At the advent of every Christmas season, I consider not decorating. No wreaths, no tree, no crèches.
It’s a split-second thought — crowded out too quickly to entertain seriously — borne from the worst part of the whole affair: the de-decorating. So many ornaments to take off the tree, to wrap and box protectively. So many knickknacks to gather and hide away for a long respite. So much cheer quickly packed away and tucked into a dark corner.
Our Christmas decor lives most of the year in the attic, accessible through a pull-down door and narrow ladder in the garage. Returning all the boxes to their home requires courage and brawn — historically a job for Uncle Greg, who lives 30 miles away.
Greg never complains about the work, and we enjoy the bonus visit when he’s here to help. This year, though, I thought we should at least attempt to move the boxes on our own. How hard can it be to coax a boxed, 9-foot, artificial tree up a ladder?
Cooper and I hatched a plan. He would sit at the top of the attic stairs, ready to receive the tree. I would slide it up the ladder, pushing it one stair at a time until safely within his grasp. Katie would watch from below.
He clambered up the ladder and waited. And coached. And encouraged. I needed every bit of his cheerleading and advice, because that box of plastic and metal was bulky and heavy, and my arms weren’t long enough to both handle and guide the tree. It kept getting stuck on a step, and I was unable to push it high enough to reach Cooper’s arms.
After a few minutes of struggling and strategizing, I quit. I let the box slide to the garage floor, and Cooper climbed back down. My next move was going to be a phone call to Uncle Greg to arrange a rescue.
“Let me try,” Cooper said. “You sit at the top, and I’ll push the box up.”
“It’s too heavy,” I said.
“I won’t be able to lift the box when it reaches me,” I said.
“I’ll do most of the work.”
“I don’t want you to get hurt,” I said.
“Let’s just try.”
I climbed the steps — always an act of bravery for me — and perched at the top. Cooper asked Katie to stand behind and spot him. Then he began to guide the giant box up — an easier task for him and his 6-3 frame — and into my hands.
My helpful teenager pushed the tree into a secure spot, then prepared for more deliveries.
I stood on the ladder. Katie lifted boxes of decorations from the garage floor and handed them to me. I walked them up to Cooper, who returned them to their hibernation spots.
“We did it!” Cooper exclaimed as he folded up the attic door.
The three of us exchanged high fives as we walked back into the family room, now strikingly bare. My eyes settled on the coffee table, no longer hosting angels or snowmen or a dish of Christmas candy. All that remained was a board game, a couple of books and a framed photo of the three of us — small doses of cheer that stay out all year long.
It’s often tough to be a single mom, to be the only adult making decisions, to shoulder full responsibility of this little family. And then there are moments when the three of us pull together, when a child takes on a leadership role, when we fully rely upon one another. Those moments more than compensate for the tough times, and they are sweet reminders of joy in all circumstances, no matter the season.
Tyra Damm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.