Every year I “want” to be the type who gets family photos taken in the beautiful fall colors so they can be perfectly printed and ready to send out in early December. I want to write a witty Christmas letter that details our year and makes people chuckle and sigh. I want to send personalized cards and gifts right on time wishing friends and family a joyful season.
But as it so happens, I rarely get around to doing any of those things.
I don’t have a perfectly coiffed life and it’s certainly not Christmas-card picturesque. I can’t even make time to capture that family snapshot to help make it look like it is.
At the end of the Angle School’s annual Christmas play this past week, I sat with my youngster on my lap surrounded by students and audience members all singing The First Noel together. It wasn’t the specific song or the chorus of voices or even my poor attempts at harmonizing that suddenly made my voice disappear.
But away it went, and I could do nothing but breathe and try to control my emotions. Those are the moments of sweetest overwhelm, when life is so good that it takes my breath away and tears come despite my forbiddance. Iris’ pure voice and her made-up words as she tried to sing along to a song she didn’t know kept me smiling throughout, thank goodness, and eventually I could rejoin the singing.
Gratitude, at the simplest moments, wraps me in its warm arms and makes me know everything is OK. But then, moments later it’s gone again, likely because I’ve unconsciously started judging something– usually myself and my life circumstances.
Right now, the gratitude thief is my thoughts about the ribcage of a deer carcass.
It has sat in the snow right in front of our house for weeks, and every time I look at it I’m reminded of how messy my life is, how many things there are about our circumstances that I wish I could change, how we’re not and maybe never will be the Christmas-card-perfect family.
Perhaps for a laugh or just to own up to who we are, we should go take a family portrait in front of the sunken, frozen boat we left in the marina. Maybe we should drag the ribcage along with us.
According to all the modern spiritual philosophies out there, it’s not the sunken, frozen boat or the deer ribcage that is the issue. It’s my judgement of what they represent and my expectation that my life shouldn’t look like this.
But it does. And I do. And it bothers me.
At any given time, there is cat puke somewhere in my house that I haven’t stumbled upon yet. There are leaves all over the living room floor due to my inconsistent plant watering. Beds are unmade 50% of the time. My dresser drawers are Marie Kondo immaculate but my clothes closet is crowded and over-flowing. The essential oil diffuser I bought in hopes of creating world peace sits gathering dust. The recycling bins are full and waiting to be taken to the Angle’s small recycling center, and the plastic overflows out of control before we get around to driving it into town.
One of our cats will pee in only three spots: on the bath mat, in the bath tub, or in a specific potted plant that used to be garlic sprouts. How do I work that into the Christmas Card?
There’s a laundry basket full of unfolded clothing on the couch, laundry in both the washer and dryer, and folded laundry waiting to put away. Our fridge is covered with every school or family photo we’ve ever been given, as well as funeral programs, birthday and graduation announcements.
We’ve decided to keep composting all winter, which means frozen food-waste is routinely visible from our sunroom windows. Four-year old Iris has been trying out curse words of late and she very well may let loose if you beat her at Slap Jack. Should I quote that in the witty letter or just refer to it vaguely?
The garage is in a perpetual state of transition between seasons, outdoor past-times, wood working, and everything we’ve outgrown and used up. It’s the first thing anyone sees when they come visit and that bothers me almost more than anything.
We’re not a run-our-kids-everywhere kind of family and yet there’s always too much to be done and not enough time to do it in. I mention above only a smidgeon of the endless things that make me feel crazy and overwhelmed, that rob my gratitude and my ability to see the beauty in this wonderful life, that sap this special time of year of all its magic.
How does this happen? How do we keep accumulating? How does life get so messy?
When life doesn’t look Christmas-card perfect, I know that ultimately, it’s all OK. I fully realize these are my “first-world problems.” But, looking at it in full-light can also serve a purpose. It’s past time for me to clean-up in every way possible: my home, my habits, my thoughts, and hopefully my whole life. Going into 2018, I plan to do just that, starting with the easy bits, and I’m going to check back in for accountability’s sake. If anyone else needs to minimize, organize or just clean-up a messy life, let’s do it together. I want…no, need…life to be easier, more simplified and the first step is to clean up and pare down what I already have.
It’s not the end goal, but maybe we’ll be ready for family photos before next Christmas.
(Published in the December 26, 2017 issue of the Warroad Pioneer in Warroad, Minnesota)