Recently our Forced Family Fun took a sinister turn. Actually, we couldn’t agree on whether what we were doing was a prank or a gift.
My oldest has a strange fascination with paper chains. You remember when that was the thing, in the 1980s? To make a garland of construction paper rings and tear one off each day as you counted down to Christmas?
Somehow, my oldest developed a passion for making an obscene amount of such chains and hanging them from the ceilings at Christmas time. These chains were not to be torn up and shortened as the days of December passed. No, these chains would only grow as the time on his hands did.
I set limits on which rooms could be so consumed. Nothing in the kitchen, I said, because I might want to run the fan. Plus, they couldn’t hang so low that my tall husband had to duck everywhere he went.
He complied, covering the entryway, living room and dining room. Personally, I felt a little annoyed that these multitudinous chains might detract from my actual Christmas decorations. However, it’s true that when we took them down in early January, things felt a little bare.
Now that my oldest is away at college, one of his brothers got the idea to reverse roles and cover his bedroom in paper chains. So that was how we spent the most recent FFF.
First, we had to hunt down a stack of construction paper, which doesn’t see too much use in a house where the youngest person is 13. Then we had to ask my husband to bring home the paper cutter from his office. Fortunately, we have two staplers, so we could set up an assembly line: my husband cut the strips, my middle made a chain, and my youngest and I worked together to make another chain—I looped the paper, and he stapled.
As per our tradition, whoever chooses FFF gets to make the first choice of the music playing in the background. My middle son, 14, kicked things off with a very popular Christmas pop song that I generally dread.
“Please don’t get that song stuck in my head,” I usually tell them when they start humming it around the house. So I groaned when the selection was made.
But I have to admit.
Within two measures, I was bopping in my seat.
A healthy competition developed between those of us making chains. Somehow, my middle son was cooking the combined efforts of my youngest and I. Perhaps it was because my youngest was standing, and therefore, dancing, the entire time.
For, after the first, came another pop-py, boppy Christmas song, which, I begrudgingly admitted, was alsorather fun. Was it possible, I began to reflect, that I was too much a Scrooge about certain music?
Speaking of Scrooge, there was, of course, the call to hear “Marley and Marley,” from The Muppet Christmas Carol, which is one of my all-time favorite Christmas movies and I had recently selected for my FFF while my oldest was still home for Thanksgiving break. Opinions about this movie in our family range from my adoration to my husband’s statement that it is “mercifully short.”
Soon, there was a request for the surprisingly satisfying mash-up of “Carol of the Bells/Imperial March.” There ensued a lengthy conversation about the Star Wars movies, as we ranked them 1-9, debating whether to include Rogue One. The boys fondly remembered when my youngest accidentally once set his alarm clock—at that time, it was a CD player—to wake him to “Anakin’s Dark Deeds,” and it went off, of course, at midnight. (I’m quite sure it was me who was the only one awoken by it, running down the hallway to try to make it stop.)
We sliced and looped and stapled and sang our way through 5 long chains, until every piece of construction paper in the house was used, even the ones with—be still, my mama’s heart—some young boy’s wobbly drawings of triangles and circles.
In my eldest’s room, my husband taped them to the ceiling while the other two boys tested their flexibility by stretching one another’s legs. Why? Why not?
“I can see why it would have been hard to fill his whole room,” said my middle son, who had had high hopes for his prank.
I nodded. “I think this will be a nice surprise for him.”
“I don’t want it to be a nice surprise. I want him to be astonished,” he said.
Which brings us to our original question: did we just “do him dirty” (as the kids say these days), or do him a favor? We wouldn’t know until he came home and found the surprise. We all stayed up later than usual to be awake when he walked in the door from the airport around midnight. My youngest waited up in his bed, awake enough to listen to the reaction but not awake enough to come out.
“All right!” my oldest said as he walked into the room. “Let’s go!” He did a quick estimation: “That’s probably 150-200!” We shrugged. We hadn’t bothered to count.
In the end, I suppose we did him a favor, saving him some time. Not so much a prank after all. It turned out to be an early Christmas gift.