(this column was originally posted December 2010)
It’s that time of year again. The time when my strength, humor, ego and determination are put to the ultimate test. Yes, that’s right, I’m talking about single mom versus the mighty Christmas tree.
For almost eight years now I have proven to my daughter that you don’t need a man to get a Christmas tree, mount a Christmas tree, hang lights on a Christmas tree or place the shimmering star on top of the Christmas tree. And, for almost eight years, I have done so with absolutely no grace or dignity but a lot of tears, sweat, unspoken cursing, eventual laughter and sheer hormonal will.
Let me start by saying I was raised with the belief that anything smaller than an 8-foot tree was considered a plant. So, the tradition continues in my home and now my daughter is as snobby about the size of the tree as I am.
But, I didn’t know I would be doing the Christmas tree circuit alone all these years. If I had I might have decided to encourage the Jewish side of this family and gone for the super-low-maintenance Hanukkah bush.
But, no. I have created a Christmas tree monster and every year when December hits I wonder, Holy Christmas balls, will I be able to pull it off again?
We have given our trees names over the years, but the best one was “Timber”—appropriately named because every time I thought I had successfully mounted the giant into the stand and positioned it in the right place it would start to fall down. Pine needles and sap everywhere and my little girl yelling and laughing, “TIMBER!” each time as Mommy was ready to light the damn tree on fire.
But somehow, even if it takes me into the deep, deep night (which it usually does), somehow I have succeeded at this challenge and the high fives I’ve shared with my daughter have been worth every sappy, prickly second of it.
The adventure truly begins at the tree shop. We always get our trees at either Target or Home Depot (super great trees at super good prices). However, there is just one catch for being cheap — they won’t put the stand on the tree for you or carry it to your car or tie it to your car.
No matter how much flirting, winking and flashing I have done, these dudes are serious about not getting fired. And much like those shopping carts that suddenly stick to the ground the minute you pass the out of zone section of the parking lot, so do those workers’ feet. Impossible to budge.
Hannah and I spend a good hour picking our tree. We examine the size, the shape, the health of the needles, the personality and the overall cheerfulness of the tree.
Once we make our choice we get that sucker sacked in one of those crazy, awesome net machines. (As a side note, I have to say, the man who invented that machine should invent one for condoms. Imagine it. Just stick it in and, whoosh—condom safely and securely on in a second! Just saying …)
Anyway, after our tree gets netted by the condom machine the man with the heavy gloves, scarf and hat drops it at my feet, almost as if to say, “There ya go, lady. She’s all yours. I never want to see or touch that tree again.” And before I can even say “thank you” the guy is gone, probably hiding from all the other single moms racing around the lot.
And so it begins. With my girl skipping behind, usually holding an arm full of twigs she’s gathered off the ground so, of course, she can’t possibly help because, “Mommy, my hands are full.” I drag the forest green beast to the car, looking like something out of a Nora Ephron movie, only I’m not dressed nearly as cute and there is no snow or great Harry Connick Jr. music playing in the background.
Keep in mind, I started doing this when Hannah was still in a car seat and diapers so I am grateful every year as she gets older for whatever help she can provide. But, usually her participation is as a Christmas elf cheerleader, “Mommy, you can do it! You’re awesome! Don’t give up! Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer, had a very shiny nose …”
Getting the tree on the roof of my SUV is a magic act in itself. It usually requires me pulling it up, standing on the wheels of my car, pulling some more, scratching the entire roof of my car, begging God to give me a friggin’ break, sliding, pulling, yanking, begging, weeping and voila! — tree on board.
At this point I’m exhausted, sweating, hungry, and wondering why I never have a guy I’m dating around during the holidays. Why do I usually end something or not start something from Halloween through New Year’s? These are prime manual labor months. You would think I would plan my romantic life a little better. Why am I usually dating in the spring when nothing at all that requires heavy lifting is happening?
OK, the tying begins. Last year Hannah sat on the inside and helped pass the rope through the windows over and over—like we were playing a serious game of cats cradle until finally the tree was tied. I think. I never really know, but I just figure if I rope it at least 52 times I’ve certainly secured something.
Home we go … at exactly 3 mph with my hazard lights on and only side streets. Because, let’s face it, I probably didn’t really tie that sucker on right.
Usually on this drive is when Hannah has to go to the bathroom and that’s when I seriously miss the days of diapers.
OK, so about four days later we make it home. And all that work of lifting and tying now gets pulled apart. Snip, snip and push the damn tree off the roof. More needles and sap.
Here is where I am once again hit with my lack of forethought. Why is it that since my divorce I have chosen to live in places with stairs? Not just a few stairs, we’re talking levels and levels of stairs. And curves, and more stairs.
This is usually when Hannah says, “Mommy, we always have so many stairs.” And that’s usually when I’m really ready to buy a menorah and switch religions.
I grab the sawed-off trunk and drag, drag, needles and sap, needles and sap, up the stairs. Like that Peanuts character Pigpen who leaves a cloud of dirt wherever he goes, let’s just say it’s a miracle my tree isn’t an 8-foot bald stick by the time we get it inside.
Kick in the music! Finally, we are all inside—Hannah, myself and the yet-to-be-named tree! Hannah cranks up the holiday tunes, I get out the egg nog and begin what is usually a good five hours of tree stand hell.
Screw it in one way and the tree is lopsided. Screw it in another way and only two of the three screws meet the trunk. Screw it one more time and I’ve basically drilled a nice wound into the trunk causing it to bleed sap everywhere.
OK, the point is, I screw that tree every which way possible before finally we seem to satisfy each other. Hannah’s getting out ornaments and lights and I try to stand the tree up.
And here is where hilarity makes its grand entrance. Every year our trees fall over—again and again—causing Hannah to laugh until tears run down her face. I’m hoping lamps and picture frames aren’t smashed, and by now the dog and the cat are racing around in complete fear for their lives.
Falling trees should not happen inside a home. That event should only be witnessed in the great outdoors. In fact, why the hell is there a tree in my home anyway? Who came up with this crap-ass idea?
Tree up, tree down, tree up, tree down. This dance goes on for quite some time until finally the tree stays put, and whatever side seems to be facing out I deem as “its best side, honey.” I ain’t moving that sucking-the-life-outta-me-tree another centimeter.
Lights. Do we really need to have lights? Yes, we do. Thank goodness I have learned one thing from my past mistakes and that is not to tangle the lights when putting them away. And as I string the lights on, terrified that I’m going to knock the tree over and have to start this whole process again, I reach the top, find the outlet and for the first time I start to see a glimmer of hope that this is actually going to happen. I’m actually going to pull it off again.
My favorite part is the unveiling of the ornaments. Over my lifetime and now Hannah’s we have collected incredible ornaments from family and tree trimming parties we’ve had. Handmade ornaments from people who have now passed away, ornaments from other countries that I visited in my childhood, ornaments that my mother’s family had when my mother was a baby, and the first ornament I made for Hannah: a hand-sewn heart with her initials.
This is where the stories come in. Memories. The telling and retelling of Christmases from my youth all the way up to the present. And my daughter loves to hear the story of the day she was born because she was supposed to arrive on Christmas Day but instead came a week early.
Only one item left. The star. And as I slip on my highest, sexiest pumps to give myself more height, climb on a chair to reach to the top, I manage to land that beautiful star safely in its place.
Looking down at Hannah, her smiling face looking up at me says it all.
“Mommy, I knew you could do it.”
She truly is my greatest cheerleader.
We snuggle on the couch, sipping our hot chocolate in the room now only lit by our magical tree.
And as I give my daughter our annual high five, once again proving that you don’t need a man to get a Christmas tree, I think to myself, “Good job, woman. But seriously … would it kill ya next year to have a boyfriend?”