It’s all over but for the mess that still needs cleaning up.
Christmas Eve is where the celebrating really begins for us. I was a maniac on Friday, up at the crack of dawn and spending the day making peanut brittle, baking cookies, wrapping presents, ribboning, gift-tagging and cooking lasagna for twenty-some people. I called it a night around 11:00 p.m. Saturday saw me up early again, cleaning house, doing all the last-minute preparation for a house full of company.
I remember sitting down late Saturday afternoon in my living room with my kids. We were watching something Christmasy on t.v. We were going to go to church with my parents and had about twenty minutes to spare before we had to leave. I looked around at the house, thought for a minute, then looked at the kids and said, “I think we did it! We’re ready and with time to spare!”
I would never have gotten everything done this year without the help of my kids, and I told them so. The house was festive and clean. The food was ready and there was plenty of it. We had covered every detail and were ready to host the best family Christmas yet!
So off to church we went. My dad was busy performing his deacon duties, and I got to sit next to my mom. My nephew, sister-in-law, brother and my kids were all in the pew with us. I kneeled and said a quick prayer, thinking how lucky I was. My parents were home with us for Christmas. My kids were all with me. I was able to buy gifts for the people I love without too much struggle. I thought for a moment that I wasn’t sure why I deserved this, but I knew I was beyond grateful. In my mind, I saw the perfect Christmas unfolding before me.
After church, the kids and I headed back home. Other family members were pulling up in front of our house before we were even in the door. The carefully cleaned and tidied house seemed to explode before my eyes as our house filled to the brim. We don’t have an extravagant home and there just didn’t seem to be space enough for everyone. Some family tensions bubbled to the surface momentarily, but thankfully, were set aside almost as quickly.
Everything seemed a blur. The lasagna I’d worked so hard to prepare was a big hit and the meal was over almost as soon as it had begun. Next the gifts were passed out. We tried to keep some semblance of order as we encouraged the younger kids to take turns opening so we could see what treasures each received. Before I knew it, the evening was done and we were already saying our goodbyes and Merry Christmases.
Our night wasn’t over yet though. Since Mark had to go to work early the next morning, we had our “Christmas Morning” with the kids after our company had gone. When all was said and done, everyone was happy and we finally went to bed well after midnight.
Christmas Day arrived and we were all exhausted. The kitchen still wasn’t entirely clean and stray boxes and trash bags filled with gift wrap were still in the entryway. All that hard work preparing and making the house perfect and afterwards? Such a mess!
We spent Christmas Day with Mark’s side of the family and nearly twice as many people. Again, some family tensions arose and there were some distinctly uncomfortable moments. I wondered why I always hope for the perfect Christmas when years of experience should have taught me it’s not possible.
A phone call from my mom today put it all in perspective for me, though. She called to say she hoped I wasn’t too exhausted. She talked about how cute my little nephew Josh was when he opened his gifts and his face erupted into the most priceless look of surprise and joy. She talked about how wonderful the food was and happily chaotic it had been. She told me that over the past few years, when she and Dad were already in Arizona at Christmas time, that Christmas was the most depressing time for them. It was hard to be away from home, celebrating differently, on a much smaller scale, with their children and grandchildren hundreds of miles away. She thanked me for giving them such a wonderful day and said it had been the best Christmas she and Dad had enjoyed in years.
All I had been able to focus on before that phone call was what hadn’t gone right. Mom put it all in perspective for me with her words. It wasn’t perfect. And it didn’t have to be. We were our usual silly, loud, obnoxious, dysfunctional and loving selves. And we were together at this most special time of the year. And as imperfect as we are, that is all that really mattered.