Do It My Way! (No Apples for You!)

Declan's tree

Declan’s tree

I am coloring with Declan. We are making trees. I start to make my usual tree, which will emerge with owls, a couple of flowers, a graveyard off in the distance, and maybe a kid fishing by a stream. The kid might even fall in. I never finish the picture. I never finish any picture because I am a mom, and it’s not allowed. It’s why I like sumi-e–the Japanese style that looks unfinished to the Western eye. I can’t practice sumi-e with a six-year old around. Permanent ink attracts six-year olds like when I try to do yoga or take a shower or anything that requires a modicum of modesty or meditation. Permanent ink is a disaster.

He starts a kid-style apple tree sans apples. He looks at me and screams.

“Mommy!” he says, “You can’t do it like that!”

“This is my tree,” I say.

“That’s the WRONG tree!” He is adamant. I protest.

“How can there be a wrong tree? We each can draw the tree from our imagination,” I explain.

“Your imagination is WRONG.” Funny, I’ve often been told that. “You must do it MY WAY.”  He hands me the crayon. “Do it like THIS!” He proceeds to instruct me as to the correct way to shape and form the tree. Even the coloring process has a method and direction.

My tree

My tree

“You CAN’T go around with the crayon in circles.” I have been shading the tree quickly. “You have to go back and forth like this, HARD!”

Kid, you’re starting to remind me of standardized test prep.

“Put the sky in here.” I pick out a pretty light blue.

“No! Not like that, like this.” His sky is a different blue, and goes back and forth along the top edge of the paper. I take the right blue and do it correctly. Soon, he discovers my paper is portrait, not landscape.

“Ohhh!! Mommy, you’ll never be able to make a tree. You’ll have to do it again!” Maybe he’s not like test prep at all–you only get one shot there.

My tree makes me a renegade. The world may judge me. I hope not harshly.

“Mommy, do it like THIS!” he corrects a finer point of my bark-coloring technique. I obey. I pick up the red crayon.

“What are you DOING?” He is concerned I might step off the beaten path into creativity again.

“I’m making mine an apple tree.” The red crayon in my hand heads for the paper.

“NO! There are NO apples in this picture.” No pie, no apple sauce, no jelly…

“There are no apples in your picture, but I’m putting them in mine.” He snatches the red crayon and places it back in the box. Instantly. He glowers. No apples. It has been decided.

We are done. My tree looks exactly the same as his tree. He smiles.

I want to tell him this is just the style of teaching from which I flee–in my class, you can put apples, oranges, or key limes on your tree. But key limes don’t grow here, you say? Just wait two years…global warming. I fear he won’t listen. And he has stolen my red crayon.

Alas, there are no apples on my tree today, but there are a few on my counter, and I’m hungry. I eat one. I’ll put the art aside…for awhile.

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Putting up the #$%$^ Tree. A Holiday Tradition of Love

Screen Shot 2012-12-10 at 5.43.08 AMEach year, we put up the Christmas tree. Each year, we have the tree fight. It has been this way since the dawn of mankind.  When I was little, we’d tag the tree and later in the season, we’d cut the tree down. Some years our tree would be there, others it would not–when you live in a low-crime area, tag switching is the crime of the century, but somehow you make a Plan B and succeed in finding another “perfect tree” which you drag through the forest instead.

For most of my childhood, the Great Annual Tree Fight occurred somewhere between the putting up the tree, which required several sharp tools and the correct combination of swears, and the unstringing of the lights. Lights are no small matter.  First you have to find them.  That requires at least one curse.  Then you have to untangle them, because no matter what you do to put them back, the mischievous little things always self-tangle in the off-season–light sex, I suppose.  They come out of the wrong box in such a tangled mass that Clark Griswold would be reduced to tears.

The lights we had growing up weren’t any of these new fancy LED lights that just seem to work. They were big colored bulbs–that took considerable time to prepare.  We had to test the string and find all the lamps that were defective. Some of the strings were series circuits, meaning that if one light was out, so was the whole string, making it nearly impossible to find the culprit without testing each and every bulb. That whole operation, from untangling to testing, took about seven or eight swears.

Getting the tree in the stand was even worse.  For most of my childhood, we lived in a regular house. That meant there was a standard-sized door and normal-height ceiling restricting the size of the tree. We never obeyed these constraints when choosing the tree–they all look miniature out in nature.  We’d bring that sucker right up to the door and realize…again…that the tree was far too big, that we accidentally took the one tagged for Rockefeller Center. That meant another eight or nine swears.  Once we shoved the tree through the door and discovered it was too tall we needed an additional swear or two to finish getting it up.

One year, we lived in a Victorian in Eastern Connecticut. Victorians have tons of room. We were able to use the double front doors to get the tree in, but it was so big that it kept falling over.  After going a few swears over the usual limit, my dad and his tree-standing companion–I actually don’t remember if it was his friend the priest or someone else–found a sledge hammer and railroad spike and banged it right into the floor.  Thanks to the sturdy construction of antique wrought iron spikes and 19th century hard wood floors that tree was officially reinforced.

Growing up, I thought this was how tree trimmings were supposed to go, so when I got big, it was no different.  My husband got upset at the lights, the size of the tree, and the whining in the room, and I got stressed. One year, they pulled out my circular saw and hacked far too much off the too-tall tree, gumming up it up to the break-point and creating a four-foot tree. The Charlie Brown tree.  And when it was up, everyone was only allowed to say, “Oh, it’s beautiful.”

One year, we made a monumental discovery–my tree allergy. Every year at Christmas, I’d get sick. Like clockwork.  I always attributed my illness to the fact that I work myself into the ground, and that I needed a bit of a rest–that the school year/job/life was getting to me.  My mom said, “Maybe you’re allergic to the tree.”  Sure enough, when I reflected upon my odd list of allergies pine was on them.  So, it stands to reason that if I can’t have pine candles, sprays, scents…maybe a big pine tree in the middle of my living room was to blame. I’ll never be a rocket scientist, that’s for sure.

So, we got a fake tree. This presented a whole new set of problems, including the “you didn’t fluff the branches” discussion. I never fluff the branches right. I’m not orderly and symmetrical.  I never even notice the lack of fluff. I just put the tree up and decorate.

This year, we got a pre-lit tree. Our old tree got moldy during the Great Flood and didn’t make move to the forest.  Ironic that we bought a new fake tree while living in the middle of a forest, but that’s the way it goes when you’re too stupid to know that a large pine tree stops you from breathing if you’re allergic to pine. And brings in spiders, by the way…

I put up the tree myself. I waited until I was alone so I could get New Tree up before anyone got to the tree fight stage. I know, it’s tradition, but I wanted to skip the argument and go right to the eggnog.  The boy was asleep on the couch, and Rusty was out.

The directions looked simple. Pictures of sections marked 1,2, and 3. The opposite of building the greenhouse last year. In three minutes the entire thing was up. No swears, no tree fight–even for someone too dumb to realize that having a pine allergy meant that she couldn’t have a tree. Instant Christmas cheer.

When we were done with all the decorations, only two ornaments smashed, we sat down and watched it twinkle.

“Hey,” said Rusty, “You forgot to fluff the branches.”

Yes, indeed. It’s perfect.

[image: clarkgriswoldcollection.com]