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Tome of the Mommy: The Fighting of the Tree

For some of us, holiday rituals are our happiest memories. For others, they are the flint that sparks our greatest fears.

Perhaps memories of unhappy holidays past haunt us. Or maybe we stress out at the pressure to project "happiness" during this time of year.

If something truly important is bothering us, faking some form of cheeriness isn't going to keep us from gnashing our teeth when another ornament falls and shatters, or when your son yanks a candy cane off your decorated tree --

And the tree tipples over, too.

In my novel, SECRET LIVES OF HUSBANDS AND WIVES, my heroine, Lyssa Harper, knows her husband, Ted, is angry at her because she refuses to drop her friendship with Harry, one of the neighborhood's stay-at-home dads. She thinks his request is irrational, that he has no reason to be jealous . . .

And yet, it's certainly flattering that he is upset.

But that shouldn't get in the way of the Harpers' annual holiday tree-cutting expedition, should it?

As you'll read in this excerpt, of course it does . . .

Finding the perfect tree is the Douglas fir is the equivalent of taking down the great white whale. It must have a thick petticoat of branches rising from the base, its layers coquettishly shorter albeit in proportion all the way up to its needled crown. As if projecting his own fears of a thinning pate, Ted cannot tolerate bald spots between layers. I, on the other hand, abhor crooked bases. Between three rambunctious kiddies and a clumsy dog the size of a Shetland pony, our tree can’t have the posture of a tilt-n-whirl. The one thing we both agree on is that it must stand at least 13 feet tall, so that it is not dwarfed by the double height of our entryway: the place of honor.

The search for the tree is a highly charged competition. The winner is the first to be photographed with it. The photo is then mounted on the first page of this year’s Christmas photo album, validating a full year of bragging rights.

Tanner is old enough to carry the bowed safety saw, while Mickey drags the tall PVC pole that is marked a measuring stick. Every now and then he attempts to pole vault from one row to another. Olivia is charged with holding the twine that Ted will use to tie the tree to the sleigh that hauls the tree back to the cashier, who will ply our children with Christmas cookies, candy canes, and warmed cider while I peruse the wreaths on display. Eventually I’ll settle on three: one for the front gate, and two for our doublewide front door.

“Mommy, why not this one . . .or this one?” Olivia loses all sense of discretion when she’s within sniffing distance of gingerbread men.

“No, sweetie. That one is not tall enough, and the other is much too bare on the back side.”

“Hey, Mom! MOM! OVER HERE!” For this task, Mickey has always had a great sense of focus that consistently leads him to the right tree. When he was younger, it frustrated him to lose to his brother. Ted’s way of mitigating it was to lead our youngest son to a potential winning candidate. Now that Mickey’s developed a connoisseur’s eye, Ted no longer has to do that.

The tree Mickey has spotted for us has all the necessary criteria. Ted whistles for Tanner to trot on over with the saw, but Tanner tries for an end-run. “Wait, wait . . .what about this one over here? It’s hella taller . . .”

Ted looks down at his cell phone, for the time. “Nope, we’ve got to call it a day. Warriors and Lakers tonight, remember?”

“Wait . . . aren’t we going to decorate the tree when we get home?” Mickey’s look is incredulous. We all look up and over at Ted.

He knows he's outnumbered. He smiles weakly. “Sure! Of course! It’s our tradition, right?”

As we head back to the cashier with our find, I give him a kiss on the cheek. He stops short in order to draw me to him and give me a real kiss, the kind that should melt away any lingering doubts about love and fidelity.

His doubts, not mine.

Are the holidays a happy time for you, or just more added stress to a life that seems already too flustered, too out of control?

If so, have you figured out why that's the case?

I'd like to hear from you, be it ho ho ho, or boo hoo hoo,


Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives

Simon & Schuster/Downtown Press

(ISBN: 9781439173176)
Look for it in bookstores June 1, 2010

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