sideways rabbit

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

O (Crap, It's the) Tannenbaum! Why Tradition Is Bad For Our Health

Here's a pic of Beau hopped up on a course of short-dose steroids, wielding a plastic light saber and sporting a sour face straight out of a ’50s medicine advertisement: Not cod-liver oil again, Ma!

I'm no big fan of administering prednisone to children, but I was glad to see him show some spirit today -- even weird 'roid spirit. A nasty "lung event" got hold of our little guy starting the afternoon of Christmas Day. Vomiting and a fever led to uncontrollable coughing and wheezing. On the 27th, his pediatrician diagnosed "virus-induced asthma." We've gone swerving down this road before. Three years ago to the day, we were in the hospital for pneumonia that came on in much the same way. That week was hell, trying to keep our confused two-year-old from pulling the breathing tube out of his nose while the machine monitoring his lung capacity continually dipped to danger level, sounding an alarm every time. We were introduced to "Thomas the Train," viewed on an endless loop on the TV in his hospital room, and I still can't hear that creepy little intro tune without a shudder.

The pneumonia occurred again the next summer, segueing into episodic asthma the year after that. We sailed through this past summer, though, and happily, the nebulizer we use to stabilize these symptoms began to gather dust in the cabinet. But we had to unearth it on Monday. The pediatrician shook his head at the "tightness and crackle" in Beau's lungs. Last night our son yelled in pain from pulled muscles (all the coughing) and tried to doze off around the whisper-scream of the nebulizer. No one slept.

This morning Beau still looked peaked. I left him with my sister and went to the store around the corner to get some supplies. My cashier wondered why "my little buddy" wasn't with me, and I told her our trouble. "Do you have a live Christmas tree in the house?" she demanded. Why yes, we do. I won't stand for anything else. "Get it out of your house," she ordered. "It gave my kids terrible asthma. My doctor forbid us to have one."

So we got rid of the tree, and within an hour his symptoms started to clear. Maybe the prednisone kicked in, finally. But my mother's intuition is pointing a deadly light ray at that Fraser fir.

We didn't have this problem with our live tree last year. But allergies can be tricky. And so can tradition, for that matter. My own mother raised me to believe there were two kinds of families: those who kept live Christmas trees captive in their house during December, like us, and tacky people. A single distinction, no allowances. It was a cultural thing.

I retain that ingrained snobbery about live fir trees. The bewitching aroma of fresh pine is all tangled up with a certain farmhouse we lived in growing up -- the solemnity of tall, 100-year-old windows and nonstop snow; a few idyllic years of family harmony before it all crumpled like burnt paper in a real fireplace.

But it might be better for all of our health if I jettisoned that nostalgia.

The second I thought that our beautiful, magical tree might be causing our little boy's wretched state, it became a thing of evil. We stripped the seven-foot tall beauty of her ornaments and chucked "Goldie" (yes, she'd been named) over our retaining wall for the brush collector. In this photo, Beau is standing near where Goldie recently stood. And over his head -- speaking of tradition -- is the framed marriage certificate of a great-great (or maybe great-great-great) aunt on my mother's side. The German one.

A brilliant people, the Germans. They invented the artificial tree.


  1. This is the sort of thing that gets the conspiracy theorist in me all worked up. Everyone is allergic to wheat lately, and now Christmas trees? Has the innocent fir been turned into a genetically modified, Roundup-ready Frankentree, unbeknownst to us? It's very depressing. But I hope that you are right and in future years you will sail through Christmas with nary a sniffle.

  2. A "Roundup-ready Frankentree"
    That's excellent!
    If it's going to be fake next year, I'm going to start trawling online for discounts. I don't want to get a real-look tree. It has to be fabulously fake---either a big old white snowball of a tree or maybe one of those awesome German feather trees, that have such a cool, retro-scrawny look

  3. I am a believer in the fake three. I have a 6 ft white one. I saw a white wreath at Roses and should have bought it. Alas my cheapness won out and I waited til after Christmas to get it half off. There were none left. I also have a 4 ft pink tree that I adore. I found a strand of pink flamingo lights at Big Lots. Tacky and tacky were joined to glorious effect. Next on my list a silver tree. By the way, Frankentree is a wonderful expression!