Personal Reflections

by Catherine Gehman


December 2018

A Different Perspective

It's morning, and when I open the curtains, I welcome the morning light and turn up the thermostat to chase away the winter chill.  My routine continues as I sit down with a cup of hot breakfast tea and begin an ambitious "to do" list. A glance toward the living room reminds me that the calendar seems to change months more quickly than ever, and December is really here because situated in just the right spot in the living room is our Christmas tree.  Lit. Alive. Ornamented. When I squint and look from a certain angle, it's not half bad. But truthfully, both eyes opened, and from my artistic perspective -- perfectionistic outlook -- it's sub-par, really. My go-big-or-go-home personality comes through this time of year and I want to deck it out and make it exquisite, yet simple. One that pops with color and excitement, yet natural and not overstated.  And you know what that means? Time, money, and imagination that seem to elude me each year. So, every time I pass by the tree as I'm in and out of the house or cleaning from room to room, I feel a sense of frustration. Let me tell you why.

This morning I was arranging my perfectly wrapped presents for the family under the imperfect tree.  I learned to wrap gifts somewhat professionally when I worked at a designer dress shop in Northport, NY many years ago, just in case you want to know.  Anyway, I was moving presents around so gravity would pull the tags to hang just right to create an eye-catching, glittery dangle. I moved the boxes this way and that way, and inch to the right, two inches forward, a half an inch back, so that collectively they have that wow factor when you walk in the front door.   I guess you could call it staging. Doesn't everyone do that with their gifts?

As I was bent half way over making my strategic package adjustments, my earring caught itself on a tree branch, and to ensure that I would neither rip it out of my ear nor disrupt any of the ornaments, I gently turned my head 45 degrees to the left in an attempt to free myself.  In doing this, I couldn't help but affix my eyes on the ornament which hung on a small branch directly in front of my face. My son made it many years ago. A snowman. A clear plastic ball, googly eyes glued on cockeyed with a pom pom nose and black beads for eyes and complete with a small black felt hat.  It had dried glue all over it where his childhood hands held it and fashioned it. Two more identical snowmen, handmade by my other children, hung on nearby branches, catching the light and my attention. Steve had arranged all the kids' ornaments in clusters by the years they were made, and I gave him a hard time for doing it that way, but now I could see his reasoning.  With my fingers I freed my earring and slowly unbended myself to examine all four precious ornaments - snowmen - one of them, however, was just a few pom poms glued together because Annie, our beloved boxer, ate the fourth snowman. I was not happy at the time.

In that split second of un-encumbering,  I had to make a fast decision as to just how long I would stand there and think about the snowmen that hung on the tree adorned with cheap glass balls I purchased at Marshalls and groupings of random but sentimental ornaments. I had to decide as I stood next to the tree - the one that underneath it had my perfectly wrapped packages with coordinating shimmering ribbons and tags.   Would I open the creaky door of the past and allow memories to come in as if they were holiday guests who showed up too early to my door? Or, would I stay on task and just keep moving so I could begin checking off completed tasks, knowing that it would lead to a feeling of accomplishment?

My heart won, and like water seeping into a basement, it was flooded with moments of the past.  I remembered when chubby little hands made the snowmen ornaments as my little children sat around the oak table - the table which had bench seats on hinges that lifted to hold placemats and crumbs.  The table I had a glass top made for so it would be easy to clean with Windex following meals, school projects, and crafts. The table where Steve and I sat routinely with four kids for all their growing up years.  Together we ate, clamoured, laughed, problem-solved, and sometimes cried. It was the place where all the messy business of family was transacted.

Family, I thought to myself,  is in some fleeting moments just so perfect - just like my packages, dazzling, bright, and filled with promise and hope.  But more often than not, family is more like the tree and it's ornaments - odd, messy, and all glued together, but most certainly not without creativity, passion, and love.  

I let my heart go.  I broke the number one holiday mom rule.  The I have too much to do to get ready for Christmas, and I'm not stopping to remember or feel rule.  I stay true to this rule every year or else I won't get everything done that I need to.  It's because I risk my heart turning to mush just as it is now. It's because I'll be sitting on the couch - just as I am now -  with a mug of tea in hand, doing the untidy business of remembering. Remembering my imperfect life, which, like the dark, cold, winter midnight sky, sparkles with moments that are perfectly perfect because they're aglow with the purest light of our passion, our love against life's black backdrop and leaving me breathless.   And like the stars, my messy family shines brilliantly - the messy family that was once just two of us, then three, then four, and five, and then six of us. And it will continue to grow as God wishes. The messy family whose wounds we compressed for each other, whose truths we held close to each other's hearts, whose mistakes we wrapped in grace.  Because, isn't that what family does?

Family. Mine. A perfect mess.  Perfectly messy. Messy-perfectly.  It's however you want to look at it - because it's all perspective.