The tree of control

Once upon a time, when my daughter was 2, there was an unwanted Christmas tree.

Being a busy and broke single parent, and living in the most ridiculously tiny 250 square ft one bedroom apartment with a 2 year old, I had decided that a Christmas tree would not be happening that year. We wouldn’t be at home much on the holidays anyway, she was too young to miss it, and there was really little chance of toddler-proofing anything in that tight of a space.

I did actually have a small tree that I’d purchased for my room years before, but this just wasn’t the year for it.

My mother, always the first to question every decision I make just because I made it, decided to lay on the guilt heavy, making it sound like I was just the most abusive parent in the world for skipping a year of tree. I still didn’t have the time or energy to care, and had long since gotten used to the fact that she would never be any happier about my parenting choices than she’s ever been about anything else in my life and would just go on with more evidence in her mind on how awful I am.

Until I opened the door one night, carrying my daughter inside as we finally got home at midnight from my second shift job, and there is a Christmas tree set up in my apartment.

This is one of those cases that it really takes someone familiar with manipulative or controlling people to understand.

Because if you aren’t, it’s just "Oh how sweet, she was so sad about the lack of tree that she took care of it for you."

They don’t see the whole pattern of repeatedly and blatantly disregarding my wishes and trampling over boundaries.

It wasn’t even just about the total pain of keeping a 2 year old from hurting herself or destroying the place by getting ahold of the tree, which was decorated with small toddler-mouth-sized ornaments and those little icicle strands, pretty much the least toddler safe decorations possible.

It was about the fact that she completely ignored that I had decided that I did not want a tree in my home that year. That she had come into my home without permission while she knew I wasn’t home to protest and deliberately went against my wishes, regardless of the reason being really minor.

Completely ignored that my opinions were not the same as hers, had been very clearly stated, and should have been the final decision as to the state of my own tiny ghetto apartment.

Nobody I told saw it that way, so I stopped mentioning it. Maybe I really was just the ungrateful jerk who should have been happy at the sight of an unwanted tree. Maybe it really was just a petty thing that I shouldn’t have minded having my home redecorated without my paying for it or doing the work.

Just like later in the month I should have been grateful for the expensive gifts of a full kid sized kitchen and full sized train table in our 250 square foot apartment for a 2 year old.

I mean, they were expensive gifts, way more than I could afford, that my kid really liked. So what did it matter if they were completely impractical and taking up tons of what very little space we had? Maybe I was just the jerk for not being overjoyed.

The tree was pretty at least.

Much time has gone by.

My kid is now in high school.

It’s still just the two of us, we’ve still always been really busy during the end of the year, still never been at home on the actual holidays, and still been in fairly small places and often on even smaller budgets.

And so, that tree has never been replaced. It’s still made an appearance yearly, though often not until the weekend before Christmas. Sometimes it gets ornaments, but some years I don’t even bother and just leave it with the lights since its almost always dark any time we are home to see it in December anyway.

But this year will be the first since going no contact with my mother a couple of months back. And though I did have an invite from a coworker to join her very large family, I’ve decided that I’d really rather just do my own thing than to deal with an awkward room full of strangers on top of the regular emotions of grief over the loving supportive family that never was to be.

And so, randomly standing in Walmart, I made the decision that this year we will be having a live tree, and welcoming every last one of the dead needles making the dreaded mess on the floor that always eliminated it from my mother’s home.

But this is MY floor, my home, my holiday, my tree.

And it wasn’t until that moment, happily picking up boxes of new lights and a large container of brightly colored large plastic ornaments, that I really realized just exactly how much I resent that stupid tree of hers. Even after all these years.

The tree was actually a pretty tree, with fiber optic lights. Objectively, I do like the way it looks, and so in all this time, I never noticed just exactly how it really made me feel.

My daughter is thrilled with both getting a live tree and with my selections in new ornaments. And her opinion of our decorating is the only opinion besides mine that matters, and should have ever mattered.

And I’m thinking that we are both going to be thrilled with having a holiday without my mother telling my daughter she ruins every holiday.
Or sitting though the reciting of how horrible life is for my mom and how every body part hurts all the time.
Or the re-telling of stories that trash me bad enough that one year my boyfriend at the time was completely shocked that she would actually be telling them let alone acting like they were amusing and funny rather than accounts of abuse.
Or feel like gagging at the sudden complete change of character into her performance mode when my brother in laws family arrives later on and she has an audience that doesn’t know her better.

Maybe I’m ungrateful, maybe I’m petty, maybe I’m taking things the wrong way, and maybe a million other things could be true that I’ve been told over the years when daring to stick to my feelings when my mother doesn’t like them. But if I am, it’s my right to choose to be those things rather than whatever it is she thinks she wants me to be that day, so I’m sticking with my own feelings and decisions and enjoying it either way.

And this year… If the holiday gets "ruined" somehow rather than being the peaceful calm I’m expecting, well at least we will know we are actually at fault and not just being blamed for it.

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