Making a list and trimming the tree twice

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I’ve been writing a newspaper column for more than two decades now – since before I met my husband. It’s a little like having a public diary. The best part of it is getting notes from readers, but the next best part is having this permanent record of past moments that have touched me and taught me along the way.

In the spirit of the season, I’m revisiting the following moment – recorded 10 years ago today – in hopes it touches your heart, too. Here it is:

Santa isn’t the only one making a list these days. I may not be responsible for worldwide overnight toy delivery on Dec. 24th, but my to-do list stretches to the North Pole and back. What’s worse, there are no elves around to help.

I agree with Santa that, when it comes to staying organized, a list is the way to go. Crossing completed tasks off a list makes me downright jolly. But as the holidays get closer, my list gets longer. Just looking at it makes me want to go back to bed and not come out until January.

I hate to sound all “bah humbug,” but most mothers think December is anything but peaceful. It feels more like a holiday sprint that leaves most of us trying to catch our breath.

Today I tackled another thing on my jumbo-sized to-do list: “Put up the decorations.” Tom hauled several dusty storage bins out of the garage and into the kitchen where I began unloading them. When the kids caught sight of the first Santa figurine, they were eager to help.

But an 8, 6 and 3-year-olds’ definition of “help” is a tad different than their mother’s definition. Often their “help” can prolong the decorating process instead of expediting it. But I didn’t want to spoil the fun, so I welcomed my little assistants’ help. We put some Christmas music on while we worked, and 3-year-old Kate wanted to hear the Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas song about two dozen times in a row. (Note: It’s only cute and amusing the first three times. But I digress.)

By the time I finished taking the ornaments out of the storage box, the kids had hung half of them midway up the tree, which is how far up the 8 and 6-year-old could reach. It looked like the tree was wearing an ornament belt around its midsection. The other half of the ornaments were crowded together on the lowest limbs, otherwise known as “3-year-old height.”

kate 2009

Kate at age 3

To her credit, little Kate did notice how bare the top of the tree looked once they were done. She asked if I would put some ornaments near the top. “I’m not very tall, you know,” she explained.

“I noticed,” I said, smiling.

I started redistributing some of the ornaments to the upper branches, and Kate stood beside me, handing ornaments to me as I went along. With the Chipmunks crooning on the speaker and the lights twinkling on the tree, Kate looked up at me and the expression on her face was so intensely happy that it made me stop and stare.

“I’m just so happy it’s Christmas,” she said.

And for the first time since I started speeding down the holiday on-ramp, I felt happy and peaceful, too. I stopped hurrying long enough to be in the moment and found that her excitement was contagious. That simple joyful expression reminded me about what so often falls off our holiday to-do list – “enjoy.” Somewhere along the way, we let all the holiday hustle suck the joy out of the season.

So, I’m going to stop worrying about the fact that I haven’t sent Christmas cards out, and the gifts aren’t wrapped yet and I’m three loads behind on laundry. The important stuff will get done somehow, and the rest doesn’t really matter anyway. If we want a little “joy to the world” this month, we need to put “enjoy” back on our list.

Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of Her book is available on Amazon. 

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