Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Clean Slate for Christmas

At our home, the beginning of the yuletide season is marked by exhaustion and dehydration. This painful tradition, usually occurring the day after Thanksgiving, started six years ago, our first year as parents in our own home. Jeff -- on a mission to be our neighborhood's Clark W. Griswold -- went wild with the Christmas decorations in the backyard to the tune of 28 light strands and a dozen light-up characters.

The first year it took him 8 eight hours to install. He was a wreck by the time he came inside. Having blown several fuses, he had to redirect multiple strands so as not to overload any one circuit. He assured me, however, that the next year would go much smoother, and held up in his work-worn hand an 8.5 x 11 inch sheet of paper. On it, he'd drawn a detailed schematic of our back yard in black ink, with colored marker lines representing each strand and a letter "C" for each connection. Each cord in our yard was then tagged with colored tape. Hubby's diagram had notes on it that read things like "flashers at upper eave w/ icicles w/ flashing lights around windows" and "3 lines connect santa & reindeer w/ ext. cord." There are also marks resembling cave paintings that represent the pattern the lights will form on all sides of our fence. (Do I need to mention here that Hubby is an architect?)

For years, this system has stood, and it has indeed expedited things. It takes more like six hours to do lights now, even with the addition of an 11-piece light-up nativity scene that wasn't on the original plan. Even so, I always partially dread Decorating Day, because I know it will mean me in the living room with a dozen boxes of retro holiday finery and two needy kids, and Jeff outside, a man alone with his staple gun and his dream. That evening usually finds us both near catatonic, drinking sports drinks with our feet up on empty plastic ornament totes.

So this year, I was feeling inspired to embrace our mad decorating as part of our family's culture, but I was also looking to let go of the things that aren't working. First of all, the concept of "decorating as a family" does not happen with a three and six year old. So, we sent the kids to Grammy and Grampy's for the day (which turned into overnight and to which we say to my in-laws, "thankyouthankyouthankyou"). We decided we'd decorate as a team by day, and actually go on a date that night.

But then,we opened one of the insanely heavy boxes labeled "exterior lights," and found Jeff's detailed schematic in a tragic state. The black pen delineating our yard's perimeter and patio cover remained, but the marker representing each strand had apparently gotten wet, and had blurred into an attractive but completely useless aura of Crayola color.

Okay, clean slate it is. We separated into our usual duties for the first two hours, I with my nutcrackers and Christmas Spode, and Jeff with his staple gun. More blown fuses; more rehanging of blown out circuits. Then we came together to set out our 20 -- yes, you read that right -- vintage ceramic trees in every room of the house. And I'm proud to say, we left the backyard undone and went out for happy hour and the latest Harry Potter.

So we both broke from and maintained tradition at the same time this year. No dehydration on the day after Thanksgiving, and Hubby scaled down his backyard illumination (it's bright enough to read 10-point font out there, though). But still, we ended up with a day of divided labors after all, as I watched the kids on Saturday and Jeff continued his stapling.

Added to our extensive collection of treasured Christmas memorobilia this year: that watermarked schematic, the embodiment of my husband's Christmas spirit and technical know-how, and a reminder that to have joy in our world, we sometimes have to let go of our best-laid plans.


  1. Very well put. I really enjoy your writing. And I want to see those vintage ceramic trees! What are those??

  2. What a delight for your girls to come home to a Winter Wonderland!

  3. Awesome...this gives me a whole new window into Jeff. He never seemed obsessed with anything. I wish we could be there sometime to see it

    We got your card today! Have a great Christmas.

  4. Love it! (Is it wrong that I love to read about other people's control issues?) I'm not alone! :)