Our poor Christmas tree just couldn't stand up to my ADHD impulses.
by Frank South
The clear glass angel shines and sparkles. It’s in the perfect place, with a blue light right behind it. It’s not hanging straight though. It’s caught up on a lower branch of the Christmas tree. If it was hanging free it would look a lot better, more like an angel is supposed to look. I can’t reach it yet. If I scoot back under and get back behind the tree I can fix it. Just a little farther, I’ve got it, but I need to break that little piece of the lower branch off I think – almost got it, if I get up on my knees… And then it’s moving away from me, the whole tree is moving away, falling, oh no… with a whoosh and a crash, the family Christmas tree falls to the living room floor. The water from the stand spreads on the rug, soaking through the wrapping on the presents.
My mom and dad rush in from the kitchen to find me standing over the lovingly decorated family tree like a seven-year-old Paul Bunyan. A blubbering, wailing Paul Bunyan terrified that he’s going to be punished horribly. His presents thrown into a pile and burned in the front yard, and he’d throw himself on top, a Christmas funeral pyre. This Paul Bunyan has an over-dramatic and morbid imagination.
“What happened? Are you all right?” My parents hug me, and tell me not to worry about it, accidents happen, "but what were you doing behind the tree?"
I try to explain, but being and ADHD kid (undiagnosed – it’s the 1950’s, so I’m just… unusual) I get side-tracked into the soaked wrapping falling off the bottom of the presents and getting a peek at what’s hidden, and besides they’d never understand about the angel. I'm a normal, curious kid, maybe a little strange; but hey, lesson learned right? I’m afraid not.
Next year, this time on Christmas Eve, I’m scooting under the tree to drape tinsel behind the crèche scene so it’d look like icicles hanging over the barn to make it more dramatic for baby Jesus and maybe pull the one tree light down to be the star… whoosh, crash the tree goes over. This time Paul Bunyan doesn’t get much sympathy at all – my dad’s face is flushed with bottled up fury, “For God’s sake stay out from behind the Christmas Tree!” No front-yard funeral pyre, but the look he gives me is scary.
Okay, now that will burn the lesson into my brain for sure.
The next year, I’m nine, old enough to understand. As soon as the tree comes into the house, I’m warned that no tree tipping will be tolerated this year. Even my little brother knows that I’m not allowed anywhere near the back, or even the side, of the tree. I only decorate the front. Eye-level only. We’re not fooling around here. This year the tree stays standing up until it’s time to toss its tinsel-covered carcass in the gutter after New Years.
The day after Christmas, when dad’s upstairs, and mom’s in the kitchen with my little brother, I have to make one little adjustment. The big red ornament should be higher and closer to the window. I move it; but then it slips from the branch. I try to grab it and timmmmberrr. . . I think that year Paul Bunyan was lucky to get out alive.
I don’t know if this is symptomatic of ADHD or some other co-morbid disorder; but sometimes, it’s like my alarm system for even the most important relationship, career, or life-saving warnings can be completely blown away and over-ridden by the smallest impulse. Don’t go behind the tree. Got it. I won’t, I promise. Really. Yes, I know I promised, but the tinsel.
These incidents crossed my mind last night as my wife and I once again try to talk to my 21 year-old ADHD son about buying Christmas presents for others this year before spending what little money he has on “other stuff”.
He says he’ll get the presents if he has enough money left after he gets the “other stuff”. Around and around we go, until finally he seems to understand.
That’s when I hear, “For God’s sake stay out from behind the Christmas Tree,” echoing in my head. We’ll keep reminding him, and maybe this year the alarm in his head won’t get over-ridden by impulse at Game Stop. No matter what happens, we’ll all be happy because we’re all together and it’s Christmas. And our tree is still standing.