A wise friend predicted that once we moved to Kentucky, once we had a chance to settle in, once I could rest for a while, I would begin to “soften.” As someone who lived a lifetime of uncertainty in, say, the first 18 years of my life, I have a strong appreciation for certainty – and more certainty. When I’m dealing with uncertainty, my brother has been known to say in what he thinks is his soothing voice, “Honey, just calm down.” I typically respond, “You don’t think I am calm? You should have seen me a few months ago.”
Calm or not, I needed more guidance, “How will I know when I soften? And, when will it happen?”
“You will know,” my wise friend advised.
Notice that I didn’t ask what my friend meant by “soften.” That question I could answer intuitively. But, much like U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s test for obscenity, I could sense that I would only “know it when I saw it.”
Not surprisingly, my mother has been a catalyst in my softening. For example, she gets nervous riding with me in the car. Every single time we pass an oncoming car she screeches, “Don’t kill us!” And sometimes she adds a scream for effect. I am willing to guess that even someone with the patience of Mother Teresa would find her screams disconcerting. I admired Mother Teresa, I have read books by Mother Teresa and, Senator, I am no Mother Teresa. But, lately, I respond to her screams with a chipper, “I will try not to kill us today” or, at my worst, “It scares me when you scream and makes it hard to drive.” Yes, softening.
I sensed great progress towards softening putting Christmas lights on the house last weekend. Note that I never have been in charge of or, truthfully, participated in putting Christmas lights on any house. Let alone a four-story Victorian. On a huge hill. Luckily, I have a BFF who is amazingly competent and, some might say, overly brave. But, luckily for me, she is always a devoted friend who understands that the past few Christmases have been sad for my daughter and me. She is a friend who, even if it means a couple dozen hours and a few sore muscles, wants to make sure that this Christmas brings us more smiles than loss.
And, boy oh boy, did we hang Christmas lights. I sat in four windows of the top floor turret with my torso hanging backwards over the roof while I used a pole to thread the lights on hooks. In the interest of safety, my BFF held my legs so I wouldn’t fall out the window. I scaled a 30-foot ladder. I perched in the branches of what we affectionately dubbed the “sugar plum tree” and got a dozen bruises on my right arm for my trouble.
But the lights are beautiful, right? I feel their warmth when I see cars slow down as they drive down our street. I have been trying to remember to turn them on for a while in the morning so the children on the school bus can see them when the bus drives past our house. What better way to start a morning than with Christmas lights?
Hanging the lights on the outside of the house gave me good perspective. But my epiphanic moment on softening occurred while my daughter and I were putting up the Christmas tree. We went to a nearby Christmas tree farm and came home with the tree tied to the top of our car.
After we got home, I realized there was no way on this earth that my daughter and I could lift the tree from the top of the car. It’s not like I should have thought of that earlier. I only have two post-graduate degrees.
I stood on the stepladder contemplating.
My daughter asked, “Can we call [BFF’s husband] to help us?”
“No, baby, just get out of the way, Mommy is going to push the tree off the top of the car.”
It was a great plan. And would have worked perfectly – if the rear windshield wiper hadn’t gotten caught in the tree branches and snapped. Whatever. The wiper blade needed to be replaced anyway.
After we carried the tree into the house, the next challenge was getting the tree upright. Once we hoisted the tree into the tree stand, I realized that approximately 13 limbs needed to be removed from the bottom of the tree before it would fit.
And in the midst of all of this activity, I received a series of texts. The source and subject aren’t important. What is relevant is that many of them were bullying and ugly and they culminated with the holiday missive “F*ck Christmas.” Ho, ho, ho.
“Let’s put the tree back on the floor, baby girl. Mommy has to go to the workshop to get a saw. Sweetheart, while I’m gone can you please get the wine bottle from the kitchen and pour some wine in Mommy’s glass?”
“I will get right on that. Are you OK?”
“It’s just – let me explain it this way, why don’t you name a household chore you think I’m good at.”
“Well, I appreciate that you think I’m good at yoga, but I was thinking more along the lines of cooking or cleaning. But, whatever I am good at, it certainly isn’t sawing limbs off a tree. Essentially, I have no idea what I am doing and it stresses me out a little bit.” I paused. “But, I love you and I love putting up the Christmas tree with you.”
It was a few minutes later, with hacksaw in hand, my rear windshield wiper broken, my right arm black and blue, “F*ck Christmas” hanging in the air and a smile on my face that I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I had softened.