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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Sweating the small stuff

My family and I are getting our Christmas trees today. For some people, the process consists of driving a couple miles and braving the wilds of the parking lot at Home Depot.  For us, it’s an expedition. 

We trek to the Virginia countryside and spend hours wandering its rolling hills, combing acres of spruces, firs and pines in search of perfect specimens. The Yanks apply more care and scrutiny to the process of cutting down a Christmas tree than we do preparing our tax returns. 

Last year I didn’t pick out a tree of my own because I was living with my sister and her family.  In 2012 I’ve got a house and am excited about getting and decorating my own tree. 

My collection of ornaments had lived in a box for two years, seeing daylight only briefly last year when it became an unexpected source of controversy during my and Mark’s divorce.

I understood that, when the decision to divorce isn’t made jointly, arguments can arise about anything, including who gets the rights to specific oxygen molecules.  But since Mark and I had a very large fish to fry—unloading the enormous house we’d built, through the For Sale By Owner process no less—I was surprised to find myself caught up in a melee over holiday tchotchkes one Saturday last November.

I’d spent the day at the Yuppie Prison getting estimates from contractors on the few items the prospective buyers required us to fix before the sale.  As one of those contractors talked me through his plans to bridge a gap in the seal between the custom mahogany front doors,  I phoned Mark so he could hear the contractor’s plan and consent to having the work done.  He didn’t answer so I left a message. 

Seconds after leaving the voice mail, an email from him appeared on my Blackberry.  The note didn’t relate to the door, or the pile of paperwork I’d put together for the house sale, or my request to meet to review the documents in light of our lack of real estate credentials. 

The email was about… Christmas ornaments. He asserted that I’d intentionally taken them when I moved out and he wanted to meet to claim his share.    

A person of average intellect would grasp the transactional significance of the Christmas ornaments and agree that they warranted a separate meeting whereas the imminent sale of our home did not; however, since my intellect was sub-par—Mark had pointed this out more than once over the course of the divorce—I was able to vault right past his common sense approach and suggest that we meet first about the house. 

After several rounds of discussion, he agreed, perhaps because he recognized that sometimes you have to compromise on minor stuff before you can get to the big-ticket items.  

That Mark even thought about Christmas ornaments,  much less cared about them, surprised me.  He claimed not to want any reminders of me and hadn’t owned any holiday trinkets before he met me (he didn’t bother with a tree during his single days). 

The baubles that adorned our joint trees were pretty much all mine.  Friends and family had given them to me, with a very large influx in 2003 courtesy of a intervention two of my friends staged when they saw my first tree.  

“Oh, honey, that is the saddest thing we’ve ever seen,” they’d said, sizing up its unintentionally minimalist style.  They couldn’t bear to let me persist in a state of decorative famine, and they still feed me to this day. 

It was true that Mark and I had picked up some solid colored balls and a dozen or so other ornaments at after-Christmas sales, along with a tree-topping angel. 

Unbeknownst to me, it was also true that I had the contraband.  The items were packed in a large plastic bin that I hadn’t opened since moving, thinking it housed only my Christmas stuff.  

I had no sentimental attachment to the jointly acquired ornaments and most were not exactly my taste, by which I mean I’d have thought twice before donating them to a foundation for the blind.  (The angel, in particular, had a face that could’ve ruled the nightmare kingdom every bit as effectively as the clown from Poltergeist.) 

I had no qualms whatsoever about giving up that stuff and did so immediately.  Mark wasn’t satisfied but eventually agreed to drop the issue.

Obviously, pettiness had me in its clutches, too, or I would’ve resolved the debate immediately by giving him all the Christmas stuff, no matter its origins.  Had I been thinking clearly, I’d have realized that the people who gave me those ornaments were what imbued them with sentimental value.  My loved ones weren’t going anywhere even if the trinkets left me. 

Still, I’d be lying if I said I’m not excited about opening the bin this year. I can’t wait to see my little buddies and hang them up, no strings attached.

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