Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Christmas Letter

I’ve had a lot of things knocking around in my head this morning that led me to the conclusion that I shouldn’t let my last post be the final one of the year. 
What got it all started was an article in the New York Times about divorce being the last taboo on Facebook.
 Now I’m definitely not contemplating divorce, but in that last post I did do something that nice girls usually don’t do, I aired a bit of dirty linen.  My husband and I occasionally have a spat.  Mind you, they are not nearly as frequent as they were when we were younger and there were a lot more stressors, but sometimes, just sometimes, we get on each other’s nerves and one or the other of us blows up.  The package wrapping incident was one of those, and one that probably didn’t deserve as much ink as it got…and is still getting…but for some reason sometimes something is just all it takes to cause a blow up.  A stupid piece of tape was that something that particular day.
But, as we were riding to church today, I was thinking about what a really great year we’ve had, and feeling all happy about virtually every month of the year, and it dawned on me…actually during the service…mea culpa…that I don’t send those year-end Christmas letters out with our cards anymore.
During the holidays I’ve been sorting through all our Christmases past in preparing a scrapbook, and have really enjoyed looking at all the cards and letters and group photos of us in various stages of posed perfection and candid imperfection during the Christmases beginning with our first one together in 1966.  Somewhere along the way, as our card list got longer, I started sending out summaries of the year that I had copied at Kinkos rather than hand-writing notes.  Then I began seeing letters to Ann Landers and Dear Abby ridiculing the practice and at some point, probably after my daughters were old enough to be sending their own cards, I quit writing them.
Those letters were always a sanitized version of our life…much like the posts on Facebook.  The darker stuff remained in the shadows, but the kids accomplishments, and a few of our own, were fun to share, and I tried to make them funny and clever, but I’m sure they made some friends want to gag…I’m sure we seemed way more perfect than we actually were. 
We only get one Christmas letter every year that seems to approximate reality, and the guy that writes it may or may not be trying to be humorous, but if his kids are unemployed or struggling with demons, he mentions that along with the good news.  He’s a brave soul…
What I missed this year was that in not compiling that letter, I had lost sight of the fact of just how wonderful the year really was.
I got to be with Sarah and Ned for the birth of Baby Beau…our seventh and last grandchild, and a long awaited second granddaughter to boot!   I had some precious time spent with Molly and her family at Groton while Robert was not well and needed family nearby.  I had a fabulous trip of a lifetime to New York City with Katie and Becket.  I got to see Walker III discover the joy of communicating over the internet with his new iphone and Facebook account... I honestly never knew he had so much to say!  We had time to spend having fun with out of town friends at football games and at the beach and at the lake.  I had the pleasure of teaching about forty women to play Mah Jongg, giving them a new set of skills and a new set of friends in the process.  I learned to operate in a recording studio and take great delight in reading on the radio once a week and recording novels in between time.  Walker got to see the fruits of his efforts in quail habitat restoration yield more coveys of quail.  Our home garden was a bit of a bust due to weather issues, but you know what, the Farmer’s Market had plenty for everyone.  It was a very good year, and I needed to write about it to appreciate just how good it was. Writing seems to be what I do...

Thursday, December 18, 2014

An Imperfect Christmas

Strangely enough today started off really well. I woke up ready to finish up some wrapping that needed to be done to get last minute packages in the mail.  I was feeling pretty good about all the holiday preparations.  I had gotten the house decorated, at least as decorated as it needed to be, early enough to schedule three small gatherings with friends.  I had had time to make some of my favorite recipes and then to enjoy those events with people I really love, even if family meals were rather strange on those days.  Yesterday some last minute shopping both on line and in person had finally filled in some blank spots on my gift list, and I had the whole day today to wrap and tidy up before going to hear three of my grandsons in their Christmas program tonight, one of my absolute favorite events every Christmas season.
I wrapped away and got my husband to scour the attic for boxes for mailing, and then printed out address labels which I’d been wise enough to store on my computer through the years.  I was feeling pretty good about myself.
Then the Grinch crept into the breakfast room.  “You know you should print these with a bold font to make it easier to read.” 
“Mmmm Hmmm.”
“And if you wouldn’t skip a line between each line on the address, I’d only need one piece of tape to stick them on the package.”
Just two sentences, and then I lost it. “So what if it takes two pieces of tape!!!!  I’m sick of you finding fault with me!”
As I noted in an entry a while back, I discovered that I wasn’t perfect way back in 1948 when the photo of the Christmas pageant arrived and I realized that my hands were crooked. (See picture below.) This alarming fact distressed me mightily then, and actually I got some pretty severe corrections to my imperfections throughout my life.  My hair wasn’t curly like Shirley Temples, so I endured Tonettes to fix that problem, beginning at age two.  I made some “B’s” on my report card, and actually some “U’s” (in conduct…always my most difficult subject!)  One of those was in Kindergarten, and the note said that it was because I sat on my foot instead of with both feet on the floor like a proper child.  It wasn’t until I was in second grade and Mrs. Williams noticed that my feet didn’t TOUCH the floor and made a cigar box to go under my desk that that little problem got fixed. 
A lot of my imperfections never got fixed.  I always had so much to say that I couldn’t wait my turn.  I was more prone to go off alone and read a book than to socialize with playmates at times.  I didn’t have a “sweet disposition”….something highly prized by the adults in my world.  I just couldn’t do too much about that…I spoke out when I shouldn’t about things I had opinions about.  I still do, and it annoys some people, and often embarrasses my family and sometimes even me.
After seventy years, I’ve pretty well made peace with my imperfection.  I’m so sorry when I say something that I shouldn’t and causes someone pain…I truly never mean to be cruel…I just have an innate inability to lie very well.  But other than that, I’m okay with my imperfections.  In general I think imperfect things are a bit more interesting.  I like the Impressionists way better than painters whose works look more like a photo.  I like designers who do unlikely combinations….I finally kind of like ME!
So why do I still react to the people in my life who are trying to fix my imperfections?  I’m not exactly sure.  I know from some of my studies that their comments are usually perceived immediately as criticism, and not the helpful kind.  Their comments seem to me to ignore all the things I’ve actually done right, and zero in on the ones I’ve missed. I feel like I should be able to say to myself, “So what?” and just move on.  And most of the time I do, but today I didn’t.  Today I had done so many things right that going back and correcting the one or two I hadn’t was just too much.
I’ll calm down by this evening and I’ll be swept away by the sound of several hundred little boys singing Christmas Carols.  I'll probably apologize for my outburst.  Tomorrow will be a better day.  I’d be willing to bet I won’t be perfect tomorrow either, but I'll be pretty good, and that's okay with me.  To my knowledge the only perfect human was born in a stable a long time ago, and even he got cranky once or twice.