“Can we please just have a little bit of Christmas magic? I’m not picky, I’ll take anything. Anything!”
That sums up my thoughts for the holiday season of 2002. Between skimpy finances, long work hours, parenting, and fulfilling art and craft orders – all of it took its toll on my emotional bandwidth. No matter what, I vowed to give my kids a memorable Christmas.
One day, my wish for holiday enchantment arrived. My mom-in-law showed up with a dozen of her steamy homemade tamales and…an artificial Christmas tree, brand new, still taped up in the box. We hadn’t told her, but she knew we needed one.
My daughter Maya, in fifth grade at the time, shot her skinny arm up to volunteer as head decorator, and took 100% ownership. I didn’t argue, I had other issues to tend to.
The source of our family angst?
DeAngelo’s seventh-grade math.
The entire semester had been a storm of stress – slaving over complicated homework problems, parent-teacher conferences that left me with PTSD. DeAngelo‘s world, like most seventh graders, revolved around Halo and Super Smash Brothers.
Earlier that fall season, he agreed to join an afterschool math program as long as I would chill from the constant nagging, bribing and threatening – and trust him to complete his assignments. Every day he came home and excitedly assured me he turned in all his work. He absolutely needed to pass the class to make it to eighth grade, while on the outside I cheered him on, inside I prayed myself into a headache for him to please be telling the truth.
December rolled around. Between DeAngelo’s new sense of confidence, Maya’s youthful efficiency, life was sweeter than a pumpkin empanada. Then Queen Maya cleared her schedule to tend to the tree. We all stepped out of her way.
Maya sorted every holiday decoration according to size and color and displayed them on the couch. She spent two hours choosing then auditioning each ornament on one pristine plastic branch after another. As a lasting touch, she trimmed it from top to bottom with mini-twinking lights and red velvet ribbon bows.
She finished, and we stood back and admired her hard work. A hug, a pat on the back, then I sent her out to grab the mail while I cleaned up the empty ornament boxes. A moment of peace. She returned and dropped the stack on the counter.
From the corner of my eye, I see the logo from DeAngelo’s school on the top letter.
Hmmmm. I hummed curiously. Who am I kidding? Before I even ripped open the flap, I knew. I’d been played.
I inhaled and read.
“Hi Mrs. Murillo! Happy Holidays! We have a smidge of bummer news. It appears your beloved son, DeAngelo, hasn’t kept up with his math homework. His future grade is grim. We know you’re going to have a lot of drama in your house tonight, so here is a gift card for a free glass of wine at Applebees. And BTW – Never forget that you are an awesome mom!”
Well, that’s the version I would have relayed if I were in charge at that school. But no. The real letter went like this:
“DeAngelo Murillo will be receiving a failing grade in the following courses: MATH.” Next to that? A little box checked that said “Reason: failure to turn in assignments, poor test grades.”
It only took a few moments for me to click into early stages of Hulk mode. Flashes of green, the fast, heavy breathing, shaking of my head in disbelief. I stared up at the invisible movie screen in the air and replayed all our math conversations from the past months. Like my dad always said – if something is too good to be true, it probably is.”
The lies, the false hope from this little boy whom I loved so much – all of it suffocated my rational thinking, and there was no brown paper bag to breathe into. I didn’t even have a chance to process my anger when guess who strolls in from school?
“Hi, Mom! Wow, the tree looks great!!” DeAngelo quipped, nodding towards Maya’s festive swag work.
“Hi.” I replied sharply, one eyebrow popping up. “Sooooo. How’s math?”
He stuttered a little bit. “Uh, fine.”
“NOT FINE!’ I screamed, stomped and I lunged toward him, waving the crumpled correspondence over my head. “Look at this letter that came from your school, you are failing math! You’ve been lying this whole time! Why?”
He dropped his book bag, slumped his shoulders and stared at the tile floor. “I don’t know.”
No matter what I asked, he shrugged and replied, “I don’t know.”
I grabbed his book and inspected the stack of blank homework assignments. One after another.
My heart beat faster.
“Do you want to flunk out of school and have to go work in the fields?” I’d just seen La Bamba earlier that week, you know how Ritchie Valens family started off as farmworkers in the beginning of the film? I think that’s where the visual came from – anyway, I went with it.
“I don’t know” he said.
“Does it feel good for you to hurt my feelings?”
I don’t know.”
In the meantime, Maya and Patrick stood on the sidelines and watched our conversation like a tennis ball going back and forth. Then there is the decorated tree observing the entire scene too, thinking, “Oh, fun, leave it to me to be stuck with the drama family…”
“If you say I don’t know one more time, I’M GOING TO PICK UP THIS TREE AND THROW IT ACROSS THE ROOM!” I shouted as I pointed to our tinseled holiday guest.
DeAngelo didn’t make a peep. He didn’t even look up from the floor. I could have sworn I saw the tree cautiously inch away from me.
I then lowered my voice calmly. “Why. Didn’t. You. Do. Your. Homework? All I needed was a simple “Because I hate math, Mom” or even just “I’m sorry.” Didn’t he know the stress I’d been under this holiday season? I chewed on my inner lip to see which of the above he would choose. I would accept either and move forward with love and compassion.
“I…I…I…” he studdered.
“Don’t say it, DeAngelo…” Please. I’m warning you…” I whispered. “Don’t say it.”
“I don’t know.”
And then..the rest? Slo mo.
Mom Beast unleashed…my head tilted back and I grrrrowled. With one giant step, I reached both hands over to the brand new tree and put it in a choke hold raised it over my head and threw it across the length of the family room.
Calm down, it was artificial. Light on weight, heavy on visual impact!
Silence. Except for the few bulbs that shattered against the wall. Patrick and the kids stood there, speechless and in shock. This is what happens – Gangster Mom – when you push her over the edge during the holiday season.
The tree rested limply against the wall, bent branches, ornaments dangling by a thread, tangled garland. Just like the sugarplum holiday dreams of my children. That’s how it stayed the rest of the season. We covered the tree with a sheet. Every time I passed it, I felt the Walk of Shame. That $50 tree had the nerve to judge me. Slow clap from its branch hands, “You are one piece of work, Missy. I had one job. You broke my soul. You broke all our souls.”
Regret? Totally. But it happened and now I have to own it. Throwing that tree was a physical manifestation of my frustration of feeling helpless! Sometimes life is hard on these mom streets! I eventually talked about it with other moms at a bloggers conference and one lady said her family pissed her off so much one year, she threw the Thanksgiving turkey out the front window!
Turns out, I’m not alone! Finger snaps if your kids have pushed you over the edge? Flipped your switch? Am I right?
Now my kids are 25 and 28. Truth talk – Maya hadn’t decorated a tree since. Thankfully, here we are fifteen years after the incident, and I’m happy to report she frilled up her first Douglas Fir at her new home in Los Angeles. She decked it out with two giant googly eyes and a few red plastic balls. I’d call that a win.
And DeAngelo? He passed his math class, and every year thereafter. He now works as an insurance agent, crunching numbers for clients! And he finally did apologize. Double win!
Now forever I live with – “Remember when mom threw the Christmas tree?” Some call it a mommy meltdown, I call it the day I became BOSS. Scared Straight, my friends. Mom version. And you know what? I’ll take that as a form of Christmas magic!
I read this at Phoenix Barflies: Eating Christmas at The Van Buren last night!