So, the thing is… I got it.




I was standing in the middle of Target, buying this truly tacky gold star for the top of my Christmas tree and boom!


I was just overcome with the joy of the season.


I’ve been waiting all year for it to happen.  Sometimes I think it never really DID happen last year so it comes as a doubly nice Christmas present this year.  And frankly, given the type of holiday season I am having, it’s TOTALLY unexpected.  I honestly had just about written 2004 off as an exercise in endurance on many, many levels.  But then there I was, standing in Target, grinning my fool head off.


Well, first, let me just give you some background. 


It pains me to say this but, well, I never took my Christmas lights down last year.  Every year, I laboriously wrap the largest of our trees out front with miles of green lights and hang lighted ornaments from it.  Okay, so these “ornaments” are really just strands of lights that I’ve wadded up and hung from the miles of green lights around the rest of the tree.  But I just really hope they look like ornaments if you squint and hold your mouth just right when looking at them.  My neighbors are so nice and so indulgent of me.  This MIGHT be because I just make them all look so organized and creative in comparison but I prefer to think that they see how hard I’m trying.  At any rate, after I’d finished decorating last year, no doubt around December 24th, one of my neighbors told me that I should just leave the lights up all year round. “Oh no,” I said.  “I could never do that!”


Hah!  Never say never—it’s the first rule of parenting.  (Well, right after “Never Underestimate the Humor in Audible Gas.”)


Because, see, I kept kind of meaning to take them down but I just never got out there to do it.   We had this house flood and then, well, I forgot.  I managed to take down a few strands just to keep the kids from getting hung up in them when they were climbing said tree, but I never took them all down.  All year.


So, you want to know the one thing that totally sums up my year, not to mention my holiday season?  When I finally replaced the few strands of lights that I’d taken down, I strung them upside down.  You know what I mean?  I mean that at the bottom of the tree, I had two female ends.  Oddly enough, electrical connectors are not like Thomas the Tank Engine train sets that allow you to connect two female ends or two male ends without having to shinny up something with a surge protector.


Which is what I had to do with my tree.


And see?  This is exactly how my whole year has gone.  No matter what I’ve attempted, I’ve ended up in some horribly undignified position trying to make something better that I’ve messed up.  It’s been very dispiriting. 


You’re still not convinced?


Last Saturday, I volunteered at Ana’s school, wearing a festive little red Santa Hat and MAKE-UP and acting as a floater for the Holiday Bazaar.  I directed traffic and then I was assigned to directing the customers toward the gym where even more vendors were waiting.  I took direction from about six people and I never once barked at anyone about it.  I was just happily trying to be assimilated.


So, at some point when I was trying to explain to the woman who headed up the whole event what I was trying to do, I actually used the phrase, “I’m trying not to Piss People Off.”  It just came right out of my mouth, like I use it every day and I swear to you, I DON’T –well, unless you count what I say to our puppy.  I was mortified.  It was like burping in front of the queen.  So, THEN, I was so worried that I’d offended this very nice, genteel woman, that I told every single person I saw that I’d said “PISS” in front of her.


And if THAT weren’t undignified enough, yesterday, I ate a bug. 




I was grabbing a few bites of this noodle salad from the fridge when the dogs started barking so I went out to yell at them.  I came back to my computer, noticed something green on my shirt that I thought was a piece of cilantro from my salad, picked it up and popped it in my mouth.


It wasn't cilantro.


It was a green worm and when I spit it out, it was still sort of moving.


I went upstairs and brushed my teeth four times while my spouse laughed at me and told me stories of all the times he's been on a bike ride and inadvertently eaten a bug.  Only, he said, he SWALLOWED his and if you don't swallow, it doesn't count.


"No one will be impressed by that story," he said.


Well, I know, I know, but eating a green worm doesn’t contribute to my holiday joy, either.  (Plus, I really thought I was going to have to throw up.) 


Anyway, I could go on and on but the POINT of all this is just to tell you that I wasn’t much in the spirit of things and then today, standing in Target, I was overcome with that feeling –you know the one I mean?  The one where you suddenly have to laugh out loud because life is just so good?  Because I have a four-year-old and this is probably the last year that Christmas won’t be about greed management and will still be about magic and wonder and twinkling little lights.  And if she wants blue lights on our tree and a huge tacky star on top, then that’s what she’s going to have. 


Because that’s not only what the holidays are about, that’s what LIFE is about: How blessed we are to be together.  How blessed we are to be healthy and to have enough to eat (no worm jokes, please) and to have a little money left over to make the holidays wonderful for our kids.  No matter what our traditions or religion or backgrounds are, we hold the ultimate power: we can share the wonder of this world with our loved ones and we can experience that wonder through their eyes. I can’t believe I never saw how miraculous blue Christmas lights were before I had children.


Life’s just not as hard as I think it is sometimes.  So yeah, I say the wrong things and I make mistakes in my yard décor and sometimes, I just might eat a bug.  None of that matters to Hurricane Jane Cooper, who knows what’s really important in life.  As she said to me one day when I was driving her around in a morose mood, “Mama?  Did you know the sun is setting and it’s BEAUTIFUL?  AND that my chocolate is melting in my mouth??”


I do know that, Janie.  I just forgot how incredible that is.


Happy holidays everyone!




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(c) Barbara Cooper 2004


Barbara Cooper is the mother of Ana (6) and Jane (4).  She lives in Austin, Texas and she hopes she didn’t piss anyone off with this column.