Tag Archives: decorations

A Little Light Conversation

This weekend we put the lights on the house.

Kids in front of the tree
Kids in front of the tree

Yes, I know, I’m behind the times.  Most people in my neighborhood managed to get their lights put on the house on Thanksgiving Day.  I know I sound Dickensian when I say this, and will manage to aggravate so many suburban residents out there, but . . . what the hell is wrong with you people?!  Look, I get that there’s not a lot of time and you want to keep up with the Joneses and all that.  I also know that you want to be all celebratory.  I’m not disputing that, Christmas is my favorite time of the year.

But what the hell?!

Thanksgiving is spent for me making too many pies – and this year screwing up in baking two of them – and then driving around town to relatives.  Never mind the meals the next day, working before the day, all of that.  How in God’s name did these people find time to get the lights on the house?  Some hired them done . . . I know that, and I realize full-well that there’s a snowball’s chance in hell of my doing that.  I couldn’t afford it and there’s just something, I don’t know, odd about doing that for me.  I can’t figure out why I’d pay triple for lights for about a month when I could simply put some lights on the house myself.

So after all that, with yet another splitting headache, I took to the roof of our home.  (Well, it’s not our home, we’re renting, but you get it)  My oldest daughter, Abbi, saw me suffering and my vision a bit blurried and decided that it was worth helping me to ensure I didn’t fall to the bushes below the roof.  Never mind the fact it was a convenient excuse to ignore the homework she didn’t want to do.  I would say it was easy, organized, and perfectly suited since we’d managed to get the lights up on-time last year but I’d be lying.  Like so many things from last Christmas I don’t remember much.  We did manage lights, tree, presents, all that, but I don’t remember doing it.  Autopilot must have been a major part of my life last year because we managed to get through the holidays, I wasn’t a mess, and the kids enjoyed themselves.

This year I looked at all the lights put away, the giant snowflakes that I remembered hanging down at least one of the peaks on the house, and I scratched my head.  Maybe it was the headache, or maybe it’s because my brain has slowly filled up with useless information.  Either way, I didn’t remember how the hell we’d gotten the lights up on the roof.  I had tons of strands of green outdoor lights and then tons of strands of white outdoor lights.

“These don’t match,” I told Abbi as I stood staring at the storage containers.
“No . . . they don’t.  Does it matter?”
I had to think about that.  It used to.  Andrea, my late wife, used to have conniptions about anything going against “the plan.”  The plan, you see, was her vision.  Given my ways, particularly early in our marriage, you’d have been able to land an F-16 on our roof with the lights I wanted to do.  Patterns and colors be damned, I want to see my house from the International Space Station!  That didn’t go well.  I argued, I fought, I groused . . . and like always I gave in.  You know what, it was always classy, minimal, and beautiful.  She had a knack for it, this woman, and it always looked good.

So I stood looking at the lights and could only muster “well . . . ”
“I mean, we could do the snowflakes like last year . . . but put the green lights on the bottom eave . . .then up on the top one,” Abbi pondered.
“They won’t match,” I told her.
“So.  I’m not Mom, neither are you.  She’s the only one that really bothered.  It’s not worth all that work.”
She was right, too.  I got up on the roof, managed to match the white snowflakes with white strands and separated the green ones in separate areas.

We turned on the lights, fixed the broken bulbs to eliminate the dark patches, and suddenly . . . we were a lighted home.
“Your Mom would have hated this,” I said.
“Yeah . . . but Mom’s way took three days, which we don’t have, and we’d both be exhausted,” Abbi said.
“You’re absolutely right.”

The other kids came out and hugged my saying simply “yay!” and dancing in the dark of the street.  I went in satisfied, knowing it was perfect.  In the dark all you saw was the colored lights, and they sparkled against the eaves.  You couldn’t see the wires.  In the window you could see the tree lit up and even it was contrary to the way Andrea would have decorated.  There was no theme . . . except we decorated with our own materials and ornaments.  No leopard spotted bows, no ribbons instead of tinsel, it was a traditional tree.

By that I mean it was traditional for us.

On through the days uncounted . . .

The Blind Leading The Blind

There’s a song my brother wrote, which I have attached here, that I know has a different meaning for him but I listened to the track the other day and realized that whatever inspiration it gave him, I’m living the thought behind the song.

Tell me why, I want a reason
Just what am I supposed to find?
All through the days uncounted
Like the Blind Leading the Blind

I remember the day he came to our house with the demo – he had put it on a cassette (you know, a cartridge with two tiny reels inside that hold magnetic mylar tape that . . . oh, nevermind. If you don’t know by now you never will) and I was blown away. I mean, he wasn’t even old enough to go into a bar but had written this amazing song that even then I saw as insightful.

But now I truly do feel like I’ve gotten pulled into the inspiration of his song. Successful holiday or two aside, most days I’m making this up as I go. I wait for the day that I shrink some important piece of clothing of my daughter’s. My middle child is failing numerous classes and I can’t seem to get anything to sink into that head of hers.

I don’t know what I’m doing. It’s pretty clear to me I am making this up as I go, and I wander through the forest of inevitable problems that we’re lost in and realize that I’m leading the kids along like a blind man in the dark. It scares me that they are looking to me to be the solid foundation for them and I’m feeling the ground moving underneath me, destabilizing the foundation I’ve tried to pour.

Now Christmas season is coming. Andrea always had specific ideas for how things should go. In the last few years, she’d relented, letting the kids decorate the tree the way they wanted or sitting back and allowing the holiday to come to pass. I have major issues with what’s on the horizon. I LOVE Christmas, always have. Not the presents, not getting things, I was never that way. Sure, as a kid, I loved to get presents and look under the tree on Christmas morning but I just liked the whole season. I loved the snow, the trees, the smell of pine in the house, the lights and tinsel and presents and all of it. When my Dad decorated the house and put up lights the running gag was that planes would land on our lawn instead of the airport because he had so many. I inherited that from him and loved every minute of it.

Andrea hated that. She loved Christmas, but she was a control freak when it came to decorating. What I hated more was that she was always right and it looked so great. She never liked all the lights or the clashing colors. She was a decorator at heart and she wanted simplicity in action, mixed with a touch of color and light. She kept me in check and prevented me from making the landing strip on our lawn. Where she didn’t pull back was with presents. She always paid too much, put us in debt and bought too much stuff, out-doing it for major gifts every year. She wanted to give her kids what she had or more. I’ve said it before, but I just couldn’t tell Andrea “no” and we always ended up paying for Christmas for months later until we had to find a way to pay for it all over again.

Now, my kids are looking at Christmas as a way to get all the stuff they wanted. Sure, they know the reason behind the season, they understand that they should be just as excited – or more so – to give as to receive. But last night we were at the dinner table and I made the mistake of asking what they wanted for Christmas. My oldest, always the conservative kid and not wanting to ask, said little. The other three:

“I want a Nintendo 3DS”
“Me too”
“I want a guitar, and a bike, and a Spyro video game with a different character and a Mario brothers game and a new controller and a laptop and an ipod and . . . ”

I told them all how much it would cost to buy all that stuff.

“But I’ll just ask Santa for it.”

That was the problem. They have these memories of asking for their one big gift and Santa brought it.

“You realize, guys, that Santa brings you what he thinks you need and deserve, not always everything you want.”

They get that, but they don’t “get” that. Last year we didn’t have a lot of money at all, (not that I do now) and they had to come to terms with a lot fewer gifts under the tree and a lot more stress from Dad and Mom. But they thought it was the greatest Christmas ever and for the most part didn’t get everything they wanted.

This year is the same way.

It’s not that I’m complaining, I’m not. I don’t want more money, the kids don’t need more gifts. What I need is self confidence and peace of mind. I stare at the houses in the neighborhood, the lights popping up, the trees erecting in the windows and I realize I’m so far behind. I get to work around 8:30 each day, leaving at 5:30, if I can. Some days it’s later. I get home and dinner has to get on the table. We clean off the kitchen table, put away the leftovers, only to see it’s time to get the kids into the shower and the bedtime routine started. I help them find their PJ’s, their new underwear, and go downstairs while the hour or more process goes and get their “midnight snacks” together – usually Rice Crispies with banana and a little sugar. Once they’re finished, we go upstairs and read a chapter of the latest book we’re reading – this one is “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”. We say prayers, get out the clothes for the next day and put them on the foot of their bed, then I head out, put a load (or two) of laundry in the washer and go downstairs. I make lunches for the next day, make sure I have something ready and on-hand for breakfast, and usually end up having to make something for a sweet snack for the lunches – cookies, brownies, something like that. Switch out the laundry, separate the clothes . . .

You get the picture of my day. I don’t feel like I’m doing anything more than get the kids from today to tomorrow and then the next. I’m not saying my only reason for mourning Andrea is that she helped with the daily grind of chores, but she did. She also helped me figure out how to decorate for the holidays and knew what they kids wanted for Christmas, what to ask Santa for so they got their one big gift but didn’t get an overload of stuff so that I can’t follow up next year. I’m so lost in the trees I can’t see the forest any more.

My children are amazing. I have to admit that. They laugh, they smile, they tell stories, all of it without Andrea here to help them. People look at me and say that I must be doing something right or they wouldn’t be doing this well. I look at them and realize that they’re not doing well in school or are getting into fights or are obsessed with video games or just get quiet and spend most of the night in their room.

At the end of the day I feel like I have to stick to the routine – sticking to the same time, the same things every night will make them happy and feel stable. But walking through the day in that routine when their guide, the Dad who’s taking them through the woods, has no map and isn’t sure where he’s going feels so wrong. I feel some days like I’m lying to them, acting like I know what I’m doing but really I’m just as lost as they are. My son, Sam, looked at me last night after prayers as I was tucking him into his bed and – with the twinkle I remember in Andrea’s eyes, he says: “I love you daaaaady!”

I love you too, buddy.

“You’re the best Daddy ever, you know.”
“Well, there are a lot of Daddies in the world, kiddo.”
“I know that. You’re still the best.”
“I appreciate that, Samwise. I love you, little man.”
“I don’t care how many other dads there are. You read to us, take care of us, even chase us around and tickle us and laugh with us. You’re the best.”

You see, like my brother’s song, “it’s a waste of time to keep on looking back but it’s a pain I can’t resist.” I keep thinking and wondering how they’re able to cope so well when I’m still glancing over my shoulder.

But I keep blindly stumbling along hoping I’m getting it right but never really knowing. Why?

I couldn’t bear it if I looked at my kids . . . at Sam . . . and saw that he didn’t feel that way any more.

My son, in his normal state, smiling and happy