Despite wearing my heart on my sleeve, and feeling every feeling in the room every moment, I'm pretty adept at bouncing back. And I wanted my child to have that feeling of knowing he's going to be ok, too, no matter what Life throws at him. I've tried to instill this in him from the beginning. Nothing like trial by fire, though, and although I'm glad of the lessons learned, I hate that he had to go through a crash course in learning to lean on his resilience several years ago.
It was the first weekend in December. I had just shown my not-soon-enough-to-be-ex the door a couple of weeks prior. However, I was determined to stick to our Christmastime traditions as much as possible for Z's sake. Number one on the list was putting up the tree.
We went to our favorite place and picked out what we both thought was the perfect tree. Although Z pointed out several 12 foot tall trees, I managed to convince him that the 8-9 foot tall trees were "even better"! Having a high ceiling is great at this time of year, but I wasn't prepared to wrestle anything much over our heights combined: a 9-year-old isn't typically a whole lotta help yet in getting a tree through a door and upright in a stand.
We got it home, off the car, in the house, in the stand, strung with hundreds of twinkling white lights, decorated with the seemingly endless supply of ornaments coming out of the boxes from the basement, and a few hours later sat back to admire our work of art. Then we adjourned to the kitchen to stave off the munchies and
We ran back to the living room to see the 9-foot Christmas tree dead to rights, sprawled over the floor and across the coffee table. We could also see shards of colored glass, hooks, water from the stand... and a very, very scared and cowering 50-lb young dog hiding between the two living room chairs.
Z was crying, but speechless. I was speechless, and just about wigging out. I told myself to calm down, and just get the tree upright, that's all.
Have you ever witnessed a 5'3" person trying to lift and walk a heavily decorated 9-foot tree upright while it's still in the stand? Keep in mind a 4' little person was trying to "help", and the dog was circling us both, trying to herd us away from the big nasty tree that was surely going to devour us all.
It must have looked pretty funny to anyone walking by: a comedy of errors, minus the soundtrack (me swearing and yelling at both the short people -- furry and otherwise -- to move so I could try to pick up the tree and get the stand fixed).
Since I hadn't grown additional arms since the crash occurred, I had no choice but to rely on the 9-year-old. Trying to give him directions on how to fix the stand while I held the tree at bay was something I seem to have mostly wiped from my mind. But, obviously, somehow I managed to communicate clearly enough what was needed, and he was able to formulate enough of a solution (since my face was buried in the full and aromatic branches of our Fraser Fir tree, I couldn't see a thing) to make it work.
Once we got the tree upright, I turned and surveyed the devastation in the rest of the living room.
Glass was all over. I stepped back to see that the portion of the tree that had hit the floor and table was devoid of any intact ornaments except the soft ones. Every. Single. Glass. Ornament. Was. Broken. Whole tree branches were broken and twisted. The big, hot tears threatened to spill over.
Ages-old orbs, the first ornaments Z picked out himself, ornaments we had chosen from past trips to different places, handblown ornaments... shattered.
Naturally at that point, the doorbell rang.
If the living room didn't face the front, I would have totally ignored it - but there was no way you can hide your movements in front of a huge picture window with the drapes wide open.
I flung open the door -- to find myself facing my not-soon-enough-to-be-ex.
"What?" I said, rather tersely, and then got mad at myself for not composing myself enough in front of him (I discovered later I had pieces of pine tree stuck in my hair, and I was covered in tree sap -- I'm sure he was thinking along the lines of "what the hell?"). He hadn't called, he hadn't mentioned in any way shape or form that he was coming by.
At the next moment, though, I decided I wasn't going to give him time to answer. I looked at him with his mouth set in the now-all-too-familiar sneer, and decided he was an unwelcome interruption. Kind of like door-to-door missionaries. But worse. And I said "This really isn't a good time. Call me later."
And more or less slammed the door in his face. Without giving him another thought, I turned to the wreckage in my living room. I didn't give myself much time to mourn those poor dashed beauties - I needed to get the glass off the floor so there wouldn't any emergency room visits later on. One disaster a night is my limit. Dustbuster and wastebasket in hand, I picked up the larger pieces and kept myself from inspecting them too closely for fear I'd realize what broken memory I was holding in my hand and then I'd break. I had put Z in charge of keeping the dog from walking on the glass. He suddenly cried out "MAMA! Look!" and was pointing at the dog's back. Embedded so deeply into her fur, up and down her back, were pine needles. Dozens and dozens of short, sharp pine needles.
I dropped the dustbuster and got down in front of her. She was terrified, and looked so pitifully at me. I checked her from head to tail, and with the exception of the pine needles and sap, she was fine physically. I gently pulled the needles from her fur, and as I sat on the floor next to her, Z was at her head, holding her gently and talking to her in a very calm -- and grown up -- fashion. After we took care of our doggy, she went off to hide in her kennel -- not from us, but that nasty awful scary tree (if you don't believe animals can suffer from PTSD, come over next December and watch us bring in the Christmas tree). Z and I finished cleaning up, reconfigured the light strands and remaining ornaments, and promptly collapsed on our backs on the floor, staring up at the tall ceiling feeling SO thankful we didn't get a taller tree, sweating profusely, and both wanting to cry.
And then my higher power kicked in.
I turned to my dear, sweet son and said, "hey, remember when the dog knocked over the tree?"
His blond little head snapped around and he looked at me in such an alarmed manner, I'm sure he was thinking "This is it. This is Mama cracking up." But he saw my face and realized that old black humor was paying a visit. He shook his head and said right back "Too soon, Mama. Too soon."
That is a moment embedded in my head, not because of the disaster wrought by a poor unsuspecting, gangly puppy dog backing up into an unstable 9-foot tree (we tie our trees to the walls now), but because that was the definitive moment I knew my child had a key, a strength, a super-power, that would serve him through the adolescent years to come, into college and adulthood.
Now, when things are rough, and one of us is in a state of near exhaustion or "I can't handle anything else being thrown at me," the other turns and says:
"Hey, remember the time the dog knocked over the Christmas tree?"
Does it fix anything? No. But it makes us stop and reevaluate the current situation (one of these days I'm going to create a scale, kind of like the doctors use to describe pain, only this one will be "how disastrous is it really?" with rainbows and smiley faces at one end of the spectrum, and fallen Christmas trees at the other end). It reminds us about that especially emotionally-charged Christmas when we uprighted a tree taller than we could really manage, and we did it together. And came out the other side intact (unlike the tree) with a kind of funny story to tell.
Too soon? No, not at all.