Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Our Crazy Christmas Tree Story

Three years ago, we did not have a Christmas tree. I mean, we spent Christmas without one. In our own house.

We didn't go away on vacation and just decide not to put one up. It wasn't that we didn't have the money to buy one, either. It was strange that year, but surprisingly meaningful. I am a traditional, sentimental girl, but it is true: you really do not need a Christmas tree to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. We actually did have an artificial tree, and then we got rid of it a few weeks before Christmas. But we didn't do it to make a statement.

We went tree-less because Lilli had a seizure as soon as we put up the Christmas tree that year.

We had noticed that Lilli's seizures got worse in the month of December. Over the years we have tried to unravel the mystery of triggers and Lilli's seizure disorder. We have completely changed or cut out many things as we have pieced together what seems to set off her seizures. The list is rather long, odd, and perhaps some things on the list are not even related. But when your baby has seizures, and the meds are not working, you go a bit off the deep end trying to figure out how to stop them.

Within an hour of putting up the tree and seizure activity, I said to my husband incredulously, "This sounds so crazy, but do you think it could be the tree?" He said he had been thinking the same thing. We did some research and found that it was very possible. Our tree was stored in a box in the dirt crawlspace, and who knows if dirt on the box, or maybe mold, or just the dust on the tree was a problem for her. Then we read that lead dust could be the big culprit. Wow, who wants to celebrate Christmas by breathing in a little lead dust? There are studies and articles about it. Is it really so far-fetched to believe that trees made in China might actually have lead dust on them? After all the toys that were recalled for lead paint, it seemed plausible.

We took the tree back down the same day and got rid it completely, a few weeks before Christmas. We didn't care if it was the tree or the box. If it had anything to do with Lilli having seizures, we didn't want it anymore. I draped lights and ornaments all around the living room and kitchen, hoping for a seizure-free Christmas that year.

The following year, I drove myself crazy thinking about what to do for a Christmas tree. I learned that it was possible to celebrate Christmas without a tree. But I really wanted one. For all of us. As the kids got older, they would start asking "Why do we hang our ornaments from the entertainment center, Mommy? Can't we just get a tree like everyone else?" I had to think of something.

Since artificial trees were out of the question, I researched real trees. Another problem. Pollen, dust, and possible mold from wet, real trees could be an issue for sensitive ones. I needed to find a cheap tree that was…washable? I began to brainstorm. I scoured the internet looking for ideas…checked a stack of Christmas craft books out of the local library…looked on ebay and many websites. I looked at different plants, and considered decorating a potted palm tree or a ficus tree. The problem was, we did not have a palm tree or a ficus tree. We had recently moved and Jasen was taking classes. We were on a student loan budget, and the "new" tree had to be dirt cheap.

I concluded that my choices were to make a tree out of either fabric, hundreds of safety pins and beads, or a big branch from the woods.

The choices were not that great.

I went with the big stick from the woods idea.

I thought if I could find a big branch, paint it and stick it in a pot somehow, I could drape lights and ornaments all over it and… voila! A Christmas tree! I am not very crafty. Also, this was not a step by step idea from someone's craft blog, or anything like that. I wasn't exactly sure how I would make a huge branch stick up out of a pot and look like a Christmas tree. But I was determined.

I searched for a week for the perfect branch. Every time I asked Jasen to go look in the woods for me for a huge "Christmas tree-like branch" he shook his head like I was nuts and went back to studying. It really was quite a ridiculous idea. The low point was when I pulled over to the side of the road after dropping both girls off at school, and tried with all my might to yank a huge branch out of a ditch. It might have even been a small dead tree. That was when I had the "what the heck am I doing?" moment. I got in the car – without the branch – and prayed. I sat in my car and said, "Lord would you please solve my Christmas tree problem?" I asked God to help me figure it out, so that we could decorate a "tree" as a family and avoid the fake lead dust evergreen problem for Lilli.

God cares about little things. I don't feel at all silly asking Him for a Christmas tree. I figured, if God thinks I really should have one, He'll give one to me. When you learn to depend on God to bring your child through the night at the hospital, and you learn to depend on God to provide income to pay the bills and put food on the table, you learn to depend on Him for small things too. A pair of shoes. A winter coat. Diapers. Once I prayed that someone would come along and help me put Lilli's stroller in the trunk because my back was hurting and I absolutely could not lift it. I turned around and there were two people that gladly helped me. I have learned over the years to ask God for things I need, but also for things I would like to have for my children. God is a much better parent than I ever could be. He wants us to depend on him and trust him to take care of things. And…He is a great gift giver. So I asked him for a cheap, washable Christmas tree.

I did not even have to wait a week.

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Our $5 tree. Baby gated every year...sigh.
Three days later on a Saturday morning, we looked out the kitchen window and saw a yard sale going on in the next neighborhood. We live on a hill, and could see people carrying things off to their cars in the December cold. Who has a yard sale in December? The yard sale addict that I am, I hopped in the car immediately and drove over there. As I walked up the driveway, I spied a pre-lit, outdoor spiral Christmas tree. I got it - like new, in the box – for five bucks. It looked like a Macy's department store ornament display in our living room. It was kinda funky. I wiped it down with unscented baby wipes and carefully wiped off every ornament before we hung it up.

The following year, last year, I found our current Christmas tree at a church yard sale. A pre-lit twig tree, new in the unopened box, for ten dollars. I wish I could tell you that ever since that 2008 Christmas when we got rid of the "evergreen look," Lilli did not have any more seizures in the month of December. But that did not happen. We could not control all the other places she went that had dusty decorations. Everywhere she went – school, church, every store, friends' houses, all had Christmas trees up. She still had seizures. There were other factors too, of course.

Last year, we stopped taking her to church while the decorations were up. The previous year on one Sunday, she had a seizure in the middle of the service and we had to leave. There were three huge trees and a ventless fireplace set up outside her classroom as decorations. Each time something like that would happen, we would scratch our heads and say, "Could it really be the decorations?" What about the flashing lights, someone suggested to me. We do not flash our Christmas lights. Why would anyone do such a thing? Ok sorry, I know someone out there likes it. But we don't.

Every year, we hope and pray for a seizure-free Christmas. I go to great lengths to make sure it is a clean, dust-free Christmas. I wipe all the ornaments and the tree, and I hand wash all the stockings and drip dry them. Some of our decorations stay in the attic. If I can't figure out how to clean it, it does not come out. I do not burn candles. We run air purifiers and we are careful about what we can control. But we can't control everything.

This December, unlike last year, she did not go to school because she is medically homebound. She did not go anywhere except for a few shopping trips. She's had two seizures this whole month, and that's better than any other December we've had.

We have all enjoyed our crazy Christmas tree. Chloe has still not asked me why it isn't green. I am thrilled that we have made it almost to the end of the month with only two seizures. I think it will be our best December yet.

I pray that it is.
Last year. The gate comes down for Christmas morning only.
You can see one lower branch already has been mangled.
The Christmas train is taking a nap.



  1. I remember you telling me that you sold your old fake tree on Craigslist for $50. I love the way you and Jasen have always kept a keen eye, nose, intuition out for Lilli! I miss seeing your family. All the best in 2012!!!


  2. Thank you, as always, Jennie for sharing your journey with Lilli. I miss you all! I hope you had a Blessed Christmas.. I am very happy to hear Lilli had only 2 seizures this month. Happy New Year!
    xo, Lisa