When our kids were young, a remake of Dr. Seuss' "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" was a holiday favorite.
We took the whole family to see it at a theater.
A few days later, we picked out the perfect Christmas tree at a neighborhood lot. We gave the kids cocoa and let them stay up late to listen to Christmas carols and decorate the tree with ornaments, one of which was a Grinch our youngest had found in a fast-food kids' meal.
The next morning, I noticed our perfect tree had dropped a surprisingly large amount of pine needles on the carpet. The water level in the tree stand was fine, so I vacuumed up the mess and didn't think anything of it. Later that evening, the kids danced around the living room with mounting excitement as I piled presents under the tree. Pushing and shoving occurred, which resulted in an early bedtime for the kids -- and a glass of wine for me and my husband.
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The following morning, I noticed even more needles on the carpet and all over the presents. Some of the branches had turned brown and grown bare. The water level hadn't changed. It was obvious the tree was dying, perhaps even dead.
My husband and I considered our options. The lot we bought our tree from had a return policy. If the tree died before Christmas, they would give us a new one for free, so long as we took the old one back. It was two days to Christmas. We decided to wait a day and see if we could make it.
By the end of the day, I'd forgotten about the tree and started to wonder if my kids were going to live to see Christmas. Cocoa rights and vacation bedtime schedules had both been revoked. Child No. 3 kept poking No. 4, who screamed like a goat whenever he was touched. Those screams almost always were directed at the ear of No. 5, who would turn purple with rage, ball up his little fists and yell out, "Knock it off!"
I was fit to be tied. I shooed the kids down the hall, away from the tree, and into their bedrooms. I said things a mother shouldn't say. Things like, "That's it! I'm cancelling Christmas! I'm calling Santa right now and telling him to take our house OFF THE LIST!"
I turned off all bedroom lights, shut all bedroom doors, poured more wine, sat down to relax on a pile of pine needles -- and realized the tree wasn't going to make it.
My husband and I took down all the decorations and the lights, moved the presents and loaded the tree onto the roof of our car. I vacuumed the last of the dead pine needles and, exhausted, went to bed.
I awoke to kids screaming.
Well, one kid screaming. No. 5 had gotten up early and was running down the hallway, yelling at his brothers. "Wake up!" he cried. "The Grinch stole our Christmas! He stole our tree! And it's ALL YOUR FAULT, No. 4!"
The whole family crowded into the now-bare living room, the kids wide-eyed in disbelief. All evidence of Christmas was gone -- the tree, the presents, everything. We stood there quiet for a minute. Finally, the oldest spoke up. "Mom wasn't kidding," he said. "She really did cancel Christmas."
I let the charade last as long as I could stand it. But it was Christmas Eve, and the kids had learned their lesson. By evening, we had reinstalled a new tree and returned all the presents underneath it.
That night, before we went to bed, No. 5 said he thought his Grinch ornament should sit on top of the tree. "Maybe if we let The Grinch be in charge of the tree, he won't take it away from us again," he said. The older kids thought it was a great idea, even though they knew being on their best behavior was a safer bet.
Still, a little superstition never hurt anybody. The Grinch has sat atop our family tree ever since -- and I have always been amazed how well behaved my kids can be this time of year.
Merry Christmas to you and yours.
Heidi Britt is a grant writer and co-founder of the Parent Resource Association of Merced. Six kids and counting call her variations on the name 'Mom.'