PF and I have been married for nine years. And this year is our second consecutive year of putting up a Christmas tree. The first six years of our marriage we lived in a very cramped one bedroom apartment, and we just didn't have room. Or rather, PF didn't get excited enough about it and told me our apartment was too small, which I took to mean that he just wasn't that into it, and I didn't really want to buy it and decorate it alone, so...voila.
This is our third year in our townhouse, and the second consecutive year in which we have put up a tree. (The excuse for not having a tree in our first year in this townhouse was that Mr. 10Kv was only three months old and not yet sleeping through the night, and I was exhausted.) Last year, Mr. 10Kv was two years old and somewhat oblivious, so we put up a tree to start the traditional foaming at the mouth that children do at this time of year. We decorated our tree last year from the top down, and stopped the decorations at the level where Mr. 10Kv could reach the ornaments when straining to reach them. It looked like a tree that was missing its petticoats.
Finally, here we are, in our third year in our townhouse, but now the mood is changed, changed by the thing we cannot control--the loss of our Kerian. And somehow, in spite of missing him so very much, we are determined to give Mr. 10Kv a magical and happy Christmas. So on Sunday morning (yesterday) we went to "The Man Store," and bought a Christmas tree.
(I should add that on Saturday afternoon, after nap, Mr. 10Kv and I baked gingerbread cookies--cookies that I thought he wouldn't like, and therefore didn't worry much about tempting him with sugar. Two hours later, the molasses-stained ring around his little mouth proved me wrong.)
My next near-fatal mistake was in letting Mr. 10Kv eat gingerbread cookies for his morning snack. Most weekends I manage to maintain my sanity, but yesterday morning I thought to myself, "It's the Christmas season, lighten up and let the kid have a little sugar." There must be something really special in molasses, because he was wired. I mean put-him-on-a-treadmill-and-light-up-North-America wired. And then we started to decorate the tree. (Did I mention that PF decided to go jogging about 10 minutes before Mr. 10Kv and I started decorating? How wise.)
PF and I have only five boxes of Christmas decorations. F I V E. And I'm not talking crates, I'm talking a few copy paper boxes, and a random shipping box or two. I tried to keep Mr. 10Kv under control. I opened one box at a time, and then took out one ornament at a time and hooked it on the tree. Every time I turned my back, Mr. 10Kv had four ornaments unwrapped from their protective tissue paper, and was head first and shoulder-deep in the box, rooting for Christmas joy. Scraps of shredded tissue paper flew out of the box, over his little shoulders, and he stopped only on occasion, to squeal with delight when something thrilled him (teddy bear and squirrel ornaments were big hits).
We lasted an hour like that. I would open one box, he would tear through it when my back was turned (I'm a slow learner), then I would clean up the mess and open another box. And with the opening of each box, I fumed a little bit more that PF had gone for a jog while I stayed home to sweat over Christmas tree janitorial duties. It was supposed to be fun. Not a chore.
Flash forward to yesterday afternoon. Mr. 10Kv awakened from his nap, charged down the stairs and chortled, "Let's decorate the Trissmas tree, Mama!" I looked at the boxes and realized that we had actually missed one. So I said to PF, "Hey, I'll make some tea. You can help us hang ornaments." I was aching for him to join us. I wanted him to want to do that with us, to help make happy Christmas memories for Mr. 10Kv. He stood in the living room and examined the tree, then asked, "Don't you use guirlande on your trees here?"
I took a leap, "Do you mean tinsel?"
We had to Google it to make sure we were talking about the same thing before I could confirm that no, there wasn't any guirlande in our boxes.
So we packed Mr. 10Kv into the car and we drove to Tar-zhay to get guirlande. PF chose one strand in gold, one in silver, and one in red. I asked him if it was common for the French to mix the colors like that, and never having actually been in France for a Christmas, what would I know? He shrugged his shoulders in the way that French people do, and said, "Ohhh, yes." (The shoulder shrug can mean many things. Sometimes it means something isn't a big deal. Other times it means that they're telling a partial truth or no truth tall. It's a gesture with built-in ambiguity.)
I took him at his word, even though I had expected matching strands of guirlande, based on my own childhood experience back in Oregon, with my mother who hung only one color at a time, and in perfect measured swags, all around the tree. My mother's trees were perfect. Magazine photograph perfect. Beautiful creations, encrusted with lights, and sparkles, and ornaments that were carefully stowed away each January in boxes that described the contents down to each ornament (including the person to whom they were given, and the person who gave them). And I let him hang that guirlande, even after I had explained how my mother hung hers. He said, "Oh, no, we just fling it on the tree, and we kind of intermix the colors. You know. We weave them in and around each other."
I tried to imagine it. I really did. I hadn't pictured the strands coming up short and missing large spots on the tree, like gaping bald spots on an old man's head. When he was done and I didn't have to image it anymore, I just stood there and marveled at it. There, behind the boxes, the wads of tissue paper, and the clear plastic bags, stood our Christmas tree, bedraggled, and glorious in its imperfection.
And I wouldn't have it any other way.
Disclaimer: No Franco-Americans were harmed during the decorating of this Christmas tree.