My life has been overwhelmed with a variety of ranch and life related stress of late. In the ranch category, new lambs, new guard dog puppy, new sheepdog puppy, Biblical amounts of rain, agriculture vs. city zoning issues, ear tags, vaccinations, coughing and sniffling, livestock sales, evil geese (“evil geese” is a redundant term), client dogs to teach, herding lessons to teach. In the life category, persistent respiratory illness (something I have in common with the sheep!), death flu, interpersonal drama, and the event pushing me ever increasingly toward complete psychotic break, Christmas.
My limited mental and physical capacity has been completely employed in coping with the events of the last few weeks. Christmas is like an unwelcome final exam on top of that, as though life is saying, “Sure, you managed to do all of the dishes and scoop the mice out of the chicken feed and scrub the dog diarrhea out of your bedspread, but what about Christmas gifts? Sure, you managed to keep the children from fracturing each other’s skulls solely through the piercing pitch of their sibling-directed whining, but what about sharing the magic of Christmas traditions? What about the holiday spirit, Meg? WHAT ABOUT IT?”
With ten days until Christmas, we have only managed two applications of Holiday Spirit. The first wasn’t even up to us; rather it was the Christmas kindness of Georgia, who came down for Thanksgiving and gave the kids gifts and advent calendars. Josh and I both had advent calendars when we were small, little Christmas trees with an ornament for each day. I traded off days with my sister and felt slighted when she got the days with the prettier ornaments. The time between ornaments went excruciatingly slowly; now the advent days seem to fall away faster than I could have believed possible when I was six. The calendar Georgia bought for the Joshlings holds a little chocolate in each day rather than inedible ornaments, which is a type of calendar my mom is lucky I didn’t know existed when I was small and greedy. After expressing delight at receiving the candy calendars, the Joshlings’ next move was to chide each other not to eat all the chocolates at once, and then immediately start an argument about which of them would be most prone to such an act of deplorable gluttony. So in other words, the advent calendars were a hit.
Our other application of Holiday Spirit also went up in a timely fashion, and we were proud to be the first Tiny Tiny House in our Tiny Tiny Neighborhood to be brightly festooned with Christmas lights. Josh bravely picked up a ladder, which based on its appearance has been decaying in our backyard since the Spanish-American War, and set to work stringing the lights along the eaves of our diminutive estate. He was assisted by his 8 year old daughter, who helped out by holding the lights and providing a nonstop stream of consciousness regarding the color of the lights, the tangling of the light strings, the prettiness of bulbs relative to other bulbs, similar lights she has seen in the past, and her detailed plans for the next 15 minutes regarding what steps will be taken to ensure the untangling of light strings. I helped out by voicing concerned suggestions about the amount of lights and the optimum placement thereof, by casting aspersions on the structural integrity of the ladder, and providing the wrong type of extension cord to plug the lights in to the outdoor socket. The weather helped out by choosing to rain about ten minutes into the process. Josh, stoic Christmas martyr locked in holiday combat with his home, rain-spattered and infuriated by the house-eating plumbagos impeding his progress, made it about three quarters of the way around the TTH before he finally snapped and told us to go away. Damp and pouty under the huffy weight of our offended righteousness, Lily and I retreated indoors. But I have to say, the lights do look great.
And that’s all the Christmas we’ve managed. We have played some Christmas music on Pandora, which never seems quite right. Josh complains that it sounds like his grandma’s music before he retreats to the soothing, familiar environment of 90s punk rock, and I eventually lose patience with how many times Pandora wants to play Frosty the Snowman relative to how many “skip this track” opportunities it gives me. We have been meaning to get a Christmas tree, the intended location of which is I don’t know, somewhere, and haven’t managed it yet:
M: We need to get a tree.
J: Will it fit in our house?
J: Will it fit in your car?
J: We can tie it to the top of mine, it might get a little jacked by the wind though.
M: We don’t even have a tree topper.
J: Shit, it’s alright, we don’t have any lights or ornaments either.
I feel overwhelmed by the time-sensitive obligations of traditions and purchases I both long for and resent. My intentions of keeping Christmas organized and on track have been completely unravelled by illness, puppies, flooded roads. I’m still paralyzed by hopeless indecision in what to buy for people, as the shipping window for internet gifts grows increasingly smaller every day. Nothing about this Christmas feels like the magical, happy, exciting time I remember from childhood, and I think part of my unhappiness comes from that loss. Josh hugs me as I worry and regret and tells me, “It’s okay, it’s our first Christmas here,” in a way that gives me slight hope that I might remember it fondly, years from now.
My mom has her whole house decorated for the holiday, and it looks beautiful. When I was young, I enjoyed her decorating, but chiefly occupied myself in the effort to avoid any chores related to putting it up or taking it down. This Christmas, her tree and ribbons and stockings and snowflakes evoke in me a profound sense of awe, as well as a mild feeling of hopelessness related to ever having my shit that together. When we head over there for Christmas day, I think I will enjoy the time and dedication she put into it with new eyes. I will drink my sister’s fancy Christmas Kona coffee and bask in the sight of the little tree my mom has just for bird ornaments, I will eat Christmas cookies and watch the light on the crystal and the red candles. I will relax and feel loved and feel grateful that I survived, and hope that someday, I figure out how to make Christmas special too.