A Tethered Tree: Hope in a Heavy World
While colour coordinated, perfectly decorated trees are gorgeous, I've never had one.
Instead, our tree is an eclectic mix of keepsake ornaments from trips, ornaments from my childhood and, more recently, ornaments my own little ones have made. It's colourful and it's decorated with the love and the precision that can only be achieved by someone under the age of nine.
I love the mismatched, imperfect art. I love it when my three year old piles three ornaments on one branch and when there's a giant bare spot on another because the figure skating panda and foam snowman have joined Ryder and the pups on a rescue mission. While I might complain about the daily practice of placing a pile of ornaments back on the tree, I probably secretly love it too.
Lest I leave you with the impression that my children are gentle enough to be trusted with free rein of the Christmas tree, I must also mention that this tree is tethered to the wall.
Our first Christmas married, before kids and chaos, we had a (ancient) cat, my husband’s childhood cat. Gizmo was lovely (most of the time). He also knocked over the Christmas tree twice one year. I carefully replaced and spaced the ornaments each time.
When children arrived a few years later, I very quickly learned that when you say “Don’t touch” to 13 month olds, they actually hear “Touch this as many times as possible.” I did not doubt my toddler’s ability to topple a tree, but I definitely doubted she could dodge a falling one as well as the cat. I knew we needed a plan.
I suspect I Googled something like “baby proof the Christmas tree.” Google did not disappoint. I saw Christmas trees in playpens and Christmas trees protected by elaborate baby gate systems and Christmas trees surrounded by cute white little picket fences that probably took hours to build and paint. I saw little Christmas trees atop tall tables and even one hanging from the ceiling. (I applaud the creativity of anyone who has tried any of these solutions.)
It all seemed like a lot of work I didn’t feel like doing. I had a 13 month old with an uncanny ability to outsmart most baby proofing schemes and I was tired.
So, in the spirit of making things as easy as possible (my specialty), we found a piece of twine, looped it around the curtain rod that was securely anchored to the wall and tethered it to the tree. Problem solved.
Now to decorate strategically.
Breakable ornaments: top half. Kid-friendly ornaments: bottom half. Breakable ornaments that wouldn’t fit on the top half: back in the bin.
At first I thought it was just for safety.
But then we let her loose and it wasn’t long before I knew we had stumbled upon something else entirely.
This artificial, humbly decorated tree became a place of creative exploration, for my 13 month old’s second Christmas and for the toddler Christmases that would follow in our home.
They touch. They admire. They play. They add their own creations. They make it new (sometimes every day).
See, we thought we were tethering the tree to the wall but what we were really doing was tethering ourselves and our home to the tree, to a creative opportunity, to the joy and purpose of creating, of making things new.
And while my Christmas tree and the month of December may provide especially compelling opportunities for anchoring myself to creativity, I have also seen this phenomenon woven through this year.
I saw it when my kids opened my brother’s birthday gift for him on FaceTime while we were in lockdown. I saw it when my mom traded the sugar I hadn’t been able to find at my grocery store for the yogurt she hadn’t been able to find in hers. I saw it when, instead of a house crawling with kids, we planned distanced outdoor birthday gift opening with grandparents. I saw it when we found safe ways to hike with friends. I (reluctantly) saw it when my kids dug trenches in the backyard and every time they came in covered in mud. I suspect I’ll see it when my eldest executes her plan to have our backyard chickadees eating out of our hands “because we’ll probably be home a lot this winter.”
I don’t always see it. Some days it even feels like I may never find it again.
But when I’m willing to search for it, when I can muster the effort to follow the twine through the weight of 2020, it’s always at the end of the rope. Secure. Right where I left it.
It may look like creativity but, once unwrapped, it actually resembles hope. Hope our heavy world desperately needs.
When I look even closer, there’s also a faint resemblance of Bethlehem, circa 4 BC.
Even in the absence of a festive tree, the ingredients for a new thing united in a creative act that rivalled the original: an ancient promise, an exiled people, an unwed teenage girl, astronomical wonders and a dusty stable.
A baby in a manger. Hope for the world.
This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in the series "Tethered to Hope."