When Perfect Is Not

I understand those branches. They can only hold so much, and sometimes things get dropped. Broken. Not unlike a mother, tired of talking to non-listening ears, of picking up items that do not belong to her, of looking around and wondering how on earth every surface in the house can be covered by stuff all the time; sometimes a tree branch gives up and drops its contents.

I love kicking off Christmas. The day we spend getting our tree, bringing our decorations up from the depths of the basement, and burning our mouths on scalding hot chocolate has always been one of my favorites, and every year I try unsuccessfully to convince my husband to do it before Thanksgiving. As a child, my favorite parts were the endless bounty of candy canes and being reunited with the ornaments bearing my name. My favorite ornament as a girl was one I received on my first Christmas, from a family friend who spelled my name incorrectly. Amie. It was a heavy ball with a baby carved in the side of it, and I loved it. I thought it was beautiful even though now I realize it resembled a half-delivered c-section baby, and I loved it so much I was willing to overlook the glaring imperfection of my misspelled name.

Now my favorite part of the day is watching my kids’ delight in digging their own ornaments out of the shoebox that still bears my husband’s signature in stilted elementary school cursive. His childhood ornaments, which have been stored in that box for over 20 years, used to make up most of our tree. Now, between our kids’ homemade ornaments, the new one they get every year, and the ones we’ve collected as a family, his vintage ornaments are no longer the majority shareholder of our tree’s decorations.

Last year, the day we got our tree was nearly perfect. The ritual and warmth of kicking off the Christmas season brought me to grateful, blessed tears, and the simple joy in my heart spilled out of my fingertips into one of my very favorite posts. This year, having forgotten that sometimes feelings can’t be manufactured, I looked forward to the same experience, setting myself up for disappointment like a boss.

The day started off well, with my four-year-old sneaking in for a snuggle at 7:30ish. We shared our plans for the day, and she was appropriately enthusiastic, telling her father and me about the red velvet party dress she would wear to pick out the tree, the same one, she claims, she wore last year.

Sometime after making breakfast, doing dishes, and discovering what appeared to be the entire contents of my kids’ closets and bookshelves on their bedroom floors, my mood darkened. I am not a neat freak, in fact I’m not very tidy at all, but I like bringing our new Christmas tree into a clean house. It gets messy enough unpacking all of the decorations, and my need to vacuum every 37 seconds that first day to stay on top of the pine needle situation is more easily managed when there aren’t Legos and baby dolls all over the floor. Also, my kids are old enough to clean up after themselves, and sometimes I wish they would do it without constant reminders. Messy bedrooms make me yelly.

My husband finally convinced me that the house could be cleaned while the branches were settling, and we bundled up and headed to Home Depot, for some suburban-style tree hunting. Before walking out the door, my daughter reminded me that we are supposed to apologize when we yell, a family rule, but I wasn’t sorry. I was sorry that my children were careless with their things. I was sorry I didn’t get more support with picking up before the hollering started. I was sorry I made breakfast AND did the dishes alone, but I wasn’t sorry for yelling. I was mad, and I was disappointed. My family was draining my enthusiasm for the day, failing a test they didn’t even know they were taking.

We got our tree, the tree that now stands in the corner, twinkling happily. The pictures from the day of the kids sorting the decorations into piles, and of 37 years worth of memories being placed on the branches, won’t show any shouting or unhappiness, and the decorated tree will silently bear the ornaments that broke when they were carelessly placed on already overburdened branches.

I understand those branches. They can only hold so much, and sometimes things get dropped. Broken. Not unlike a mother, tired of talking to non-listening ears, of picking up items that do not belong to her, of looking around and wondering how on earth every surface in the house can be covered by stuff all the time; sometimes a tree branch gives up and drops its contents.

My branches couldn’t handle more on this day, and our day cracked, just like my son’s firetruck ornament. His truck’s ceramic pieces will be glued back together, and we will look back on our Christmas kickoff, remembering the “bouquet” of discarded branches my girl made while we spun trees looking for the right one, the card games played in the glow of colored tree lights, and the cheesecake eaten directly out of the box at the kitchen counter. I hope I don’t remember the rest, the quiet disappointment, the loud frustrations, but I will always know that today wasn’t like last year.

Because my branches weren’t strong enough. But they will be again.

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21 thoughts on “When Perfect Is Not

    1. Thank you! This is a departure from my typical posts, so I truly appreciate the positive feedback. I’m confident your tree day will be less yelly.

  1. Aw! I love that you look forward to this part of the holiday every year. The way you describe it is so lovely…but then regular life irritations got in the way of holiday cheer this year. I hate when that happens. Mess like that totally makes me yelly and sometimes that’s how that goes. It always makes me feel so disappointed and sad. It’s nice to know that it happens from time to time in other families, too! –Lisa

  2. “I understand those branches.”
    I read and re-read that about six times. So much meaning in those four words. I love it. And I love how you perfectly captured how many “Norman Rockwell moments” (as I call them) aren’t as they seem in the photographs or even the memories of them from years past. The messy and overburdened and the eating cheesecake out of the box moments are all part of the bigger – real – picture. That’s life. 🙂
    And now I want cheesecake.

    1. I am already beginning to blur the images of the bad parts of the day. My mind is magical like that, and I’m glad for it. Thank you for your kind comment, friend. You have earned yourself some cheesecake.

  3. Thanks for this. We had a yelly dinner around here too. It was one of those nights where I loudly asked everyone over and over WHY DO WE HAVE SO MUCH STUFF?!
    Then, to super glue my own branches, I logged onto Amazon and bought $300 worth of Christmas gifts. Because it was cyber Monday. And it made me feel better.
    If you tell me there’s a connection between the clutter on my kids’ floors and my retail therapy, I’ll punch you in the branches. =)

  4. Your branches are plenty strong. We all have our limits. You know, our tree day was very similar and our perception of what we want and what “is” is also very similar. I take comfort in knowing another mama I love had a similar imperfect day and that tomorrow, every tomorrow, we get to start over. Love you, Amy.

    1. I loved that we both hated our tree day, and you’re right. My tomorrow was better, even if the ornaments are still jacked. Merry Christmas, friend.

  5. I applaud your honesty in this piece. It’s a Facebook kinda world where everyone only gloats about the glowing experiences and how perfectly perfect life is. It’s not realistic. I like realistic. I like you.

    My branches bent this season, and I felt myself getting all anxious every time a kid neared the tree, so I sat down and let them have at it. Then I rearranged everything when they went to bed.

    Bent not broken? 🙂

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