My Christmas Tree Might Actually Fall Over

The kids and I put up our Christmas tree last night.

It’s not the seven and a half foot tall, lush and well lit, sprinkled with “snow” tree that typically adorns my living room. It’s not decorated with the expensive Macy’s ornaments that my extended family purchased for me year after year (despite me telling them that I don’t collect ornaments). Long gone are the “our first Christmas ornaments” that my ex and I got and far away are the hopes and dreams that went with them. It doesn’t even have the ornaments on it that I helped my daughter make for her daddy the first three years of her life. It also doesn’t have the snowflake on top that the man-that-came-after-my ex and I bought on our first Christmas together.

Nope, this tree is barely four feet tall, fairly sparse in branches, has sporadically placed lights, and the ugliest ornaments that you have ever seen because I set the kids loose in the dollar section of the store with five dollars each and told them to “have at it” and the rest of the ornaments we made ourselves.

I love it.

I’ve faced a lot since my ex left and for a long time I just pushed through one experience after another, willing myself to face the past and walk through the pain. As I explained in the post “That Post Where I Show You My Ex,” it was important to me to stare painful memories in the face of their ugliness and prove to myself that I could not only accept them for what they were, but move beyond them. I needed to revisit those memories, the memories of my pain and my failures and replace them with new memories of my strength and perseverance.

That never happened with my Christmas tree. The first year my ex was gone I didn’t even want to pull it down from the attic.

You see there is nothing that a person with a childhood like mine wants more than a Hallmark movie holiday. Sure, I get it, it’s probably not realistic, but I wanted it. I wanted it so bad that it hurt. I would spend hours researching the local holiday events; events that we never made it to. Every year I would put on Christmas music, make hot chocolate, pop popcorn, and wait for my husband to get home so we could decorate the tree. Some years, he simply never came home and on the years that he did, well let’s just say that it never turned out like I had imagined. In fact the last year he was here, my dreams of a “Hallmark style tree decking” ended when he threw the popcorn bowl (with the popcorn still in it), at me before storming out of the house while screaming “this is why I don’t come home to you” simply because I wanted to put Christmas music on. He left me in a pile of tears and hurt feelings while I joined him in berating myself for ruining another holiday.

Year after year I tried, and year after year I was left with nothing more than broken dreams and the sting of failure.

I have a very distinctive memory of sitting in the living room one night while I was nursing my daughter when she was just shy of six months old. It was probably 1 AM and all the lights in the house were off except for the glow that was cast about the room from the Christmas tree lights. I remember looking at the face of my daughter as she nestled into me and just feeling like I was the luckiest mother on the face of the earth. As I looked up my gaze settled on the tree, glistening just right in an eerie calm light. Snow was falling outside, the house was warm, the tree was beautiful, I had my baby sleeping in my arms, and I just remember thinking “everything is so perfect and yet my heart is so heavy with despair.” You see while everything appeared perfect, it wasn’t. I was home alone while the atmosphere dumped two feet of snow on us, my infant daughter was in my arms, and my husband was with another woman.

Tears rolled down my cheeks and before I knew it they were stirring my daughter awake as they landed on her tiny little head. I carried her back to her crib, laid her down, and then curled up in my bed to sob.

Many nights were spent looking at that tree, unable to sleep, and wondering where my husband was. A tree that looked perfect enough to trick the mind into believing that all was calm, all was right, but under it’s branches I knew how deep the roots of my despair were anchored into my heart.

Mommy and the Girl Child spending Christmas Eve alone. Hallmark pictures from a broken family

The year after my ex left, the thought of having to look at all the holiday decorations, the one thing that I had yet to filter my ex’s stuff out of, just seemed like such a monumental task. The man-that-came-after-my-ex had the perfect solution to that. While I wasn’t home he got the tree out and redecorated the entire thing, new ornaments and all. When I arrived home he proudly presented “our tree” to me, complete with a Buzz Lightyear ornament right in front, exclaiming that he loved me to infinity and beyond.

I do believe he misunderstood the meaning of “infinity.”

So when last year rolled around, my first Christmas “alone,” the thought of pulling the tree down and having to go through not only my ex’s stuff, but also the items from the man-that-came-after-him, I just couldn’t.

So I didn’t.

We had no tree last year.

Since then I have promised myself all year that I would tackle the task and be ready for this holiday season. I’ve constantly reminded myself that I have done so much, come so far, and that I won’t let a stupid thing like a Christmas tree hold back my progress in the healing department. I’ve reminded myself that if I could face my ex, disown my family, even take the kids to Disney World to conquer that pain, that it would be silly of me to let a damn tree hold me back.

Yet here we are, in December, and I have yet to be able to even fathom facing the Christmas tree.

So, I’m not going to.

I’m ok with that.

You see the thing about healing is that you don’t have to do it all at once. Healing is a process and it moves at different speeds. This is one thing that I’m not ready to tackle yet and that is ok. The key to successful healing is not that you must “do it all at once,” but rather that you keep moving in the right direction. I have made so much progress over the last two years, dealt with so many things, and part of what I’m learning is that learning to heal means giving yourself the time and space to do it in the way that is the most beneficial to you.

I’ve tried many times to face this tree and I’m finally realizing that maybe facing it is not what I need. I don’t need to “conquer” everything. I needed to conquer a lot of things, but maybe some things I just need to let go of. Maybe healing for me in this instance is not to make a situation better, but to realize that I need to let go of it completely.

Maybe this tree is very much like my family, I just need to let it go. I’m donating my beautiful-but-eternally-painful tree to another woman in need and I’m replacing it with a tiny, under-lit, ridiculously short, oddly decorated, and might-actually-fall-over tree that I love.

I will never have a Hallmark holiday. I realize now that in the real world, they don’t exist. Things are bound to go wrong, plans change, kids are crabby, people get sick, snow falls at inconvenient times, husbands don’t always come home, and I can’t control everything. I can’t, I just simply can’t. But what I can control, what is in my power, is to control is to be fluid in my acceptance of perfection.

This Christmas will be different because for once I’m not looking through binoculars at the island of perfection, I’m choosing to be happy in this place called the present.

You know why? Because this tree, very much like my life in many ways, was not what I wanted. It’s not what I had in mind, it’s not what I dreamt of, it’s not what I expected to see in my life when I looked around at 31 years old.

But it’s mine and I love it.

This tree isn’t what I thought I wanted, but it’s everything I needed. It’s the healing of our family, it’s the new beginnings that I’ve been working towards. It’s the happiness of my children and the start of something fresh.

It was only when I let go of an ideal that I was clinging to so tightly was I actually able to embrace what I really needed, the beauty of my reality.

You might never have want you want, but it’s up to you to love what you have.

It’s not the the perfection that I had in mind, but it’s the joy that I never could have dreamed of.

Oftentimes in life we have our sights set on the island of perfection; the perfect proposal, the perfect wedding, the perfect holiday, the perfect home, the perfect vacation, and we set the bar so high that anything less than perfect just feels like a failure to us.

Life isn’t perfect. Life is a messy confusion of uncontrollable events that at best we can string together into a lifetime of happy memories.

How you make those memories are up to you.

We can go through life constantly unhappy with the failures of our perfection, but at the end of our time we will look back and see nothing more than failed expectations and a wasted life. If we learn to love the beauty that is in our present we are setting the stage for a life filled with joy.

The beauty of the tree is in the eye of the beholder. Perfection is nothing more than an ideal, but reality is what our memories are made of.

Let go of your expectations and choose to make your memories from the beauty of your present, because the present is where you are, and perfection may never come.

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  • CD
    December 2, 2014 at 5:43 am

    I think Charlie Brown taught us all that even the tiniest Christmas tree can be made into something special. “All it needed was a little love!”

    • NotMyShametoBear
      December 2, 2014 at 8:47 pm

      Love that quote πŸ™‚ Thanks for sharing!

  • Anonymous
    December 2, 2014 at 5:55 am

    If you still own the lovely ornaments, etc., NOW IS THE TIME TO SELL THEM!!!!!!!!!!!!! After all, tis the Season (it is! it is!) n all that! (Seriously! You could make enough to get the kids some great holiday gifts!) Well, just a thought! πŸ™‚

    • NotMyShametoBear
      December 2, 2014 at 8:50 pm

      You know I thought about it, I sell EVERYTHING so this seemed like a no-brainer, but then I realized that the reason I’ve been avoiding the tree and ornaments is because it hurts to look at them πŸ™ Having to not only look at them but organize and sell them as well, I just can’t handle that πŸ™ It would be hard to see someone buying something I can’t even face. BUT, I’ve been very blessed in my life with people helping me out so I am thrilled to be able to give another single mom some nice Christmas things. Hand-me-down items tend to be old and unwanted and I know how hard to not have nice things to give the kids, so it will be neat for another mom to be able to give her kids something really nice. πŸ™‚

      That is a GREAT idea though for other people who may need some cash or simply have to many ornaments, so thank you so much for sharing!!

  • Anonymous
    December 2, 2014 at 11:42 am

    It's a beautiful tree!!!!!

    • NotMyShametoBear
      December 2, 2014 at 8:46 pm

      Thank you πŸ™‚ I think the kids did well!

  • Mzfuzz
    December 2, 2014 at 5:34 pm

    Charlie Brown trees are the best kind of all. You'll have amazing memories of this one. πŸ™‚

    • NotMyShametoBear
      December 2, 2014 at 8:45 pm

      So far it seems to be working out that way πŸ™‚

  • GE
    December 2, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    When I was in college my friend bought a plastic white tree that stayed up all year. He just put green lights on it in March and orange lights in October. It was a much more charming quirk than the functioning stripper pole in his living room. (I mean, I don't judge what you're into, but telling every lady that comes over that it can “hold up to 300 pounds” was kind of a pig move.)

    • NotMyShametoBear
      December 2, 2014 at 8:46 pm

      Thats neat about the tree and wowzers about the stripper pole lol!! I would have loved to see some of the looks girls gave to that guy!

  • afairytale84
    December 3, 2014 at 11:16 pm

    We never had the huge trees with all the wonderful ornaments because we never had a house with a ceiling tall enough. And my father refused to pull out a step stool to reach the top of a slightly shorter tree (my mother and I are both very short, but dad's almost 6'3″) so we were left with shortish trees. All of them under 6 feet.I think I have a thing against the real trees. It's a personal issue for me. I developed really, REALLY bad allergies when I was about 12, and pine was one of the things I reacted to the worst. But Little Brother and Little Sister wanted a real tree so that's what we got every year. And what I got every Christmas morning was the seat farthest away from the tree and red, itchy eyes the entire time that damn tree was in the house.So I'm getting a fake tree this year and I AM GOING TO LOVE IT, haha.Your tree looks awesome. And I'm sure your kids had a blast making the ornaments and hanging them on the tree. There's something extra special about those handmade by the kiddies ornaments. They'll remember this for sure. πŸ™‚

    • NotMyShametoBear
      December 4, 2014 at 11:10 pm

      You rock that fake tree girl!! I’ve never had a real tree and I am ABSOLUTELY ok with that. I have friends who wouldn’t dream of getting a fake tree, but personally, that seems like a lot of work. To me the actual tree is just the ornament holder anyways lol. Possibly also somewhere to hang the lights because I really like the lights πŸ˜‰

  • Sara A.
    December 4, 2014 at 12:16 am

    Purl Soho's blog the Purl Bee has some excellent ornament tutorials that would be fun. To me though, you really can't beat a paper ring garland in red, white, and green paper or a popcorn and cranberry garland. Add a orange clove pomander to the mix and you are golden! My husband jokes that the only reason I'd let a tree in the house is as a vehicle for decorating.

    • NotMyShametoBear
      December 4, 2014 at 11:08 pm

      Ha! That’s funny about your husband. Thank you for the great idea’s! I will check out the blog!!

  • MeowMix
    December 10, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    Ugh another post I can entirely relate to. All those nights up with the baby wondering, “Where is my husband? Do I even want to know?” And then when she was older, her waking up in the middle of the night asking “Where's daddy? I miss daddy” And the Christmas tree thing… we used to have all the fancy Macy's ornaments too… Swarovski crystal ones we would get from his family every year… all that stuff, all gone, not that I miss it, it's just been interesting to rebuild our tree year after year. Like you, the first year we did it post-divorce we hand-made ornaments out of things we had around the house πŸ™‚ I will love them forever. Finally now 5 years later we have a tree that has its own collection of new stuff that my daughter and I have made and bought and it's entirely our own. I'm so proud.

    • NotMyShametoBear
      December 10, 2014 at 7:28 pm

      Thats funny I had the same Swarovski ornaments, never even like them to begin with lol!

      I’m glad to hear that you are rebuilding a new tree. πŸ™‚ There is hope for us yet lol!

  • MeowMix
    December 11, 2014 at 3:02 pm

    Yeah, I mean, the ornaments were pretty, but it seemed like a stupid waste to me… and such a pain to have to wrap up all carefully every year… hundreds of dollars of Christmas ornaments? What's the point? Not my thing. But I guess whatever floats your boat. Here's a picture of our tree this year πŸ™‚

    • NotMyShametoBear
      December 12, 2014 at 1:45 am

      Ah it’s beautiful!! I love the big snowflakes. Thanks so much for sharing with me!

    • NotMyShametoBear
      December 12, 2014 at 1:46 pm

      I know that Christmas ornaments are really important to a lot of people and I totally respect that, I just personally would like to collect something I can see all year πŸ™‚

  • Unknown
    December 7, 2015 at 3:22 pm

    Eden, I don't know if you'll see this but I really don't know any other way to contact you. I read your story in yahoo parenting this morning and it nearly brought me to my knees. You are an AMAZING person! Words can't express just how much of hero you became to me in just one article. Although I haven't faced your struggle exactly I know what youre talking about when it comes to Christmas. We have had our struggles and felt the crushing weight of providing for our children what “normal children” have. I know this is random and I hope you don't find any offence, but I would love to help you get that puppy surprise for your little girl and something for your son too. We've been down that path before and because of some amazing people our children didn't have to go completely without. I know one toy isn't a lot to compared to some of the ridiculous things kids get these days, but I would love to help you have the beautiful Christmas every mother should have with their children. Especially after everything you have been through. My name is kahla. My email is Please, if you see this, feel free to email me. Sincerely, A mother who has been there β™‘

  • Brewster Smith
    December 8, 2015 at 4:47 pm

    Please let me buy your daughter a “puppy surprise” as well as a present for your son.e-mail me

  • afairytale84
    December 8, 2015 at 5:07 pm

    I hate to be a Debbie Downer here, but while your offer is extremely generous, it's not a very good idea.Dogs are expensive. Very, very, very expensive. There's the food costs, the accessories costs (leash, clothing if applicable, crate if needed, etc.), then there's the vet bills. Buying her a dog is one thing, but are you willing to pay for all the other costs that are involved as well?Sorry, Eden. This is a sore spot for me because we had to give up a dog when our finances got tough. We were fine financially for a while, then jobs were lost and a divorce happened, and unfortunately we could no longer afford the dog.Luckily, we know the new owners and he's happy, but it was still hard.

  • Anonymous
    December 8, 2015 at 5:10 pm

    I think people are getting confused. A Puppy Surprise is a stuffed toy that is very popular right now. It was mentioned in Eden's Christmas article on Yahoo. It's not a real dog.

  • afairytale84
    December 8, 2015 at 5:12 pm

    Ack, my bad. Thanks. πŸ™‚

    • NotMyShametoBear
      December 9, 2015 at 12:55 pm

      That is so funny! Trust me, we are not getting any real dogs around here lol!! Brewster, I’m sending you an email πŸ™‚

  • Jim F
    December 11, 2015 at 2:33 pm

    I just read your wonderful post here and then happen to read another Christmas tradition post on Yahoo! about the royal family in the UK. There's is interesting and I'm sure great for them (not judging here) but not my β€œcup of tea” I for one much prefer your Christmas tradition and so happy for you in moving forward! I happen to be one of those in the real tree camp and (again not judging here) and we tend to keep it up for a long time. One year we got close to actually replacing the xmas ornaments with Valentine themed ones. And in more than one year, no lie, the tree actually started to grow, I mean all the branches had new growth on them! It was weird and cool at the same time!Have a wonderful Christmas, its what everyone here wants for you!

    • NotMyShametoBear
      December 15, 2015 at 12:47 am

      My parents had a fake tree that they left up until April one year! Not because they liked it as much as they were too lazy/busy to take it down lol!

      That is cool that the branches on yours started to grow again!

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