Wherefore Art Thou, Christmas Tree?

On my daughter Hannah’s first Christmas in 2005 she was 10 months old. She wasn’t walking yet, but she was crawling and pulling up on things and generally menacing the cat. That year we left our tree up for a total of 72 hours. It was just long enough to take a few photos and do Christmas morning, but not long enough to completely destroy the tree and everything we put on it.

On Jacob’s first Christmas last year he was 4 months old. He was small and portable, and enjoyed being passed amongst family members as we celebrated. Hannah and I decorated the tree while Jon held the sleeping baby. It was lovely and idyllic and we were all quite satisfied with the celebration. This year, though, Jacob is 16 months old, and Holy Toddler, Batman! He climbs, he points, he cries, he systematically hides and deliberately destroys.

2003 Christmas tree2005 Christmas tree

Trees from 2003 and 2005

This leaves us with a conflict. I have an almost 5-year-old who really wishes the tree had been put up sometime in October. She cannot wait for the decorating and celebrating to start. But me? I am dragging my feet something fierce. I have decided that I have about 2 weeks of dealing with the toddler and tree combo in me. Any more than that, and I’m not sure I will be the sort of mother I would like to be anymore. And so our (fake) tree remains in a box under our house, along with all of our other holiday gear.

Family photo in front of the tree, 2006Hannah replaces an ornament in 2007

Trees from 2006 and 2007

Someone suggested that we put the tree in the playpen, but our playpen is on loan. Plus, playpens are much smaller than they used to be. I don’t see how any respectable tree could fit inside one. And I would rather not shell out for a tree-containment system for just this year. So every morning I yet again tell Hannah that no, we won’t be decorating the tree today. And when she asks why, I ask her what she thinks, and she can now recite the litany. “Jacob would destroy it. He would throw everything everywhere, so we have to wait.” Poor kid, held back from dreams of Christmas glory by her little brother.

Trees and stockings
A more idyllic holiday scene, from 2008

What about you? How did you deal with the toddler and tree combo? I am sure that Hannah will be exceedingly grateful if you come up with a solution that would work for us. Or, maybe you just have a total horror story to share of a toddler and tree gone wrong? Or even a pet, that would work, too. If so, please share!

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  1. I opened the box of decorations and Brooklyn stared in amazement. As I turned to place an ornament on the tree she grabbed 2 ornaments and they were above her head and flying across the kitchen floor, in a split second, as she squealed "ball!". I pulled out all the ornaments I love and the ones that don't bounce and carefully packed them in a box I labeled "Christmas breakables" and that box immediately went back to storage. We put up the few baby proof ornaments and then went shopping for a few more to at least make the tree look decorated! I'm not attached to these so I don't mind Brooklyn holding them and pulling them off the tree. There is a small pile of decorations under the tree, these are the balls she has pulled off and need to be put back together. The excitement of the tree is still there, but the need to take it apart and show me everything is dwindling!I know the ornaments I love are safe, and will probably be carefully stored for the next 5 years!

  2. It does get easier as they get older! I had the same problem with ethan as you do right now with your son, Amber. This year however, my son is 3.5, and he knows not to touch the ornaments….. and for the most part he listens. Although I'm sure we will end up with one or two broken balls, but much better than last Xmas!

  3. Well, it’s not a toddler, but there’s always the old “nailing wires into the floor” trick like I wrote here: http://resolvingtimelineissues.wordpress.com/2008/12/13/a-perfect-tree/

    (and you commented on – can you believe that was almost exactly a year ago?)
    .-= Nicole´s last post ..On the indoctrination of children =-.

  4. Hey Amber,

    No great suggestions here…my 3 year old often pulls off decorations and tries to plug in the tree herself. My 6 year old uses the ornaments as objects to play with and the icicles that I adore are constantly being picked up off the floor by me. A daily ritual for me here is to re-hang the decorations on the tree as they are often on the floor under it. I guess you could decorate with only kid friendly ornaments (made of plastic instead of glass). I remember one year putting the decorations on only the top half of the tree so they wouldn’t be pulled off. I had never heard of the play pen idea but it’s a good one! Or even putting a play yard around the tree might work. 😉

  5. I make a huge wreath to hang in the window (on a frame), and then string lights around it. All the baby-friendly decorations go on the bottom, and all the other ones go nearer the top. I hang it from the curtain rod anchors. I have yet to see if Josh will try to swing from it, because I wait until at least the 14th to go gather tree bits and holly, but I have high hopes for this year. I don’t actually have any pictures of these strange creations – I’ll have to take one this year!

  6. Can you gate off the entire room? That’s what we did last year when Little Miss Sunshine was a busy toddler — we used one of our old baby gates to just shut off the room.
    .-= Lynn´s last post ..Advent 2009 =-.

  7. K was a menace to the tree his second Christmas (when he was 13 mths). That year we only decorated the top half of the tree. After that I bought all new super cheap non-breakable ornaments and have left most of the breakable ones in the box. We do have some exceptions to the non-breakable ornaments as the kids have been given some special ones and K and I hung them on the top of the tree this year to keep them out of reach of Em. I also stopped using wire hooks to hang the ornaments and tied strong gold string (that can’t be easily broken) to each bauble to hang. Since our fake tree is really light I weighted the bottom of the tree using hand and ankle weights and then covered them with the tree skirt. Em was interested in the tree for a few days this year but has since pretty much ignored it. I say go ahead and decorate. I used to love decorating the tree when I was Hannah’s age.
    .-= Marilyn´s last post ..The Frosty Dance =-.

  8. This is our first year with a real tree! We’ve had a tiny artificial tree the last 4 years but DH decided to surprise me last weekend & took the kids out to pick out a real one!!

    So far, the majority of the ornaments are at about my knee level (a la the kiddecorators), and I’d say I pick up a half dozen to a dozen per day from various locations around the house & reposition. Its a little bit annoying, sure, but truly, the children love the tree. Really really love it. They water it, just sit calmly & look at it, examine the ornaments, make up games with them…

    I’m so glad we did it. I’d say, GO FOR IT! Just put the breakables way up high, and enjoy their enjoyment.
    .-= kblogger´s last post ..Happy Holidays at Serious Shops! =-.

  9. we put up our (real) tree on the sunday after thanksgiving and thanks to the very busy hands of my 3.5 year and 17 month old children the bottom half of the tree is basically now sticks. i mean, there is a hint of green left but mostly our tree looks like it was attacked by hungry deer.

    i have swept and vacuumed up somewhere between 5 – 10 broken ornaments that i thought were hung high enough to be out of danger or that i thought were more resilient than they proved to be.

    somedays i wish we had waited a bit longer but mostly i have enjoyed the process because the truth is that they LOVE it and it only happens once a year. and you know, i am always looking for good ways to challenge my zen… 😉
    .-= robin´s last post ..emily andrea =-.

  10. There were a couple of years where we had only lights on the tree, no decorations. It actually looked really pretty still, and our home was free from smashed ornaments.

    Last year and this year though, we have put up two trees. My nice tree is up in the living room and the kids have their own tree down in the family/play room. Now, my tree stays beautifully decorated and untouched. The downstairs tree however, I have reassembled many times. Fortunately though, alot of stores carry unbreakable ornaments, and we are pretty crafty around here and have made alot of decorations for the downtairs tree (paper chains and fluffy snowmen). I am much more relazed about the downstairs tree…it is sort of like my version of chumming the water to keep the sharks appeased!
    .-= Heather´s last post ..Holidays =-.

  11. We bought a remote control for the Christmas lights. Victoria wakes up, turns the tree on and leaves it alone. No damage, no fuss.

    And once the lights are on, Amelia leaves it alone, too.

    I know…we’re lucky.

  12. Last year, the baby learned to crawl on the day we were taking the tree out to recycle. Whew! We just bought a tree tonight, so we’ll see how the carnage develops tomorrow. Wishing you luck too.
    .-= Lady M´s last post ..RIP Undead Balloon =-.

  13. I would let my toddlers touch the ornaments. The deal was that the could only touch with one finger, but NOT remove or pull them. However, I didn’t succeed teaching our cat the same, and year the kitty was small and into adventurous climbing, we had our tree out only for two days, and then declared defeat.
    .-= Francesca´s last post ..Night baking =-.

  14. Oh wow! This is a dilemma. I think touching the ornaments is a great suggestion! But maybe letting him handle the wooden ones that are not as breakable. This way he is distracted and less likely to want to climb on the tree.

  15. LOL…. my brother was a february baby. So his 2nd & 3rd christmas we did NOT have a normal tree. It was made of tree, loosely.

    We had a 2 dimensional frame of a tree that we hung on the wall between the couches in the living room. All along the edge of the frame were finishing nails, out far enough to hold fishing wire and we hung some of the ornaments down from that. Most of the ornaments remained in the box or were put up on shelves around the house or on top of the TV etc., as decorative nick-nacks. A big red coffee table was pushed up against that so that in order to get to the ornaments you had to climb onto the table, making a lot of noise in the process and alerting the parents & big sister as to what he was doing.

    Somewhere there are pictures of Joey sitting on the coffee table under the 2D “tree”.

  16. My husband put two ring bolt things (not their technical names) into the wall and bungee corded the tree to it. I ordered a bunch of cheap plush snowman ornaments from Oriental trading that I have no emotional/sentimental attachment to and used those in place of our usual ornaments. This way, the tree doesn’t get toppled and when he pulls the ornaments off and destroys them (several snowmen are already missing noses), I don’t care. Our tree is pre-lit and only has one cord, which is stashed behind a bookshelf and has yet to be discovered.

  17. I predict that Jacob would climb anything you fenced the tree off with. We gated off our kitchen-family room area also, and had the tree in the living room, but I assume you would have done that if it was possible. All I can do is quote my kids quoting some hideously inappropriate movie we let them watch, in which I say something funny and then say “see? I make a little joke. To make you forget how screwed you are.” (it’s funnier if you roll the rs).
    .-= Allison´s last post ..***********To Sleep, Perchance to Dream =-.

  18. Want your playpen back? I got a replacement from my sister in law, and I’ve just been dragging my feet on making the switch because, well, carrying heavy things while managing kids. But I can do it if you want it back, totally.
    .-= Kirsten´s last post ..Work continues apace =-.

  19. We didn’t put any decorations on the bottom part of the tree. It’s a little bare but at least we have it up. Well, and we’re just kind of putting up with the toddler eating the popcorn garland. She flops on the floor and screams when we tell her she can’t. My daughter is a climber too but she’s been pretty good with the tree.
    .-= @childbearing´s last post ..Family Christmas Photo =-.

  20. We just kept the delecate decorations in storage and hung beefy durable plastic ones, paper snowflakes, pipecleaner candycanes and NO TINSEL for those dangerous years. (And the tree top is tied to the ceiling.) It made for a less than perfect tree, but the tought was there and fun for everyone! The “don’t touch” rule was enforced even though it was fairly safe, and it seemed to go okay really…. and it always came down by New Years Eve just because the don’t touch rule is a struggle and drains the energy too long!
    .-= *pol´s last post ..Added Enjoyment =-.

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  1. […] my own archives, it seems I have this same internal debate every year. In 2009, I held out because I had a young toddler. In 2010, I objected to the idea that trees were going up while it was still November and I was […]

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