12/20/2011 05:11 pm ET Updated Feb 19, 2012

Three Dirty Words for Christmas

Really, you shouldn't curse around the holidays. It's not nice and it does little to generate goodwill towards men. It happens sometimes, though. It happened to me a few years ago on Christmas Day. I believe there were mitigating circumstances so I won't shoulder all the blame. If you ask me, I was provoked and responded the way any reasonable man would. Still, if you find yourself in my position, I would advise you to stop and breathe deeply before saying something you will regret.

This particular Christmas, Herself went out and bought the boy a tricycle. He was three that year and I suppose it was overdue. On hearing the news, I frowned. I just don't like children moving at high speeds. He needs one, she said. I shrugged. It was a great price, she said. I raised an eyebrow. He's going to be so happy, she said. I ran my tongue over my teeth meaningfully. This is his present, she iterated with a resolute and meaningful glare. I heaved the sigh of defeat. I apparently had no option but to capitulate.

Here's where I admit that we are both procrastinators and every Christmas Eve involves a fair amount of hustling to get ready for the big day. Herself got the job of wrapping the tricycle since it was her big idea. I wrapped smaller things and uncorked adult refreshments while we worked companionably. A bottle of nice red wine (write me if you want your brand mentioned here!) helped provide holiday cheer as we completed our Christmas Eve preparations.

Everything went so well, in fact, that we (okay, it was me) opened another bottle. The good tidings of the holiday were filling me with gladness and, if I'm honest, I suppose I had more than my fair share of the second bottle. As a result, Christmas Day came a little sooner and a lot more roughly than planned. Don't act like it's never happened to you.

If you go against all reason and decide to have kids, there is something you should know. One day you will wake up on Christmas morning with a hangover and everything is going to go horribly wrong. At best, you end up with a cautionary tale to tell others. The boy woke up at dawn. Of course he did. He does that every Christmas. He was so full of happiness that he was nearly bouncing and he was more than usually noisy. I was dragged to the couch, given coffee and warned not to be a grouch. The din of unwrapping the presents upset me greatly. I was in no mood for fun. The tricycle came last and he was overjoyed as he destroyed the wrapping. He hooted and hollered. I may have moaned. The boy slid the box containing his brand new trike across the floor and parked it in front of me with brimming joy and expectation in his eyes. My heart sank. There on that cursed box were the Three Dirty Words that every man who is slightly less than handy (and more than slightly hung over) hates to see on Christmas Day: Some Assembly Required.

I suggested that it might be better to wait until later to put the wretched thing together but that sensible idea got no support at all. As usual, Herself demurred. I have found that she is seldom supportive and hardly ever reasonable at times like these. I pleaded my case as best I could. I lacked the proper tools to get the job done. I didn't even own a hammer. (didn't I say I wasn't handy?) She suggested that I suck it up and get it done because there was going to be no peace until I had the bloody thing assembled. Not from her and not from the boy. I went to work on it with as much ill grace as I could muster and began putting things together that seemed to go together. Just to keep things interesting, the instructions for assembly were exclusively in Spanish with the perverse application of Chinese grammatical rules. This combination leads to very little clarity in case you were wondering. I feel a twinge of regret now that I viciously destroyed those instructions in a fit of rage. I think I could now enjoy bringing them out every Christmas to recite them aloud.

The tires were especially vexing to assemble because a hammer was needed to secure the little hubcaps on to the axle. I had no hammer. I was using a rock that kept slipping and hitting my fingers and if you really want to know, I wasn't feeling the Christmas spirit in the least. With each bang of a finger, I moved a little closer to the edge. Each time I dropped the little hubcap piece that needed to be secured to the axle I had to get down on the floor and look for it. It didn't help to have pointed little reminders that my father in law would have had the job done by now. I may or may not have muttered a few remarks that disparaged my wife's father and I sincerely regret them if I did. It's not his fault he's so damned efficient. The few tools I do possess kept disappearing due to the interference of a certain curious little boy. This is the point in the story where a smart guy makes up an errand and goes for a walk. I don't know why I didn't but a little too much steam was building up in my little engine. Then Herself chipped in her two cents worth. She has this way of slightly raising an eyebrow and asking a question that leaves no room for doubt that you are wildly wrong and she is right if you disagree. I generally find this charming until it's turned against me. She asked if I were sure that the wheel I was wrestling with really fit where I was trying to jam it.

I tried not to say it, people. I really did. But honestly, how could I not? A man can only take so much. I started reading her the directions in the bizarre Chinese-Spanish and then threw in something that was not strictly speaking in the printed directions but seemed to fit the bill. To wit, I suggested in my best gutter Spanish that Herself stuff the wheel somewhere that it manifestly would not fit and, would you believe it? Herself had picked up quite a lot of Spanish since our move to Brooklyn. It was all but a donnybrook. The boy's tricycle did eventually get put together but not until somewhat later the next day. I really do hope that if those Three Dirty Words find their way into your holiday that you have patience, tools and a decent set of directions.