When I was a child, one of my favorite Saturday activities was creating collages from the JC Penny catalogue. I’d spend hours cutting moms and dads and babies from the clothing pages and carefully gluing them into living rooms, dining rooms, and nurseries. I’d set Ethan Allen tables with out of proportion wedding china and top it all off with a floral arrangement from Outdoor Living.
When I discovered Pinterest, I thought someone had reached into my seven-year-old brain and created it just for me. Finally, here was a digital answer to the stacks of three-ring binders (each filled with sheet-protected pages of recipes and table arrangements) that were beginning to crowd out my collection of classic literature.
I grew as up the only child of divorced parents. From the time I was about nine-years-old, a large holiday celebration consisted of: me, a parent, a step-parent, and if I was really lucky, my aunt and uncle. Five people. Tops. So, obviously, in the spirit of “the grass is always greener,” I dreamt of being an adult with a house full of children and guests. I imagined holidays with carefully set tables in each room and fruit platters designed to look like Santa Claus.
For several years, I managed to pull this off. True, my house was tiny. The tables filled not only the dining room, but also snuggled up to the Christmas tree and forced us to move the couch. I guilt-tripped all six of my parents (the aunt and uncle included) as well as my husband’s family, into joining us. We invited friends and their families. I ran around two days before Christmas buying cloth napkins, and stayed up late ironing tablecloths. On both Thanksgiving and Christmas I set an alarm for 5am and began cooking those last-minute dishes (honey mustard green beans, broiled acorn squash…) that I hadn’t already prepared the week before. I started out delighted and resolved and by 2pm I was snapping at anyone that dared ask if they could help. It was beautiful. And utterly exhausting. Isn’t that the point of holidays?
I’ve dialed it back in the last few years. It’s hard to pull off a party like that while nursing twins or grieving your mother. Still, I took a perverse kind of pride in doing most of it despite it all. If someone offered to bring food in, I’d oh so graciously accept and then set about finding something else I could make so that I could be respectably worn out by the whole undertaking. Just relaxing into the celebration felt lazy. Shameful, even.
Not this year.
A couple days ago I loaded up my family and two pies into our minivan and headed down the road to our dear friends’ house for Thanksgiving. We all had some misgivings. Mike wondered what he’d do at midnight without a kitchen full of dishes to wash and Christmas music blaring on the radio. My kids watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade while eyeing me suspiciously over their shoulder. What was I doing there? Shouldn’t I be, oh, getting ready? I felt a little like I was cheating, though I’d relieved a bit of my guilt the night before by making the chocolate pie at midnight after drinking decidedly too much rum-spiked wassail. Hey, we find our challenges where we can.
What can I say? It was wonderful. The food was fabulous. The company, all thirty of them, relaxed and delightful. Dieta even made a turkey shaped fruit platter for my kids. Despite Zoë’s screaming in the car, no one noticed that Grey had accidentally squashed the top of the apple pie on the way over. I nursed my hangover with a little Pinot Grigio while Mike, much to the dismay of our hosts, washed all of five glasses. We were happy and home by 7:30.
Right now I’m holed-up in my library avoiding the unmitigated disaster that is our living room. It looks like a Christmas elf vomited all over the downstairs. There are bins and wreaths and ribbons everywhere. After doing essentially nothing on Thanksgiving, I actually had enough energy on Friday to take the kids to Costco to get a tree. Now, usually buying a Christmas tree is quite the undertaking for this perfectionist. It has to be the right size, obviously. But it also has to be the right shape and have a very straight stem on top for the star. It goes without saying that there can be no bare spots or gaps in the branches.
This year we told the tree man we’d like a 7 foot tree and took the first one he offered without fretting about what was hiding under all that twine. I suppose it would make for the best story if I told you that we unwrapped the tree at home and it was perfect. But it isn’t. There are decided gaps in some of the branches. It seems to be hell bent on going crooked, no matter how many times Mike gets under it to screw it straight. I let my children “help” decorate, and as a result there are about 700 fragile ornaments all hanging within three feet of the floor. The top of the tree appeals to the aesthetics of a nine-year-old boy and twelve-year-old girl. This tree is not winning any prizes.
As I type, Mike has the kids out choosing a star for the top. After fifteen years, our old one finally gave up the ghost. Clearly, I didn’t go with them to oversee. I figure they’ll choose something that makes them happy. It may not be what I’d choose; it may clash and look more like something from a drugstore than from the pages of a catalogue, or, I suppose, it may be a delightful surprise. Either way, it will become a part of our story. The story of the Christmas that Daddy didn’t have a job, and we learned to depend on the kindness of friends and strangers. The story of the time our happiness was out of proportion to our circumstance – like an outdoor planter on a dining room table. The story of the (non-Pinterest) perfect holiday.
Here’s wishing you the same.