Tuesday, December 16, 2014

We Do Christmas Trees

At the risk of bragging, our family has mastered one aspect of Christmas decorating. We have the whole Christmas tree thing down.

But only through trial and error.

2007 - We had a 13-month-old.

When we moved to New England with two little kids, I insisted we go to a tree farm and choose our tree while it was still in the ground. This is what New Englanders do. It would create a lifetime of happy family memories.

Except that it was always freezing cold. And we were all miserable.

And my husband and I have no more ability than our small children to determine whether a tree is the correct size for the room. So ceiling scratches became part of the tradition.

Surprisingly, we knew this was too big.

Then there was the year it was so wide that we had to cut all the branches off the tree before we could get it out of the house.

2009 - It was so pretty.

Until we had to get it out of the house.

Of course the tree fell down. More than once. (Fortunately, it seemed precarious from the start, so I'd hung all the fragile and meaningful ornaments on a tabletop ornament tree.)

In a feat of strength and coordination that still amazes me, I single-handedly picked up the tree and balanced it while tying fishing line around it and to eye bolts I'd inserted into the window and door trim.

The tree process was not good for marital harmony. Always good for the holidays.

Somehow, the bickering and the cold and the falling tree all seemed par for the course. It was the spiders that changed my mind.

My son was four or five the year he asked what all the little black dots on the living room ceiling were. I told him there weren't any dots. Since he didn't yet need corrective eyewear, his vision was better than mine. There were black dots. Lots of black dots. And when you stood on the furniture to see what the black dots were, it became apparent that they were spiders. Lots and lots of baby spiders that thought the warmth of our living room indicated the arrival of spring and had hatched from the egg sac concealed somewhere on that gargantuan tree we had frozen our butts off selecting at the tree farm.

We don't go to the tree farm anymore. Our family tradition is that we go to the garden shop near the grocery store, about five minutes away. We go to that shop--and only that shop--because they offer in-town free delivery.

2012 - Finally figured it out.

Every year, I (again) measure the height of the living room ceiling (8.5') before we leave the house. I tell the tree guy our ceiling height, he offers 1-3 selections, and we choose. The whole thing takes less than five minutes, including paying and scheduling delivery.

If we get one of the younger delivery guys, we tip him extra to bring it in the house and set it in the stand. Someone holds the tree steady while I tighten it. Then I take a long piece of fishing line, wrap it around the tree, and tie that tree to the wall.

But I still display all the fragile and special ornaments elsewhere. You can never be too sure.

That folks, is how it's done.

2014 - Impulsive grainy iPhone pic. But the tree is secure.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Anxiety that is December

There's no good reason for it, but it's there. The tightness in my chest. And the fatigue. And the general feeling of overwhelm. I have become inexplicably anxious this December.

It's silly really. My family is healthy. We are financially secure. My husband has a good job and works very hard at it, so I don't have to. I'm excited (and not at all overwhelmed) at the opportunity to start my own business doing something I love. Our lives are blessedly free of the stresses that make life most challenging.

It's the mundane things that make me anxious, and that's why I feel so ridiculous.

What gifts to get everyone. How to make sure the holidays are special for my kids. Writing holiday cards. Decorating inside and out. Baking cookies. Hosting the annual book club holiday party. Little things. Silly things. Things that I enjoy or choose to take on. Things I do not find challenging or important. Things that do not make me feel a need for perfection or to impress anyone. Yet the anxiety is still there.

I don't understand it.

Back when my husband and I were doing our pre-marriage counseling, we took some personality tests. The psychologist who met with us said to me, "According to these results, you don't like chaos."

That's an understatement. He continued, "How do you deal with chaos?"

Gratefully, I told him that my life hadn't been very chaotic--stable home life, happy family, and healthy, long-lived loved ones. He responded, "I don't mean that sort of chaos. I mean everyday chaos--like being stuck in traffic or late for an appointment. How do you deal with that?"

Not well. Not well at all.

"You realize that children are chaos, right? They draw on the walls. They are unpredictable. You can't control everything."

Well, when you put it that way...

My anxiety over the little things is not sounding so out of left field at all. Maybe I'm hard-wired for it. Even if I don't want to be stressed by the little things--even if I want to let it go--maybe I can't.

Rushing out the door for school. The clothes and books and craft supplies discarded all over the house. Lost coats and hats and gloves. Mopping the kitchen floor after the gingerbread house, and the muddy boots, and the dropped pesto. Wanting everything to be just so. Having a place for everything, but finding nothing in its place. Everyday chaos.

Not a bit of it worth being upset about. But still. It happens.

I've reached a couple conclusions. First, checking things off the list may not always be my best tactic. Sometimes, I just have to stop. I need to sleep, because being tired and cranky only makes it worse. I also need to allow myself an escape. Sitting down with a good book is not a waste of valuable time, but a chance to travel to a different world and forget about the lists for a while.

Second, as much as I try to rationalize away the anxiety, it's not going to go away entirely. It's who I am. But just because I'm feeling anxious about the time or the mess or the lists, I don't need to share those feelings with everyone around me.

Snapping at the kids to hurry up makes them move no faster than if I deliver the message in a normal tone. Griping about the floors isn't going to make them any cleaner. So I'm trying (not always succeeding, but trying) to keep my constant feeling of snappishness to myself. When I start barking at people, they bark back. And then we begin a self-perpetuating cycle of annoyance that benefits no one.

While I wish I were more laid back, I can only do so much to change my nature. Perhaps the best things I can do are to try to cut myself (and others) some slack and, when I cannot, to keep it to myself. Just because I'm anxious doesn't mean I should be, and I cannot let it control me or affect those around me.

Now that I have that off my chest, should I return to my online shopping list or continue the book I started last night?

What about you? Do you have the laid back personality I desire, or are you a just-so person as well? If so, does December bring out your worst? What are you doing to keep it in check?