It was not easy grabbing hold of the long, narrow box. Once I got a grip, I dragged the box from the closet.

It was not easy grabbing hold of the long, narrow box. Once I got a grip, I dragged the box from the closet.

Huffing and puffing I wrestled it through the bedroom, kitchen and into Mom's living room.

"What's that, Aunt Cat?" asked the four children lined up at the kitchen island.

"Finish your lunch and then you will find out," I said.

I was babysitting four of my seven great-nieces and nephews.

We spent the morning cleaning the living room, kitchen and bedroom, so I suppose it was time to destroy all evidence of well-kept house.

"Hey, is that Big Mammaw's Christmas tree?" asked 8-year-old Allen, who we call Mini.

He was leaning on the doorway between the kitchen and living room, munching on the remains of his lunch.

"Yes, it is," I said. "Are you supposed to be seated when eating your lunch?"

"I forgot?" he said, a grin spreading across his face.

He has a convenient Wogan memory.

"Sure you did," I said.

His query drew his sisters out of their chairs.

"Is it an artificial tree?" asked 7-year-old Heather.

"Dah," Mini said, drawing it out as if it had six syllables.

"Be nice," I said, scolding him.

"Can we help put it together?" asked 9-year-old Raqueal.

What made me think that I could get the tree pieced together while they were preoccupied with lunch.

Food has never been so appetizing that it appeases the curiosity of a child.

Raqueal's question prompted 4-year-old "Nosey" Nellie to leave her lunch as well.

"I want to help too," she whined.

"Okay," I said, "here's how we put it together. Each section is identified with a letter of the alphabet and a color."

"Cool," Mini said.

His favorite word, since it is concise and expressive.

I really didn't mind when the children took over the construction of the tree. I'm like Heather I hate artificial Christmas trees, but they are less of a nuisance when cleaning up after the holiday.

"When you get finished putting the tree together, we will decorate it," I said.

Frankly, I knew better as I spoke.

I had no intention of helping them with the decorations after putting the lights on the tree.

Decorating a tree is supposed to be fun. I would not have fun if the children helped me, and they would not have fun if I helped them.

Mini, our tiny mechanical engineer, figured out how to get the lights working and set the gadget so they would twinkle at a specific rate of speed. With Heather's help, I put the lights on the tree.

Then I turned my back and left the room.

I could not bear to watch the reckless fiends handle glass bulbs that have been in our family for five decades or more.

If I stayed in the living room, I would make them rearrange everything on the tree so it appears symmetrical.

Absolutely, I have obsessive-compulsive disorder. If everything is not in perfect lines or shapes, I go nuts.

I could hear the children laughing and shouting with excitement at finding their latest treasurers even over roar of the vacuum.

"Aunt Cat! Look what I found!" squealed Heather when she found the mistletoe in the bottom of the box. "Can we hang it right now?'

"No," I said. "Wait until your Daddy gets here and he can hang it above the doorway."

It was going to take a ladder. The last thing a woman who suffers from vertigo wants to do is climb a ladder and do her best imitation of a coconut falling from a tree.

"Ah," I heard Nellie utter as I shut off the vacuum and moved chairs away from the dining room table. "It's a cute little Teddy Bear."

She cuddled the soft, white Teddy Bear with golden wings. It was probably a past Christmas gift given to my mother by one of the children. It was not something she would have bought for herself.

"Can I play with it?" Nellie asked.

"Sure," I said. "It's not breakable."

She disappeared behind the cushioned rocker in the living room with her newfound friend.

It was about that time I peeked into the living room. Definitely a mistake.

I cringed as I saw red ribbon and tinsel bunched together and most of the bulbs accumulated on one side of the tree, giving it the appearance of listing.

I wasn't sure, but guests might have a tree topple in their laps before they left.

"Don't you love the ribbon?" Raqueal asked.

I felt a grimace where a smile should have been on my face.

"It's lovely," I said.

She was so enthralled by her handiwork that she never looked at my face or she would have known I was lying.

"Heather, would you please hang an ornament in that gaping hole there?" I asked, pointing toward the tree. "No, a little to the left. No, a little to the right."

Then I remembered my mother cautioning me to let the children have fun and not worry over the details.

"Perfect," I said, shuddering as I walked back to the dining room.

That evening when my mother arrived home the children and I were baking cookies.

Once they had left for their house, I saw her studying the tree and smiling.

"You actually allowed the children to decorate it," she said, chuckling.

I shot a startled look at my mother.

"You told me to," I said.

She laughed and then took a sip of her coffee.

"I know," she said, "but I never dreamed you would actually do it."

I stared at her in horror for a couple of seconds and then looked back at the tree.

"What do you think?" I asked.

"It's atrocious," she said.

I laughed.

"Yeah, I know," I said. "But they sure had a blast turning it into a monstrosity."

Cathy Wogan is a staff writer for ThisWeek.

Cathy Wogan