To Hang the Mistletoe…or Not

An empty nester faces what is now an annual dilemma.

  • Category
  • Written by
    Lissa Kapstrom
  • Illustrated by
    Christine Georgiades

The holiday season is upon us. You can feel it in the air. Well, not literally, because it’s 80° outside. Signs creep in around August, when the patio furniture and pool noodles that fill the aisles of Target are suddenly replaced with LED snowflake motion projectors and Star Wars holiday lawn inflatables. It’s a beautiful time of year. I get excited when the Frappuccinos start to turn from pumpkin to peppermint to gingerbread eggnog chai. But I’m not completely in a festive frame of mind until I hear “Let It Snow” playing at the gas station, and I decorate my house.

I love to decorate. I used to do it professionally until decorating started to feel more like schlepping, carting lamps and rugs around and eating lunch in my car. When I discovered that as a writer I’d never have to get out of my chair—I could even dine at my desk—I pulled up a seat to my computer and haven’t gotten up since. But I still find joy in feathering my holiday nest. When I open my DWP bill and feel like passing out, the decorations remind me that ‘tis the season to be jolly, and I can complain to DWP next month. The best part of decking the halls was that my son enjoyed it too and always helped me. But now he’s in college. The idea of climbing a shaky ladder to get the ornaments out of the garage (without breaking my neck) just doesn’t seem that fun anymore.

For my son and me, over the years, it became something of a routine. We’d begin in mid-October around the time the Pumpkin Recipe Dog Treats drop at Trader Joe’s. The two of us would make our annual pilgrimage to the pumpkin patch, pick our perfect specimens and then lovingly carve Homer Simpson and Mr. Burns into their flesh. Thanksgiving would follow, feted by drawings of hand turkeys and more pumpkins sans the Simpsons. Then Christmas and Hannukah (we celebrate both) descend in what feels like only days after you put away your decorations from last year. We’d turn on music, and my son would happily don his “holiday helper” hat (okay, a little less happily once he was in high school) to assist me in putting out the menorah and decorating the Christmas tree. My husband would help too. He was in charge of putting the hooks on the ornaments, although after an hour, he’d sneak off to his office to play online chess. But that was okay. Holiday decorating was really something I loved doing because I saw the wonder of it through my child’s eyes. But now that he’s 3,000 miles away, I’m a little lost.

Last year I didn’t decorate at all. Halloween and Thanksgiving came and went without a pumpkin or Pumpkin Recipe Dog Treat. And since my son’s winter break is so short because he tours with his college a cappella group, Christmas and Hannukah stayed unadorned as well. The season didn’t feel as jolly. In fact it was almost like the holidays never happened. And that was sad. So this year I’ve decided to get out the shaky ladder and interrupt my husband’s online chess game. And I’ll wear the holiday helper hat as we set up the menorah and hang ornaments on the tree. And I’ll see the wonder of it through my own eyes. Because I was a child once too.

Lissa Kapstrom is a TV comedy writer who lives in Sherman Oaks. She currently has a show in development.