It felt like I should have a major award. Or something.
We'd selected the tree, rigged it up in the stand and dragged out the ornaments, just as we have every year at around this time since I don't know when.
It's all so rote at this point but having decorating done and over with seemed like something to celebrate; Lights. Camera. Christmas.
Yet this time, as I plugged in the extension end of the three-strand band of lights, which had been carefully connected and wrapped around the tree, there was nothing.
I tried the nearest light switch. Maybe it had closed off the juice to the outlet.
Up. Down. Up. Down. Up-down-up-down and one more time, up, just in case. Nothing.
Well, almost nothing. As I jostled the branches of the tree, the strand of lights saddled around the middle blinked on with a moment's hesitation. It was as if the midsection had burst out from having too much Thanksgiving dinner while the other lights couldn't wake up from their tryptophan comas.
What twinkling there was seemed more fire-hazard-y than jolly.
So out we went to the hardware store to buy a new set of lights.
I'm ashamed to admit, it was kind of exciting.
I couldn't remember when we’d bought the last set. It's not something that tends to burn itself into memory, like where I was when I learned of Sept. 11 or what was playing on the radio when we found out we were having a girl.
I'm sure, way back then lights were lights. You had your "Tasteful and Unobtrusive Holiday White" bulbs, and then you had the "Holy Holiday Batman, Who Robbed the Crayon Factory and Added a Disco Strobe Color" bulbs.
These days you have the choice of regular lights (which are impossible to find, and just pretend I hadn't mentioned them) and the energy-saving LED lights in bright white, warm white, red, green, blue, gold, pink, orange and purple, also multicolored. They come shaped as strawberries, raspberries, snowflakes, stars and teddy bears. They come in cords and nets and icicle dangles. You can get trunk lights, twinkle lights, and battery operated candle lights.
Staring at the shelves reaching to the ceiling, piled higher than I could reach with a ladder, I just wanted to turn around and go home. The 'No End' to the possibilities could very well have been literal.
I don't want to care about Christmas lights.
"Just pick something already and get it over with" came the demand from by overtired brain, which at that moment wanted nothing more than to just settle down for a long winter's nap.
And so I let the kids decide.
Who does this? Just moments earlier Ittybit and The Champ had been occupied with trying to get out of their coats without unzipping them, all the while trying to out stare each other. So it really was without a hint of parental scrutiny that one 100-count strawberry strand in traditional warm white, one strand of bright white snowflake minis and one strand of multi-colored snowflake minis went unceremoniously into the cart, through the check out and into the car.
Still, I was feeling pretty good as we drove up to the house; the tree was up, the shopping was done all that was left was the decorating. Sitting around drinking cocoa in our holiday-illuminated house would be the reward.
As we unwound the coiled wires and got ready to drape them around the tree, I became entangled at each turn in the little plastic nubbins that jutted out from the snowflake lights. They attached to each other, and then to my sweater and then on each other again. They snagged on everything excepting the tree.
I swore under my breath, calling them every name in the book. I lost patience and reason. Every move felt as if I were being strangled by twinkle lights.
When I was finally free of the lights — having removed them from the tree and restrung them twice — I plugged them in and held my breath.
They lit up. ...
Like a striped shirt of clashing colors.
Before I had time to process the sight, I had a flash of understanding. It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad thought:
Up until that very moment I had identified with all the long-suffering mother of A Christmas Story. I was the mother whose kids hadn't eaten voluntarily since they were born ... or who hadn't had a hot meal for herself in 15 years.
But in the glare of the mix and match lit tree I knew I was more like the father; swearing under my breath on the one hand and clinging to my "special award" with the other. We were both beaming in gaudiness from front window ... for everyone to see.