Imperfect, Magical Holiday

The man at the tree lot this year helped us tie our Christmas tree to the top of the car. It was only me and the boys and we couldn’t do it ourselves. Once finished, he showed me how to easily undo the tight knots he had made – simply by pulling on one string, everything would come undone.

Before driving home with the tree, I made the boys stand in front of the red jeep for a photo – the sun was setting behind the car and the long evergreen branches poked just beyond the rear windshield. Everything looked so festive, and despite my feelings of anxiousness and loneliness, I wanted to document a happy family memory – a new tradition. I took a deep breath and tried to make the knot in my stomach go away. I wasn’t even sure how I would get the tree off the car once I got home.

“In the chaotic rubble, she still remembered who she was.”

Reading this quote, I picture a woman whose house has just been blown away in a hurricane. She stands alone, after the storm, among debris and fallen trees and broken glass. The quote also reminds me of a woman standing in her own living room, toys and books scattered around, and the baby finally asleep after a long and anxious day. And finally, I imagine a woman in everyday life – a woman who just found out her child has a disability, a woman caring for her small children and her aging mother at the same time, a woman fighting her own illness while still working and raising a family. We are all this woman. We all have weathered our own storms and yet we all still know who we are – even if we can’t see it.

The reason I know this is because, despite anything we are going through, we mamas still show up every single day. We show up sick, we show up tired, we show up with cookies and a smile on our face.

It is possible to have a joyful experience even when we are doing hard things. Motherhood tests us and challenges us, and yet any mother will tell you it is also the most precious and memorable time of her life. This used to confuse me, but now I explain it simply – it’s magic. The days are long and we are tired, but looking back, the only real lasting memory is the joy of it all. How does that happen? Do we blot out the pain? Do we forget what exhaustion really feels like to our body? I don’t think so. I think it happens because the pain is just as beautiful as the preciousness. We have been habitually trained to believe pain is a bad thing, and when we feel it, we should make it go away. Yet life continually shows me over and over again that my most painful times are also the most beautiful, and by far the most meaningful. These are the times I have the opportunity to evolve – and isn’t that what we’re all here to do?

My first Christmas as a new mom, my son Bennett was 6 months old. He was given so many “My First Christmas” outfits, I could barely get through them all. My favorite was a fuzzy red sweater that simply said, “Merry” on the front in white, cursive font. The tail of the “Y” kind of swooped down under his tummy when he wore it, and with all the letters scrunched together I couldn’t really tell if it said “Merry” or “Mommy” or “Molly”. I put Bennett in this sweater on Christmas Eve and we made the long snowy drive to my Grandmother’s house, over an hour away from Chicago. Because… tradition. Like every Christmas, we posed for our family photo in front of Grandma’s tinsel decorated tree. I held the baby on my lap and tried not to yawn during the picture. My husband had insisted we let Bennett cry it out tonight since he still wasn’t sleeping more than 4 hours at a time. And I was dreading it.

Finally, the photo was snapped – another Holiday in the books. Photos can’t possibly show what’s really going on in any given situation – but they’re not supposed to. Photos show joy and blessings and all that we are thankful for, which is not a lie – we are joyful for these things!  But, that certainly doesn’t mean everything in our world is perfect. In fact, being imperfect and showing up anyway is kind of the whole point – it’s the dance of the warrior. And motherhood is the best opportunity to discover our inner warrior.

The photo of my boys in front of the jeep with our tree this year further proves my theory of magic – because even though I wasn’t feeling “all there” at the time, a beautiful memory was made. And the fact that part of me was sad doesn’t matter. So maybe we need to ditch the idea that pain and heartache are bad things. Maybe we need to stop running away from pain and run towards it instead. Maybe we need to channel our inner warrior and see what we learn. Loss and change will always be a part of life. But even when the string is pulled, and everything comes undone, you have the choice to act in love and grace and create a perfect family memory out of an imperfect circumstance. That’s you, my friend – the warrior.

“In the chaotic rubble, she still remembered who she was.”