Christmas tree

Days Like This

I need to talk about today. Because today has been, well, awful.

Everyone’s sick.

That’s not true.

James and Sophie went to school today.

But everyone has been sick, at some point, since Thanksgiving.

For all of us it’s been a feverish cold but then today Owen threw up his toast. And now he’s hungry and yelling at me and I can’t do anything about it.

Our furnace sounds like it’s some strange being from a horror movie and the warmest it’s been in our house all day is 66°.

James fell asleep 10 minutes before we had to leave to pick up Sophie. When I woke him up he, still half asleep, punched me in the arm, over and over, he was so angry with me.

Owen refused to walk to the van and refused to let me carry him. When I finally picked him up he kicked off his rain boots and screamed about the injustice of it all as I took off his thick winter coat, leaving him to freeze in his pajamas as I buckled him in his car seat, barf bucket next to him.

I picked up Sophie in the infuriating car line (not wanting to make Owen walk to school today) and she said she presented her gingerbread person today and I was so excited to hear all about it because she was so excited to decorate it—her first big, at-home school project.

She was so-so throughout the whole conversation and then said everyone else in her class had their parents help them with their gingerbread people and the directions said parents were supposed to help and she asked me to help but she said I said I was too busy to help and apparently all the other kids’ gingerbread people were much more fancy.

I remember saying I was too busy at.that.exact.moment but I also remember asking her if I could help later and I remember her saying no, that she wanted to do it herself and I thought her gingerbread person was beautiful. Yes, the outfit was simply colored with crayon but it was so lovingly detailed and I thought the hair was so clever—twisted pipe cleaners, totally her idea. But in the end, this wasn’t nearly as fancy as all the other gingerbread people.

I’m close to tears and she’s close to tears and I think we’re all exhausted. Exhausted from travel (Baltimore, TN, and Lewisburg, Ohio the last three weekends). Exhausted from Christmas, already. Exhausted from school, freelance work, laundry, homework, life.

We have sore throats and sniffles and beautiful gingerbread people that we feel are lacking (even though they aren’t) and looming deadlines and 20 minutes of reading every night and agents who are finally answering their 2014 queries (which means seemingly every-other day rejections coming my way) and neighbors who have the most amazing Christmas lights all over their house (ours are not yet up), lights that include a countdown to Christmas, which is not at all helpful in terms of my level of stress.

Here’s a picture from this weekend. It’s the best one I have of all three kids while cutting down our Christmas tree. Owen is crying because he insisted the tree we chose was too small, despite our many conversations about the limitations of our home’s ceilings.

Fa la la la la.

(This, for all you mamas and papas who feel as if December should be magical 100 percent of time. Today our holiday season is -27 percent magical. Check back in a week when I write a sappy/happy-tearful piece about decorating our tree. But today, for now, if you’re in the negatives—or not breaking 50 percent—know you’re not alone.)

“Mama said there’ll be days like this
There’ll be days like this mama said
(Mama said, mama said).” —Luther Dixon, Willie Denson

Oh, Christmas Tree


This year we bundled up the kids and drove a few miles south to Hilltop Pines in Camp Springs, KY to cut our Christmas tree. Much like Neltner’s Farm & Greenhouses (a neighbor to Hilltop), this tree farm was super low-key—no Santas, no hot cocoa, no barn full of merchandise—just a saw, some dogs roaming about, lots of hills and lovely, $25 trees.


It was a beautiful farm.


But note the name: Hilltop. I suppose we should have assumed there would be hills to climb. Maybe we did but we didn’t really think about it, the logistics of it with three children, a sharp saw and a Christmas tree. In fact, when we started our trek up the hill, we still didn’t know how we were going to make it back down. We just started walking.


Up we went.


On the way, we posed for pictures. Sophie is annoyed in this picture because we were carrying the boys, and not her. She struggled up the hill and complained about tired legs. But the hill was so steep that if we put the boys down to walk—which they very much wanted to do—they simply fell backwards. Which, truth be told, was quite funny to witness, especially with all their winter gear on. But I feel guilty for typing that. I think, as their mother, I wasn’t supposed to laugh as much as I did when we tried to put them down and they both toppled backwards, down the hill a bit.



Along the way we stopped at a barn and watched a farmer feed some cows.



The boys loved this.


Another break for a posed picture. Sophie is much happier here, because we’re at the top of the hill. And yet this is when she decides she has to pee. We have yet to pick out a tree. It’s freezing. The bathroom is a Porta Potty all.the.way.back.down.

“Can you hold it?” I ask.

Sophie gives me a panicked look.

“OK,” I say.

I knew it would be impossible for one of us to handle both boys and the saw on the steep hill. So I agreed to take Sophie and James back down while Owen and Andy looked for a tree. Down, down, down we went, all the while me pleading with Sophie to hold it.

Have you ever tried to fit three people in a Porta Potty? Even when two of them are half-sized, it’s amazingly difficult. So difficult that I actually took everyone in and then brought everyone out, wondering if there was someone who could hold James for me before deciding that was crazy irresponsible. So back in all three of us went.

Sophie really had to pee at this point and for some reason that meant taking off her mittens, scarf, hat and winter coat. Before I could stop her I was holding all these items and James—and I still had to lift her on the seat. So I put James down. He immediately walked over to the urinal and started rubbing his hands all over it, while I just kept yelling “Don’t touch anything!” over and over. He, of course, just looked at me and smiled while inspecting this thing he has never seen that was attached to the wall.

Finally we emerged. I sanitized everyone’s hands, put all of Sophie’s winter gear back on and back up the hill we trekked.


Andy had (thankfully) found a tree.


The children approved.


We cut it down.


I carried both boys while Andy carried the saw and dragged tree on the steep part. And then, when the ground evened out, we all walked, much to the boys’ delight.


Sophie was thrilled with her candy canes.


The boys were thrilled with their muddy jeans.


Once home we realized how short our tree was—and yet perfect for the only place we had for it, a small corner in our dining room.


The kids helped test the lights. (And yes, that’s a hole in the back of Owen’s hair. We thought we’d start taking the boys to the local barber shop that Andy goes to, saving the nice salon visits with Nicholena for Sophie and me. The hole wasn’t the barber’s fault. It was the screaming, flailing child’s fault. The barber, who has been cutting hair in Fort Thomas for years and years and years, felt awful. But seriously, I don’t understand how the rest of Owen’s haircut turned out so normal looking, the way he was thrashing about. In fact, I’m surprised he didn’t lose an ear.)



We decorated. The boys undecorated.


Sophie put the star on top.


Despite everything, it was a beautiful tree. (But aren’t they all?)

“Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree. In the eyes of children, they are all 30 feet tall.” —Larry Wilde