I realize this time of year is filled with lovely stories of families driving off into nature together in search of the perfect Christmas tree. You know, the tree that they effortlessly trim and adorn with all their classy, yet meaningful ornaments. This, my friends, is not one of those stories.
No. In our family, simply driving a couple blocks to the local Catholic school and buying an extremely overpriced tree (for a good cause, of course) is about as much—if not more than—our family can handle.
There are a few consistent challenges we run into during this annual outing. One is getting our kids to wear appropriate winter clothing (read: not fluorescent sports shorts) in the hopes that we might get a sentimental picture of the day we all fought over a tree.
Another is that, not only does Lenny have a big heart, he has big eyes. You know, the kind that allow him to see—with absolute certainty—that our ceiling is much taller than it actually is, and our living room is much bigger than it actually is.
Yes, each year, our tree search is just the beginning of my disappointing our family with harsh realities throughout the holiday season (assuming we haven’t already massacred our gingerbread houses, that is).
Beyond all these consistent challenges, each year tends to come with a wild card as well. There was the year my finger got stuck (part of it permanently, I’m afraid) between the tree and the screw in the stand. And the year we carefully secured the tree onto the top of our new minivan only to discover that we’d tied the wonderfully convenient (well, 364 days a year, at least) sliding doors shut. Now, this would have been fine if all the kids weren’t still outside the car, including Pink who was in her baby carrier. And baby carriers, it turns out, can’t climb into the back through the front seat.
So, this year, you can imagine our delight when, upon arriving at our usual pre-cut, overpriced Christmas tree lot, we all agreed that the very first tree we saw was good enough “the one”. I showed amazing restraint, and didn’t snap a single photo during the 3-minute process. And Lenny showed amazing restraint, and went with the flow, despite the fact that this beauty was about half as wide—and full—as our usual Heinz Family Christmas Tree.
Given the Finger Mangling Incident of 2009, we now spend a few extra tens bucks and let the devoted volunteers at the lot nail a stand right onto the tree for us. Plus, this year we remembered to load the kids in the car before we tied the doors shut. And even the rain clouds held off long enough for us to get home—with the tree still on top of the car, no less. Easy peesy peppermint squeezy.
While Lenny effortlessly untied the ropes, freed the tree from the top of the minivan, and shook it out on the lawn, I cheerfully hummed Justin Bieber’s version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” as I placed the waterproof mat down in the living room. It was go time and we were nailing it this year.
But just then, the rain clouds gave way to the pressure. And so did I. In an effort to beat the downpour and get the tree into our house, I quickly tilted it so I could help lift from the top end. If you’ve done this yourself, you’ll know that, rather than hearing my husband graciously thank me for my speed and agility, I heard a great big snap.
The wooden X that was nailed to our tree—you know, the one that was there with the sole job of making our tree stand upright—was now a Y. And a Y (oh why?!)…well, it doesn’t do the job.
Lenny remained extremely composed as we ran our tree into the house and set it down. Though we couldn’t let go, of course. I mentioned ingenious solutions like wood glue and offered my questionable engineering expertise. Heck, I even found myself laughing (which was far better than what I usually do in these situations, I assure you). And, if you ask me, I got bonus points for pretending not to notice that the tree was taller than our ceiling (though the 3-foot scratch through the paint overhead was not nearly as subtle).
After a bit of experimenting, we figured out that—someway, somehow—the tree actually did stand on just three points. So we let go with a sigh of relief. A Christmas miracle!, we thought.
But then, in our effort to mask the fact that we bought a tree that was taller than the room (again), Lenny chopped a few inches off the top. Had I been thinking with my engineering mind at that point, I wouldn’t have been surprised to discover the tree immediately started wobbling and almost went down. Yes, the ceiling had been more than scratched, it had been the magic holding up the tree.
After some experimenting, in a last ditch effort, Lenny turned the broken piece of wood around, and jammed it under the stand. And you know what? It worked. (He wasn’t surprised, of course, because he totally knew what he was doing.) Problem solved. Happy hmm.
In celebration of the simplicity of it all, Lenny started stringing the 200,000 (give or take a few) mini colored lights. In our house, this can be a week-long event (yes, really), but because the tree we grabbed fell in love with is long and lanky (as opposed to chubby and lush), it was all lit up and glowing in a matter of 24 hours.
So, come Sunday morning, the kids woke up at the crack of dawn thrilled that it was finally ornament day. And I know this because Pink actually spent the morning singing, “I’m so excited it’s ornament day!”
But as Big and I were carefully stringing our beaded garland round and round, I couldn’t help but notice the tree was a bit more wobbly than I was comfortable with. For a moment I envisioned it going down, and Lenny’s pre-marriage ornaments—like the plastic Santa surfing on a remote control—being the fortunate casualties of this unfortunate event. But then I remembered the beautiful glass ornament we bought together on our trip to Venice. And the one with Little’s baby footprint and Big’s preschool handprint from way back when we actually did that kind of stuff with our kids. You know, the irreplaceable stuff.
So, given my engineering prowess, I got to work. I grabbed my hand weights and placed them on the rocky sides of the base to stabilize the tree. Try as I might, I couldn’t find the weights my roommate gave me twelve years ago in an effort to help me step up my game that are still too heavy for me—thus going unused—so I was forced to sacrifice the three and five pounders I might actually be tempted to exercise with this season. You know, for the good of our family Christmas. (I mean, I’m not saying I snapped the tree stand on purpose, but this was kind of working out in my favor after all—no pun intended.)
But a little wiggle confirmed my wimpy weights weren’t doing much for the tree either—it was still just as jiggly as my arms. Lenny looked at me and said exactly what was on my mind—proof that, not only is what we have true love, but what we were thinking was quite obviously The Right Thing to do.
“You know,” he said, “we could saw the tree off of this stand and put it in our other stand.”
At that point, the only thing more obvious than the fact that this was the best idea ever, was that we would call our friend. Because, not only would he agree that this was the best idea ever, he’d help make it happen. After all, he owed us. You see, awhile back, Lenny helped him rent a jackhammer and rip into their driveway—an equally bright idea. (There may have been a pipe hit in the Jackhammer Incident of 2012, but that’s not an important detail to this story.)
So, Lenny got his saw collection together (which is surprisingly limited…good thing Christmas is coming) and we waited for our accomplice. As we were preparing, we couldn’t help but be super impressed with ourselves.
Lenny said, “You realize that what we’re attempting is pretty much the same as yanking a table cloth off a table set with the finest china.”
True. After all, we weren’t going to waste time redoing the lights or garland, so we had to be delicate and keep the tree in a steady, upright position.
Then, “I mean, I’m not going to say that it’s the same as changing the engine on a plane while in flight. That would be too dramatic. But…”
So, you can imagine our surprise when our friend arrived, got up to speed on our plan, and told us it was the worst idea ever. (Really? Jackhammer?)
Of course we talked him into it—which I now realize wasn’t because we convinced him it was a good idea, but because he wanted to witness the bad idea in action. (I should have been tipped off to this fact when he called his wife to come to watch, so she could laugh at with us.)
Our plan was simple. Lenny would go to work with his handsaw, hopefully above where the nails from the stand went into the trunk, and our friend and I would lift the tree over to the new stand. Easy. Ok, ok…it was easy being the one to hold the tree. I’m sure sawing at a bizarre angle while lying on the ground was slightly more challenging for Lenny. But, let’s face it, you’ve gotta work a bit harder if you want the glory position.
I’m not gonna lie, the sound of the saw up against that wood was exhilarating. We were actually pulling this off! But then…metal. A nail.
No problem. Lenny would simply start over, a couple inches higher up the trunk. The good news was that gave him more time, not only to show off his manly strength, but to listen to all my jokes while he was sweating his brains out. (Oh, come on. Don’t feel too bad for the guy, we gave him a break. You know, so that our friend could take some photos of the madness.)
Fast forward to the surprisingly professional cut and the rather uneventful lift from stand to stand, and our mission was accomplished. We got the tree screwed into the stable stand and maneuvered it into the just-right spot in our living room. That’s when we quickly came to the realization that—drum roll, please—it was no less wobbly now than when it was in the broken stand.
We thanked our friends anyway, waved goodbye, and spent another 15 minutes or so adjusting the tree (and praying) in the hopes that we could get it a bit more centered and stable—unlike us.
By 1pm, our tree was finally standing tall (from 2 out of 3 angles at least), and ornament day commenced. And—despite Pink’s approach of casually hooking twelve ornaments to one little twinkle light on the bottom branch—the only person who broke an ornament this year was, you guessed it, me.
And why, you might ask, am I sharing this story which perhaps highlights some of our shortcomings? For a few reasons, really.
One, because this story is sure to make you feel better about the typo in your holiday card, the strand of lights that went out on your house, or the slightly burned batch of sugar cookies you made. Consider this my holiday gift to you.
Two, because I can’t help but think people are onto something when they think cutting their own tree is a great opportunity for family bonding. I just happen to prefer experiencing that magical feeling from the comfort of my heated living room where I can sip hot chocolate and listen to my Disney Channel Holiday Playlist.
But mostly I’m sharing our story because, while all of this was going down, Big shouted, “I’m going to tell my class about this when it’s my sharing day!” And Little chimed in, “And I’m going write about it in Writer’s Workshop this week!” I figure that, being our kids means that these boys have enough working against them. They certainly don’t need people to be calling them liars on top of it all.
So, dearly beloved third grade students and kindergarten teacher, I’m afraid what our boys have told you is true. Because, honestly, you can’t make this stuff up.
What’s your family’s favorite holiday mishap/miracle?
If you like this post, then be sure to ‘like’ the Using Our Words Facebook page too.