Which is more annoying: a Christmas tree that refuses to stand up or a three-year-old boy having a gold medal-winning, 200-decibel tantrum? You’ll have to ask Mike Todd for the answer.

by Mike Todd

“Why’s Daddy hitting the Christmas tree?” my son Evan asked from the kitchen. He could only see my legs sticking out from under the tree as it jostled and swayed in the living room, so he could be forgiven for thinking that the tree was trying to devour me, and I was doing my best to fend it off.

“He’s just frustrated right now,” my wife Kara replied.

“Because the stupid tree stand is stupid and we should have bought a normal one,” I answered, slapping the stupid broken pedal on the dumb thing.

“AAAAHHHH!” Evan screamed as the tree fell down again.

Last year, Kara bought a fancy tree stand that’s supposed to let you position the tree while you press the foot pedal; then it holds the tree in place when you step off. We should have paid a few bucks more for the deluxe model that comes with a tree surgeon who shouts “TIMBER!” every time the tree falls down.

“Oh, #&$@%,” I said, looking at the fallen tree. Evan’s eyes widened. I knew he was within earshot, so I actually said, “Oh, heck. This is such a darned disappointing enterprise.” It takes a long time to cuss when your kids are listening.

With the foot pedal hopelessly jammed, I pulled the tree back up and got it to stay put, but gravity wouldn’t be denied for long. The tree would easily have been felled by a single creature stirring, even a mouse, and definitely a three-year-old.

Fortunately, it was easy to lock everyone out of the living room. Our house has enough baby gates to qualify as a maximum security prison. And our inmates aren’t allowed to use pointy silverware, either.

The next day, I called the tree stand company, which had printed its phone number (how quaint!) on the stand. The operator bounced me to another operator, who bounced me to Matt, who advised me how to fix the stand with a butter knife. “Nothing sharp,” he added, as if he’d known me my whole life. I thanked him and hung up, skeptical.

“If this works, I’ll eat an ornament,” I said as I approached the tree with a dull knife, doing nothing to allay Evan’s concerns that I was engaging in mortal battle with our holiday decorations.

That Matt’s butter knife trick fixed our tree stand in two seconds was nothing short of a Christmas miracle. Too bad the skirmish that started the next day couldn’t be solved that easily. All else being equal, though, it’s best to solve family disputes without involving cutlery. Even dull cutlery, if you can help it.

“Aunt Sister and Uncle Charles sent you your first present. We’ll put it here until Christmas,” I told Evan, sliding the box under the tree.

“But I want to open it now,” Evan said, sliding it back into the room.

“Waiting to open Christmas presents is part of the fun. Then you get to open your presents all at once on Christmas morning. Won’t that be awesome?” Kara said.

“Actually,” Evan said, pausing to feign consideration of Mommy’s wisdom, “I want to open it now.”

It’s almost as if three-year-olds have no appreciation for the joys of personal discipline and delayed gratification.

“Evan, we call them Christmas presents because we open them on Christmas,” I told him.

“WANNA OPEN IT NOW!” he responded. Clearly, Mommy and Daddy were not getting it.

“Well, you have to wait until Christmas. It’ll be good for you to practice some patience,” I said.

“WANNA OPEN IT NOW!” he responded, throwing himself on the floor and writhing around, experiencing the severe growing pains of his rapidly building character.

A week prior, Aunt Sister had sent an email saying that Evan could open his present whenever he’d like, but his tantrum had ensured that he’d be waiting another couple of weeks (if not months). Sometimes, it’s good to take a break from punching your Christmas decorations to teach your kid some self-control.