Lighting the Uh-Oh

Emile has lived through a holiday season once before, but last go around, he didn’t notice much of it. Holding up a 14-month-old to a Christmas tree bursting with colored lights is a bit like holding a moth up to the sun, except for the lack of fluttering. For me it just isn’t December if there’s not a tree bedecked with garland and sentimental ornaments, but we worried about setting anything up in the same space as our new walker of the household. I hatched a plan to hide the tree behind our click-clack futon so that until Emile learns to climb, direct access would be prevented. This also means that the lowest third of the tree is obscured by black vinyl, but whatever, for the wee one this Kmart brand 6.5-foot tree is like an amazing magical fortress.

Now then, for the sake of context, let me point out that for a 14-month-old, Emile is quite verbal. His vocabulary now includes the following:

  • Ow
  • Mama
  • Dada
  • Mommy
  • Daddy
  • Woof (usually said to dogs or puppies)
  • Meow (usually said to cats or dogs)
  • Hi (his actual first word)
  • ‘Lo (short for hello, usually said to anything resembling an electronic device, always positioned in his hand at the back of his skull where naturally these devices reside)
  • Uncle
  • Apple (used for apples but also oranges and pears)
  • ‘Nana (for bananas, not grandmothers)
  • Bye-bye
  • Mwah (said in conjunction with a blown kiss)
  • No, or no-no-no (said with increasing frequency)
  • Yesh (often said with a nod that makes my heart explode because cynics like me can’t handle the cute)
  • Uh-oh

Now then, “uh-oh” is a popular go to word for Emile. It is applied to anything dangerous, like outlets, cords, and noxious toilet cleaner–none of which he can touch, so please stand down on the educating email–but it also comes in handy for things we’ve told him are fragile, like iPhones, mirrors, French doors, and laptops. Emile uses two forms of the “uh-oh” these days, because the nanny’s mother taught her daughter–Emile’s playmate five days a week–to say, “Uh-oh, Spaghetti-O,” and she, being sharing oriented, taught him. His pronunciation sounds more like “Uh-oh, Rio,” and so I’ve imagined that he has some kind of insight into the Mayan calendar/end of the world debacle, but I’ll save those jokes for December 21. In any given day Emile may say “Uh-oh” or “Uh-oh Rio” 4,239 times. Yes, I’ve counted. I may have to make a compilation video at some point, because who doesn’t love mash ups of repeated phrases?

We’d decided several months back to forgo our usual two trips east for family holidays for a single visit to Hawaii. Neither of us has ever traveled there, and I for one have daydreams about wearing a lei and taking pictures of the lava floes. This sets us up squarely in Walla Walla for Thanksgiving and Christmas, thus the need to set up the tree. Since Susanne is allergic to just about every tree on the planet, we can’t bring a live or cut spruce into the house. When we moved out here I went to Goodwill and plunked down $50 for an artificial tree, which was my first official experience with fake conifers. There is branch fluffing involved, people, so as to minimize the breakthrough of light between the evenly colored branches. Fluffing, while necessary, produces dust, because artificial Christmas trees that wind up at Goodwill are old trees, where the previous owners spent I don’t know, decades or something, shedding their own epithelial cells all over the holiday decorations, and then left them to fester in a musty basement for 11 months a year. To say this tree didn’t smell like pine or fir was to make a non sequitur, because apparently fake Christmas tree and tree smell have nothing whatsoever to do with each other.

Due to a promise made last year to get rid of the tree, I posted its availability on the Walla Walla Freecycle list, where people ask for or offer free things from or to other people in the community. Out in the greater Washington, DC area, this amounts to baby clothes, furniture, or sundry items made of decent quality. Here in Walla Walla I’ve seen offers for people to take away mounds of dirt. Dirt. Not “topsoil” or anything for gardening use. Just dirt. There was a guy who asked for a locking box so he could store his gun before social workers from the foster care system were due to arrive. It’s not the same band of items, I guess. I posted the tree–complete, in good condition–and in two minutes someone offered to pick it up. In the next five minutes 8 people wrote to ask if it was still available. I sent out an email telling the list the tree had been claimed, and another 10 people asked if they could have it. Some of the email messages made arguments as to why they deserved the tree, others told me horrible stories about their lives, saying that THIS TREE would fix everything that had gone wrong for them. I thought the first come, first served protocol was the lay of the land for Freecycle, but what do I know?

I hefted the old tree up from the musty basement (sorry, tree) and left it on the front porch, where my Freecycle counterpart quietly whisked it away. And I cut into the new box with my Jaclyn Smith 6.5 foot tree with LED colored lights and put it together in something like 3 minutes. Because apparently in this century, you don’t have to put each little branch onto the tree. Whew!

Emile emerged from his nap and as he is wont to do these days, immediately let it be known that I should place him on the floor such that he could go on walkabout. He will wander around the rooms like an old man with short term memory issues, telling the kitchen hi, banging on a few pots, and then meandering into the dining room. But today the glow of red, blue, yellow, and green caught his vision, and it was off to the races. He bolted over to the boundary futon.

“Uh-oh uh-oh uh-oh uh-oh uh-oh uh-oh uh-oh uh-oh uh-oh uh-oh uh-oh,” he yammered. I wondered if Emile was giving a nod to every light on the tree, or every fake and luscious green needle.

The pointer finger broke out: j’accuse! “Uh-oh uh-oh uh-oh uh-oh uh-oh uh-oh uh-oh uh-oh.”

I walked up to him.

“That’s a tree,” I said, hoping against hope that he would soon start his singsong of treetreetreetreetree. He nodded instead.

“Yesh,” he said. As in, “Dumbass, I know it’s a tree. But don’t you see ALL THOSE UH-OHS?”

I picked him up, taking him closer and giving him new angles of the tree. My email beeped at me with more messages from people wanting the old tree that I’d already given away.

Oh my God, I thought. Merry Christmas.

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2 Comments on “Lighting the Uh-Oh”

  1. John Ross Barnes
    December 3, 2012 at 5:30 pm #

    Emile sounds like an absolute charmer, and also a hoot. Your telling reminds me So much of my oldest brother, Graham (the poet & former Dir of Lit Art, Utah Arts Council) That’s about as much as I can love a story. Thanks much for sharing this.

  2. Barbara
    December 4, 2012 at 9:49 am #

    Love! I miss that little guy.

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