The only thing that gives me the strength to put up Christmas lights is the fact that the holiday season comes but once a year. Putting up the lights is my personal New York City Marathon – I have to mentally prepare. I put in the time at Home Depot. I stretch. I make sure I have all the right gear. I carbo-load the night before. I dress appropriately.
The excitement builds.
Right up to the moment I have to maneuver my 28 foot extendable ladder.
This ladder, man. It’s just hugely unwieldy. This is the extent of our climbing technology available to civilians? Because I know for a fact that they make functioning jet packs now. I’ve seen them. These dudes in American flag crash helmets are flying around football half-time shows. You know how much easier it would be to put up Christmas lights if I had one of those? It might be tricky at first, probably ramming myself through the closed bedroom window or maybe cannoning into the upper boughs of a dogwood and setting it on fire but with a little practice, ladders would go the way of the musket.
It’s the fact that I have to wield this ladder alone that’s so brutal.
In the interest of safety, I attached a stabilizer to it – a wide metal U attached perpendicular to the top of the ladder that gives greater balance when you lean it against something – but which also adds additional weight at the top. To the passersby in my neighborhood I must look like some kind of wobbling kook, like an ant trying to stand up a lollypop. I very rarely wish that I was a gorilla – almost never, truth be told – but this is one of those times, when I’m using my upper body strength to move that thing around holly trees and avoid shrubs and whatnot.
I can’t ask Liz to help, because that would be like asking Liz to help wrap her own birthday present. The point of the Christmas lights is to surprise her. Her role in this particular area of our marriage is to tell me how great and manly I am for putting up Christmas lights.
Finn, then, has become my go-to guy in this situation. It began a couple of years ago, at age 7. I am obsessed with ladder safety, so I make sure the ladder is incredibly stable before I climb. And since Finn was too small to hold the ladder, his job would be to hold my phone and watch me from the safety of the ground. If I fell, he would know to call Liz or an ambulance, depending on the level of my groaning. (I know, it’s not ideal, but I never fall because I am the safest ladder climber in the history of ladders and climbing. And no, I don’t believe in jinxing.)
But that changed this year.
Finn is nine, almost ten. This year he became my wingman. This year, Finn held the ladder for me. He helped me put up the lights. He even came on the flat part of the roof for me, as you see in the photo above. (I made sure he didn’t stroll around on it or anything.)
We were both pretty excited about it: Finn for the leap in responsibility, me for the skeletal integrity of my lower back.
But I had another nagging thing going through my mind.
When we were up on the roof, I was constantly aware of whether a car was passing, or if somebody was walking by with their dog or something. When that happened, I asked him to either sat down in the windowsill or climb back inside. Because I didn’t need people calling child services on me.
That’s what was nagging at me.
It wasn’t that I was worried for his safety – we were being extremely safe.
No, what I was worried about was what it would look like to passersby, Finn up there on the roof with me. (Albeit a flat roof.)
In other words, my concern was what others would think of me as a father.
And that plagues me.
How people view me as a father is one of my most sensitive areas. I once shouted at Finn in our front yard when he was misbehaving in some way, right when a jogger was passing. And it totally gutted me.
Not because I shouted at my son. Not because I shouldn’t have lost my patience. No, I was concerned instead with this totally random jogger would maybe think of me as a father.
It’s lame. And it’s sad. And I struggle with that. Because how to get out of that?
Turns out I don’t have an answer.
So I pivoted to this instead:
I am often judging others over how they are raising their kids. How people are talking to their kids in a store, how parents are handling crying babies on planes, what age they let their kids have an iPhone or play Fortnite or how late they let their kids stay up.
Judge judge judge-ity judge. That’s me.
So maybe instead of working on figuring out how to not be overly concerned with how other parents are viewing me, I should spend more time thinking about how I am viewing other parents. And see if I can’t tamp down some of that judgmental nature.
I’m going to work on that.
Oh, also, the Christmas lights look awesome. Liz and Lucy were all like “Great job, guys!!” So mission accomplished.
I only had the time to do all of this because of the Thanksgiving holiday. Which made me think about…
The Top Five Things I was Grateful for this Thanksgiving Holiday.
1. Family, Friends, yada yada yada.
Okay, got the obvious one out of the way. I’m not a sociopath, people.
2. Zero Inflatable Santas.
In the past, I have occasionally seen those inflatable Santas come out before Thanksgiving in front of department stores. Nothing in this universe looks more out of place than that. Maybe a dog driving a bus. What does this do for people? It’s not even the real Santa.
3. Pumpkin Pie.
Why only once a year with the pumpkin pie? I get why Christmas cookies only come out once a year – they literally look like Christmas. But pumpkin pie is insanely delicious. Why can’t we have it more? But can you even imagine if I brought a pumpkin pie to a pool party in July? People would think I was out of my mind. That’s on you, society.
4. Early Dinners.
If we didn’t have to go to work and stuff I would have dinner at 2 pm every day. It’s like you get a whole extra day when dinner is over. How did they used to do this in Olde Englande? They just left the printing press or gruel factory or whatever and came home to sit down to a pot roast that the wife had cooked? And how was she doing this and raising all these babies? Did they have extra arms back then?
5. Housebroken Pets.
Beasley is pretty much housebroken. You have any idea what it was like having a dog that wasn’t housebroken completely? You follow her around like a Kohl’s sales assistant follows a kleptomaniac. You can never relax. But this Thanksgiving and the days leading up, Beasley was reliably peeing where she should be: outside. Glorious.