My front yard looks like something out of one of those bad Christmas movies. I’m serious. There are lights randomly strewn about, two fake deer, a dozen solar-powered candy canes and two massive inflatable figures – a snowman and a Santa. I bought none of this stuff – it was all Shawn.
Last year, he set it all up even though he was in the emergency room less than 24 hours later. I know he worried that I wouldn’t be able to figure out the wiring system he used, and he had very specific ideas about how the lights should look. When I think back on it, I remember him being a bit short of breath, actually, but I figured it was just exertion after a week of laying in bed. God, the things I rationalized then. It’s actually kind of amazing when I think back on it.
As you can imagine, when I went to set up for Christmas this year, I was overwhelmed just by opening the boxes of decorations. Of course, it’s great to have kids because their joy in decorating for Christmas definitely overwhelmed any degree of sadness I was feeling. The tree wasn’t too difficult – we set it up and got all of the ornaments on and I didn’t even cry. (Small victories, right?) But the outside lights were a totally different story. When I opened the boxes, I found all of the decorations inside, but I also found endless strings of lights and bulbs and dozens of cords and plugs. I had no idea how it all went together.
I figured I didn’t need to put it all up, but I knew the kids would want the lawn ornaments displayed. So we lugged those things to the front of the house, and I arranged it in what I thought was at least a little bit artful. The extension cord arrangement took me almost an hour to configure, but I finally got it to work. I actually jumped up and down when it all lit up.
Of course, Shawn had some sort of system where the lights would come on with the click of a button that we could hit from our bedroom. He always loved tech stuff. I tried three different plugs, but I couldn’t get it to work. “Whatever,” I said to the kids. “I’ll just plug it in every evening and unplug it at bedtime.”
This, of course, is annoying as hell. Usually I remember to unplug them right about the time that I’m drifting off to sleep, which means I have to drag myself out of bed and to the basement to shut off the lights. But really, am I going to get one of my friends to come over and figure this out for me? Really? I need to use my “asks” to request help with my kids or get me some staples at the store or help me repair one of the dozens of actual things broken in my house. I just don’t care enough about my Christmas lighting issues to waste my social capital on them.
So every day when I come home from work, I plug in the lights and I wait until the snowman and the Santa fully inflate because if I don’t, one of them will inevitably get stuck in a bush or something. Oddly, I feel a lot of pride about how it looks, and when I drive by other houses with elaborate Christmas decor, I always think, “well, mine looks just as great as theirs!”
A couple of days ago, I drove by a neighbor’s house and saw that they had a massive inflatable set of snowmen in their front yard. Tommy was in the backseat and he immediately started screaming and pointing at the snowmen. “SNOWMEN!”
I laughed, and slowed down so we could get a better look. There were three snowmen all standing together – a baby snowman standing between what was obviously a mom snowman and a dad snowman.
And in that moment I thought, “seriously? Even the snowmen in my neighborhood are part of a nuclear family with a mom and a dad?”
I could feel the frustration starting to boil over. I knew it was irrational. But I just couldn’t help it. I mean, the damn INFLATABLE SNOWMEN are now reminding me that my kids are growing up without a father.
I actually understood in the moment that I was overreacting. But that’s what’s crazy about this year – I never quite know when I’m going to feel like I want to cry.
Eventually, Tommy and I returned to our house. The lights were on, but the wind had blown our Santa over. His head was stuck in the bushes again. “Santa!” Tommy cried, and ran up to him.
Together, we picked him up and made him stand straight again. Tommy ran around the yard and tried to adjust the fake deer. Even though I felt proud that I had put up the decorations, in that moment I realized that my yard looked terrible, nothing like it would have looked if Shawn were here. It was like I was trying to make it over-the-top, but stopped halfway there. Which, of course, is exactly what happened.
At least Tommy didn’t care. “Do you like our decorations?” I asked him.
“Yes!” he said. “Maybe next year we can get those big big snowmen we saw today!”
“Maybe next year,” I said as we walked in the house.
Maybe next year.