FAS – Christmas Tree Edition

Two of our children have fetal alcohol syndrome (it’s possible the third adopted child does as well). Having FAS is life changing. Living with someone that has FAS is life changing. These kids never had a chance at a normal life and will never experience most things you dream about for your kids.

I think I’m going to start every FAS post this way. I think it is a needed reminder – it is for me.

My wife and I take two very different views on some of the craziness we experience every day. I tell her all the time I don’t know how she can laugh at some of the things that go on in our house. She always says if she doesn’t laugh, she’ll cry. I think the real answer is she is a great mom and meets our kids where they are. She really is the very best, and she inspires me to be better.

One of my daughters jokes often that we could do a show, “Keeping Up With The Carter’s”. Sadly, I think our family has enough going on that it would be very interesting for people. You’d likely run the gamut of emotions each episode. I remember the famous Jim Valvano ESPY’S speech where he said, “If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day.” I think we’ve met that criteria by 8am most days.

Where to begin? Let’s start with a tradition of ours. We like our traditions, just like every normal American family. What’s more traditional than cutting down a tree and sticking it in your house for a month?

We are fortunate because my wife’s family member owns a tree farm close by, so we can go out as a family and cut one down each year. It’s also helpful we can do it whenever it works for us. I can feel the tension building as I type these words, just like it does as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday.

Why tension? Mostly because I live in reality and my wife lives in a world of rainbows and butterflies.

I’m mentally preparing for the worst (I’m mostly expecting it with 1, but possibly 2 of the kids). I’m prepared for someone to make a run for it (no, not me), unpredictable and weird violence or fighting, the use of objects that I didn’t know could be thought of as weapons, the fact I have a saw (enough said). You get the picture.

My wife, on the other hand, is all giddy with Christmas spirit and looking forward to getting the annual family photo. Usually this entails balancing her camera on the car while we try to get everyone halfway close together and looking in the same direction.

She doesn’t appreciate my attention to detail as we plan this amazing adventure.

We drive separate vehicles because there are no vehicles out there that fit a family of nine and a Christmas tree. If there are, I don’t want to hear about it because my wife may want to buy it.

As my oldest son drives to the farm, I prepare in the passenger seat like it’s game 7 of the World Series.
> Step 1 – Get everyone out of the vehicles.
> Step 2 – Find a tree as fast as possible.
> Step 3 – Set a record for how fast I can cut a tree down.
> Step 4 – Realize again that a soft top Jeep is not a great vehicle for hauling an unbounded tree.
> Step 5 – Get the hell out if there. Shit – times up, we’ve arrived at the field.

It’s a chilly, overcast day. Overall though, it couldn’t be a better day to kill a tree for no good reason. My wife’s cousin and wife meet us there. “Fuck” I think to myself (let’s be honest, I’m sure I said it out loud). I wonder what fireworks they are going to witness. They were there to guide us to the trees that wouldn’t be sold and likely felt some obligation to provide support on this adventure. My guess is they wanted to protect their trees from the storm that was about to come through.

Step 1 is an overwhelming success – high fives all around. Not really, I don’t celebrate victories the way I should. Instead, I only can think of Step 2. Crap, forgot about the family picture. My wife finds the perfect location. I play my part – kid herder. The picture is actually a success as well. May be one of the better pictures we have taken. I’m surprised, but quickly my mind turns back to Step 2. Let’s find this tree. This many years into our life of crazy, my wife is actually on board with moving quickly through activities when our 8-year old son is present, so we are in alignment and the search is on.

Yep, Derek was right again. Right to be paranoid, scared and anxious. Not 120 seconds after the picture was complete, my 8-year old son was done with this family tradition. Back to “Big Bertha” he goes (this is the name our children have given our ridiculously large van). Ok, not the end of the world. I don’t love that he is in the van by himself, but we still have a chance. All kids are accounted for and no violence has broken out.

Step 2 is complete. We found a tree very quickly (under 10 minutes) and I start Step 3. I am getting after that tree, which, by the way, had the most crooked trunk I have ever seen. My dad has taught me many things, but maybe the most important is to never cut down a Christmas tree with a crooked trunk. Those words would mean something in a normal family and situation. We found a tree, and by God, I was going to cut that thing down. Let me give you a little window into my brain. As I saw the trunk, I was thinking to myself, “this tree is like our family – it’s like a disabled tree – perfect for our family.” I think the stars aligned and this tree was put on Earth for us. And regardless, I’ll make the damn thing straight at home – keep cutting.

I was able to get that tree down real fast. As I finished up though, I could sense something was up. My wife was nowhere to be found. Maybe it’s OK, I thought. We have a baby and 2-year old, so maybe she is back in the van keeping them warm. Unfortunately, I never really believe these optimistic thoughts. They are almost always wrong, and then I feel let down.

My 10-year old daughter has also decided she wants in the van. So we have both FAS kids in the van at the same time. Them being together and fighting was inevitable. I love that sometimes they are very predictable. I should celebrate that more often.

The van turned into the site of World War 3. The war ended with a very detailed death threat made by my 8-year old. Don’t worry, at this point he is mostly harmless due to his lack of coordination. It took about 10 minutes to get this all settled down. When things like this happen, we are literally willing to give anything at all to stop the madness. You want candy? Sure! You want a Minecraft world? Why not. More often than not, this doesn’t actually help deescalate the situation. It takes a lot of time and some weird, unpredictable distraction to settle things down. Ok, it’s under control. He will ride in the van and she will ride in the jeep.

Step 4 is always a trip. My soft top Jeep is less than ideal to haul a Christmas tree around. The van is not an option because there really isn’t a good way to keep a tree on top of it for a 20 minute ride home due to the way it is set up.

Flashback to 2018: I didn’t bring anything to put on the roof (to protect it) because I was certain it would be fine to shove the tree in the back of the Jeep with the backseats down and back window out. This idea made total sense to me and honestly still does. Another quick glimpse into my brain – if I say I am going to do something, I am going to do it. So you better believe I shoved that damn tree in the back of the Jeep in 2018. We were a sight to behold driving home that year. More on that in a second.

This time I had planned it out more. I brought a blanket to set on top of the Jeep so we could get the tree strapped down. With my wife’s cousin’s help, we got the tree loaded on top of the Jeep. There is just something about an unbound Christmas tree on (or in) a vehicle to make you feel completely ridiculous while also giving off the aura of, “I give zero fucks what anyone thinks.” I just cut down and loaded a damn tree. I have 7 kids in tow, ranging from less than a month to 15 years old. There isn’t anything I can’t survive. Step 4 complete.

After more negotiation with my 8-year old, we were ready to go. My anxiety is still maxed out because I don’t love he is in the same car with the baby and 2 year old. It’s not over until it’s over as the saying goes.

You may be thinking, “Man, you are really paranoid. Chill out.” Let me take you back to 2018 again. At this point, one traumatic event replaces another in my brain, so I don’t recall the events leading up to what I am about to tell you. We had successfully completed Steps 1-4 and were on our way home. I have the tree tucked snugly in the back of the Jeep. My wife has the van and all the kids. To be efficient, we take the highway home. Abruptly, my wife pulls the van to the side of the highway. I’m behind them and am panicked. What is going on? It can’t be good if she has pulled off on the highway – she hates doing that. My 10-year old is angry and is attempting to open the side door of the van to jump out while on the highway going 70+ miles per hour. This is the kind of stuff we are living with every day. When I say it is not over until it’s over, I mean it.

Back to 2019. My ride is calm. My 10-year old is with me and is very quiet and under control, especially considering her life was just threatened by her brother. We have a good conversation most of he way about all kinds of random things – basically anything she sees out the window. We get close to home and she turns to me and says in a really somber tone, “in his heart, I know he loves me.” I assured her that was true. It was heartbreaking to hear her say that. It was also a little bit of recognition that she knows he has major issues. She is also starting to understand her brain is different too. As much as it can appear that she despises him, deep down, she loves him and has a ton of empathy for him.

What a day. By day, I mean under 30 minutes. And those 30 minutes felt like a lifetime. We had some laughs, there was a ton of thought, and tears were shed. It was a full day.

Oh, our disabled Christmas tree proved to be as much trouble as what it took to get it home. After getting it up and the lights strung, it decided to fall over during dinner. My 2 year old thought that was hilarious. The only option was to cut a large part of the trunk off. Our tree was great this year, just a little shorter than normal. And like all of our trees, it had a story to tell!

So what would you do, laugh or cry?

#fetalalcoholsyndrome #ivegot2more #7kids #endure #grind #accountability #noexcuses #blendedfamily

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