moment felt right.
Mistletoe hung where you can see…Let’s move the end table and chairs out of the room, boys…let’s send poor Dad into the attic for the cartons and boxes while Mom grits her teeth and bakes cookies so if Martha Stewart barges in to measure festivity levels in our home, we get a good grade. And, hey--Tom and Charlie, don’t forget---it’s time to painfully rehash sibling rivalries and childhood vendettas as favorite ornaments are unwrapped and hung with care on pine boughs that, yet again this year, have nearly scratched off both of Dad’s corneas.
Every couple tries to stop…The difference this year is that Charlie’s wife, Anastasia, is with us on tree day for the first time. She may not yet be aware that Szolds often say “I love you” by screaming themselves hoarse over hot cocoa. Anastasia is also about to learn that Mom expresses her deep affection for her family with a crying fit or two. Often brought about by an artifact of her children’s youth making an appearance, Mom is easily unhinged since she’s already deeply overwrought by repeated failures to recreate scenes from mainstream America as dreamt up by the minds of the sadists who write for the Hallmark Channel.
You will get a sentimental feeling when you hear...This year we took it a step further and wove politics into the mix thereby upping the time frame for shouting, hand waving, eye rolling and, of course, Mom’s crying. Anastasia, having prepared for this by studying books about conflict resolution in wartime, stood up, chose an ornament and began decorating. The shiny object in her hand distracted us and we followed suit, slowly becoming absorbed in our project. Tom and Charlie sought out their first baby ornaments which prompted more tears from Mom but the brave daughter-in-law knew what to do...bustling into the kitchen, she freshened the marshmallows in everyone’s mug and patted us all on the heads. “That’s a good girl,” she said to Mom, pressing a tissue into her hand so she’d stop using her sleeve and ruffling what’s left of Dad’s hair to encourage him to add a string of lights to a bare spot in the back.
Voices singing…Bravely stepping between the boys who suddenly remembered they were supposed to be fighting, she tossed a handful of silver-wrapped Hershey kisses into the air and, with the laser pointer, diverted not only Tito the Cat from dismantling the tree’s bottom branches but also distracted Tom and Charlie as -- with chocolate on their lips -- they scurried off to chase the beam of light with the cat.
Let’s be jolly…Before we realized it, the tree was complete and the negativity dispelled. Feeling a sense of accomplishment, we sat back and admired our work. While the men nibbled on treats and happily batted at the shiny bells and balls, I thanked my lucky stars that we have Anastasia in the mix. Not only did she help us refocus upon the task at hand but also restored the theme of peace on earth that’s generally encouraged at this time of year.
Deck the halls with boughs of holly…I hope those of you who get, shall we say, a bit emotional around this time of year and before the conversation inevitably turns to whether there’s truth to the allegations that Santa’s been sexually harassing the elves for years -- you get yourselves a great daughter-in-law like I have.