Missy loves to help. We love to let her. But we’ve learned she can get a bit – er, enthusiastic.
Give her a cloth and spray, and she will gladly clean a mirror. And clean it, and clean it, and clean it, until the glass retains a 50 percent Windex content.
Leave her in the vicinity of her sneakers and she will lace them up. Elaborately. To the point where two laces emerge from the same hole in a wonderful Gordian knot after a long, winding trip up the shoe … which, in turn, may be jammed firmly on the wrong foot.
All of which explains why our Christmas tree is a bit crowded this year.
I had been out on my usual Tuesday night jaunt, covering the Longmont City Council for the paper. (Before you groan, remember that city government is a lot like watching a soap opera: initial confusion followed by almost addictive interest once you learn the characters and storylines.) With a quiet night ahead, my wife Heather decided it was a good time to put up ornaments – well, minus one that I dropped on the basement floor earlier and that we didn’t really need anyway, right?
Missy, our developmentally disabled ward, took to it with a will. And with a LOT of ornaments. Three, four, even five ornaments could be found hanging from a single branch. Candy canes collided with landscapes as teddy bears jostled with Christmas mice; the tree-topper angel, safely above the fray, had to be wondering if her perch was being turned into a high-rise.
“She was having fun,” Heather said later with a smile. “As long as she was enjoying herself and the branch wasn’t going to break, I thought ‘Go ahead.’”
Not a bad rule of thumb. And for more than just trees.
At this time of year, a lot of people write about “Simplifying Christmas.” I’ve done it a couple of times myself. It’s an easy target, after all, with the peace and joy at the heart of the season often crowded out by crowded parking lots, frantic Santa-themed ads and the musical Chinese water torture session otherwise known as “The Little Drummer Boy.” A space to step back and reflect seems welcome, even essential.
So far, so good.
But at the same time,I don’t want to build the monastery walls, either.
I like Christmas lights, even when they reach levels of glorious excess. (Maybe especially then; they make better stories.) I like wall-to-wall holiday music, both sacred and secular. I have friends who are energized rather than stressed when they “deck the malls” to hunt out presents for family, moving down the list like Peyton Manning driving for the end zone.
It’s noisy. It’s chaotic. And – forgive me, Linus – for some of us, it’s darned fun.
And that’s part of the holiday, too.
It’s no sin to enjoy the time of year. After all, this is a time of transformation: lights rending darkness; snow making familiar landscapes into something new; calls going out to not just exist, but to look neighbor-to-neighbor and live. Anyone who can stand unmoved by all of that is a stolid soul, indeed.
But remember the Missy Rule. Are you enjoying yourself? And is the branch breaking?
Both sides are important. When actions are done out of grudging obligation rather than honest delight, it can turn even the most joyful season into a miserable slog. When the buzz and activity no longer enhances the important things, but crowds them out, then it’s time to hold off and listen for cracking bark.
But if the stress isn’t building to dangerous levels, if it’s still a joy and not a chore, if peace and family and so many other good things are still in sight and close at hand – well, have at it. Tear into the season like a 3-year-old into wrapping paper and don’t look back.
Do look up, though.
After all, that Christmas mouse above you can only hold on for so long.