Nov. 25, 2011 at 11:20 AM ET
Holiday decorations say a lot about a mom.
Today, the day so many of us start hanging lights and arranging garlands, is a day of Mommy reckoning – a day when it becomes crystal clear which moms are relaxed and laid back (read: fun) and which ones are uptight and neurotic (read: not-so-fun).
Just take a look at her Christmas tree. And front lawn. And cookies.
Exhibit A: A tree with colored lights, hand-made ornaments hung unevenly around the bottom, and that annoying, messy tinsel strewn everywhere. A yard filled with an inflatable Frosty, an army of nutcrackers, and Santa and all eight reindeer (plus Rudolph!) on the roof. Sugar cookies with heaps of frosting and way too many sprinkles.
Exhibit B: A tree with white lights, glass ornaments hung in perfect symmetry, and not a sliver of tinsel…anywhere. A house trimmed in pristine white, and no inflatable in sight. Perfectly-iced gingerbread men.
So which one are you?
I admit, I’m an exhibit B. (Some would argue B for bossy. Or bullheaded.) I honestly never wanted to be that way. When I first had kids, I assumed I’d be A for amusing. I love the holidays! Of course I’d be fun and carefree.
With a summer baby, the first Christmas was no big deal. She was a few months old so the holiday decorating was mine, all mine. I trimmed the tree in sparkling, white lights, gorgeous, breakable balls, and perfect plaid bows. Oh, it was spectacular, and I swear my 4-month-old baby girl was smiling approvingly from her bouncy seat.
The next year she was 16 months old, walking, talking and wanting to help. So I put the tree up when she was asleep. Two years later her baby brother came along, wanting to help, too.
My concession: I would “prep” the tree (with lights, bows, glass ornaments) and they could “add” the cutesy homemade ornaments they made at school.
I was no less of a dictator outdoors. The trees and house were always trimmed in white. When the kids asked, “Mommy, why can’t we have colored lights?” I’d say, “Colored lights are tacky.” One year I was thrilled to find gorgeous, resin luminaries to line our yard. My husband had a day off and was to install them. I drove home from work, excited to see them, and gasped when I pulled into the driveway. For there, along with the luminaries, was a giant, inflatable Santa waving at me. The kids had huge smiles on their faces. “Mom! Dad got it on sale at Home Depot!”
Initially I didn’t react well (think horror and rage), but Santa eventually found a home on our balcony porch. I think that was the year I finally, sort of, mellowed out.
So what is it about the need for decoration perfection that so messes with our mommy psyche? Why do some of us feel the necessity of a no-hair-out-of-place holiday? You can blame what blogger Christy Miles calls the Martha Stewart/Pottery Barn effect. Flawless, staged holiday scenes from TV and catalogues have warped our expectations.
Miles says her mom played a role in expecting perfection.
My mother spent days arranging decorations in the house; she was Martha Stewart before anyone had heard of Martha Stewart.
I was never permitted to touch the “good” tree upstairs, but I was allowed to decorate the “other” tree in the basement. I call it the consolation tree. (Usually my mother would come down later and rearrange all the ornaments again anyway.) Secretly I fear I’ll never be good enough to put together the good tree.
Come to find out, Martha Stewart herself was pretty un-kid-friendly when it came to holidays, according to daughter Alexis, who recently wrote a tell-all book “Whateverland,” about her no-fun childhood and how Martha made her wrap her own presents at Christmas. (Now, for me, that wouldn’t work. Not if you want the gifts to look just…so.)
Miles found a solution: she let her kids take over the tree-trimming and has made it a hot-cocoa-sipping, super-fun tradition, regardless of what the end result is.
My tree looks disheveled and a little tipsy, kind of like me after the neighborhood holiday party–OK, all of the neighborhood parties–and the complete opposite of any tree ever featured in Pottery Barn. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
As my kids (and I) get older, my quest for holiday perfection has lessened, too.
Our house and tree, which we will put up this weekend, are still illuminated in all-white lights. But the kids, ages 9 and 12, hang all the trimmings (OK, I still give some direction). The handmade ornaments of yesteryear are a source of joy for all of us. What I would give, now, for a tree FULL of baby handprints and cotton snowmen and paper plate wreaths accented by bowtie pasta…Sigh.
The fancy luminaries and inflatable Santa will come out of storage and make an appearance on our lawn. This year we might even add a Frosty.
Are you a perfectionist when it comes to holiday decorating?