It’s Friday night, and we’re inspecting Christmas lights.
This has become a bit of a tradition for us. Almost every Friday night in December, we’ll drive around the city to “check progress” on our neighbors’ light displays. We started doing this as an easy way to get the boys to sleep by 8PM at the end of a long work week. The tactic still works, but mostly we’ve kept up our “inspections” because we all enjoy them.
Tonight, we’ve decided to drive past my parents’ house to see how well they’re bringing the holiday cheer this year. Their trees and bushes are bare, so when we round the corner, and our car is out of sight, I pick up my phone.
My dad answers. “Hello?”
“Hello,” I say. “I’m calling to say you’ve failed your lights inspection.”
“I’ve what?” he asks hazily. He sounds like he’s been dozing and doesn’t recognize my voice.
“Your Christmas lights inspection: You have none, and so you’ve failed. Your grandchildren are embarrassed for you, and so am I.”
He laughs. “Christmas is 22 days away.”
“We drove past your arch-nemeses’ house. I should tell you they passed with flying colors.”
“I know!” he says. “I’ve seen their display. It’s blinding!”
“Well I suggest you get to work. When we drive by again next week, I’ll have your citation ready. Please don’t make me use it.”
“Well now wait. Are your lights up?”
“Oh no, we’ve failed tonight, too. I let myself off with a warning.”
“Then I’ll be driving by your place next week.”
“I’ll be ready.”
“I need to put up the lights tomorrow. Don’t let me forget.”
It’s Saturday night, and GB and I are getting ready for the first holiday gathering of the season. The dress I’ve been planning to wear is suddenly “too dressy” for the event, so my mood has already taken a hit.
“What lights?” GB smirks. “You mean the ‘burning bush’ out front?”
“I don’t think I like what you’re saying.”
“Just one shrub full of lights is a little weak. It’s hardly worth doing.”
I look at him, fold my arms and raise an eyebrow. “Oh. You’ve unleashed the demon, GB,” I say. “Tomorrow, I’m going to go all Clark Griswold Christmas Vacation on this joint.”
And so I shall. I spend Sunday morning Googling ideas for hanging Christmas lights on brick. At the store, I buy boxes and boxes of multi-colored bulbs. When I tell GB my plans, he looks skeptical. “You don’t want to get up on a ladder.”
“Yes I do.”
“No, you don’t. It’s too dangerous.”
“Danger is my middle name…right, H?”
H doesn’t look up from the show he’s watching. “No…”
I shake my head at them. Men. “I’m doing it.”
But then suddenly, the cough O has been fighting gets worse. What started out as allergy-related sniffles has turned into a relentless hacking that leaves him almost begging for air. I suspect an ear infection, because he always coughs like this when his ears get funky. If we don’t start antibiotics soon, his asthma will kick in. I bundle up my boy, fasten him into the car, and ask GB to take care of the Christmas lights.
O gets the whole treatment. As they’re swabbing his nose to test for Pertussis, I protest with: “We go through this every time. It’s not Pertussis. Take a look at his ears.” They eventually take my advice and confirm my suspicions, but only after taking x-rays for pneumonia, and doing everything else they can think of to gouge my insurance plan.
Needless to say, when it’s time to go home, we’re ready.
I’m all nerves and raw exhaustion as I drive my hacking boy toward home. In my mind, I’m trying to rework my holiday vacation time so I can stay home with him tomorrow. But behind that string of thought, I’m thinking about those Christmas lights. I’m guessing GB will stick with the same display I usually produce. And then I’ll regard him smugly, and perhaps scoff a bit.
But when I pull into our driveway, I find I’ve been bested. GB has hung every last light we have. They line the gutters and the highest peak. They wrap around the handrail, trot down the steps, then spiral neatly around a shrub. I halt the car to get a better look, then shake my head in astonishment. He really did go all Griswold! It’s fabulous. And also? Really thoughtful.
When we circle the city this week, we’ll take the same route we usually do, and I’ll point out the pretty lights and laugh at the awful ones and basically show my children what it’s like to be judgmental. I’m not proud of that. But I am proud that I won’t have to cite my family this week. Such pillars of the Christmas Lights Inspection community must set an example, after all.
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