Smartmom bought her Charlie Brown-style Christmas tree from the
Vermont tree farmers who set up in front of the Park Slope Food Co-op
every year. It was $20, which is a lot to pay for what was more like a
branch. But the gangly tree caught her eye and seemed lovable in its
own — slightly pathetic — way.
As Smartmom walked home, she knew her little tree was a far cry from
the huge, tree that Hepcat’s mom always sets up in her humongous
California living room and decorates with a lifetime’s collection of
vintage ornaments. The fragrance of pine and hot apple cider permeates
the house as a fire roars.
Christmas with Hepcat’s family is a Jewish girl’s fantasy, and
Smartmom loves that her inter-faith children have such holiday’s in
their memory banks of childhood.
Smartmom knows she could never match that level of Christmasness:
she’s Jewish, for Buddha’s sake, and any attempt at Christmas is
fraught with inexperience and ambivalence. But this year, the family is
spending Christmas in Brooklyn. This has happened three times before in
her children’s lifetimes. Turns out, Teen Spirit is thrilled because
all his friends will be home from college and he’s excited to hang out
with them. The Oh So Feisty One has mixed feelings about not being in
California, but she, too, is glad to be near her friends.
Walking up Seventh Avenue with her tiny tree conveniently tucked
under her arm, Smartmom remembered 2007 when they bought a huge
Christmas tree and it was like Rockefeller Center in the apartment
because the Oh So Feisty One kept bringing friends in and out of the
apartment to see it.Smartmom worried that OSFO and Teen Spirit would feel cheated by
this year’s tiny tree. But she tried not to worry about it. She was
already stressing about how to make this as nice a Christmas as the
one’s they spend in California. O the pressure, o the guilt, o the need
to meet everyone’s expectations at this time of year.
When Smartmom got home with her tree, Hepcat rolled his eyes (it
sure looked that way to Smartmom). He wondered how they were going to
get the tiny tree to stand up in the metal tree holder intended for a
much larger tree.
“Don’t worry I’ll figure it out,” Hepcat said sounding alternately
annoyed and excited at a challenge that required a trip into the metal
tool box. When he got his saw out, Smartmom knew things were getting
“Don’t worry. I just need to saw off a few branches,” he said.
“But there won’t be much tree left!” she told him.
“Calm down,” he said.
When he went out to Tarzian Hardware for more supplies, Smartmom
realized that this project was becoming a real production. It might
have been easier just to get a bigger tree.
Smartmom waited anxiously for Hepcat to return. Why did holidays
feel like a referendum on her capabilities as a mother and a wife?
Would this little tree be enough for Christmas?
Finally, Hepcat returned, and Smartmom watched as her handy (i.e.
non-Jewish) husband, a genius at solving random engineering problems,
made it possible for her tiny tree to stand. Smartmom gave him a big
kiss as relief pulsed through her.
Smartmom found all their ornaments in a mildewed bag in the
basement. It was like a reunion with old friends. Sadly, she had to
throw out quite a few that were growing mold on them.
Later, Diaper Diva and Ducky came over to join in on the tiny tree
trimming. Smartmom even made hot chocolate. The tree was exactly as
tall as 5-year-old Ducky, and she had a great time decorating.
When Teen Spirit woke up (it was 2 pm), he came into the room and stared at the sweet little tree.
“I know, I know. It’s a Charlie Brown tree,” Smartmom said in anticipation of a snarky remark.
“I like it. I really do. I just think we should put a huge ornament on it so it’ll droop,” he said.
Teen Spirit felt moved to download some of his favorite Christmas
songs: “Blue Christmas” by Elvis Presley, “Fairytale Christmas” by the
Pogues and “Merry Christmas, Baby” by Otis Redding.
Smartmom sat on her new couch
and observed the scene, which was like something out of a Frank Capra
Christmas movie. Her interfaith family was having an idyllically good
time decorating their tiny tree. Ducky was busy cutting out a paper
star and coloring it with red and green crayons. Diaper Diva was
alternately napping and supervising Ducky. Teen Spirit, inspired by his
Christmas playlist, decided that he was going to write a Christmas song
and was fiddling with various chords, melodies and lyrics. Hepcat found
tiny battery-operated lights that fit perfectly on the tiny tree.
And OSFO she took one look at the scene and made a bee-line for a friend’s house.