Perfect and Not Perfect — When Not Perfect’s Better

The week between Christmas and New Year’s is my favorite of the year.  Before the plague descended, it was the only time I enjoyed the luxury of not knowing the day of the week, the exact time of day, and sometimes, my own name.  

My days are filled binging movies, naps that overtake me, awaking in the dark at 5:00 o’clock, with that panic that starts in the solar plexus, is it morning or night?  The little stashes of Christmas goodies delivered by friends and tucked away from prying eyes, so I might have them all to myself, without sharing, which feels mean and wonderful.  

By mid-week I may stop lighting the tree, more from sloth more than ennui.  I will spend five minutes thinking of warm and sunny shores, palm trees, humidity.  But then, toting my trash to the curb, extra bags with boxes and crumpled wrapping, I will experience humidity, balmy breezes, and curse whatever powers that conspire to rob me of a white Christmas. 

My lovely, lovely notebooks and planners sit stacked and enticing on the edge of my coffee table.  I won’t touch them until my new pens arrive.  I won’t touch them even then, because I want them to stay perfect, pristine, the embodiment of promise — for organization, purpose, discipline.  

One of my writing friends is terrified by the blank page.  He writes whole chapters in his head, outlines plot and scene and fleshes out his characters before ever sitting down to the computer.  I love nothing better than a blank page, a clean slate.  It is a mirror, I think, of perfection.  But of course, once even the shadow of your face come into view, it becomes this other, imperfect thing, all illusion shattered. 

Not that this is a bad thing. In fact, it is a necessary thing, intended to save us from ourselves and the construct that is perfection.   That mirror wants to be our friend, showing us ourselves clearly, practically willing us to accept what we see, all of it, as we do with the lovable imperfections of others.

Like a good antique, our image in the mirror or on the blank page is the evidence of use, and wear, and on occasion trauma—the dark place a candle burned too low, the butterfly block that holds it together, fixed up, still standing.  

My friend, Sally, tells me not to be concerned about imperfections when it comes to antiques.   Sometimes we are willing to pay a lot of money for those cracks. Some say the crack tells the better story.

While it is still early in the week, while I still know the day and time, I think I’ll  take a gander in the mirror that is the blank page of the New Year.  I will try to look past the unreasonable weather, the rain which should be snow, will put away the Christmas tins, brush the crumbs off my front, sit up straight on couch. Open a notebook.

Concentrate not on perfection but  on all the lovely cracks. 

A Sibling Christmas

By the week before Christmas, my siblings and I would finally be out of school and sick with anticipation.  This manifested itself in several ways.  Conspiratorial whisperings late at night as to how to catch Santa Claus.  Manic running through the house, so furious the glass ornaments on the tree tinkled and clinked together, the old wooden floors groaning under our pounding feet.  Arguments over nothing ensued, some playful slur or accidental elbow thrown, ending, as all such romps ended, in a fist fight. 

Not a true fist fight, of course.  We were careful not to hit faces or torsos where all the best organs lived, but there was some slugging and rolling around involved. My mother, bent over the jam cake batter, hollered that way she had in the moments just before she snapped, and we retreated to our rooms, relieved to flop on our beds and save ourselves from ourselves.  We tossed insults at each other across the hall but really, our hearts weren’t in it.

Evenings and we lay under the tree, fanned out like spokes in a wheel, the room dark but for the tree lights, as we discussed with great solemnity, the existence of you-know-who.  My brother, Billy, and I were old enough to have seen price tags left of toys the year before:  W.T. Grant, Kuester’s, Sears & Roebuck.  This required an elaborate series of events to explain, ones involving managers late on Christmas Eve letting Santa in the backdoor.  We accepted  the logic that he couldn’t carry all the toys for the world at once, while still accepting the fact  that Santa delivered toys by sleigh.

The little kids joined us under the tree, all sweet-smelling in their flannel pajamas, and we were as happy as we ever were, lulled by the dark and colorful lights, all our energy spent for one day, and filled with generosity and goodwill as we anticipated the generosity and goodwill soon to be coming to us. 

That’s the thing, isn’t it, how easy to be generous when we have enough.  How kind we are when we anticipate kindness from others.  How calm our hearts after a good scolding when we know we deserved it and to see, when the dust settles, that whatever it was that got us in trouble isn’t even forgiven, but completely forgotten. 

We have new babies in the family this year.  Four of them.  They are far-flung and we have yet to have them all in the same room together.  Right now they are new and fresh and still a wonderment to their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.  Their job is to be gazed upon and adored, to reach for us so we will pick them up, to squirm and fuss until we find just the spot where they fold into us and find our fit. 

The fit that will be different with each child. 

And we will study them like lab experiments, working like the teacher’s pet to understand every nuance of their movements, their burbles and grunts, until we believe we are the best in the class, unlocking their codes. We will study them for the rest of our lives.  We all want straight A’s in the knowing of these children. 

I find myself looking to my young niece, who is the true expert on her infant son, and take instruction as if I’ve paid her for tutoring.  I all but take notes.  I don’t get much of the new mothering these days: sleep sacks, tummy time, back sleeping.  But I get that, for all the baby’s squishy rolls of fat, there is something delicate about new life, like those old German Christmas ornaments, big and brilliant and shiny, and fragile as egg shells. 

There will soon be siblings for these babies to love and fight with, new babies for us to learn head to toe.

I have my own version of time under the Christmas tree now.  It involves visits with friends, long chats on the phone with pals I might not see for months and months.  Christmas music going, sometimes the old holiday classics, sometimes Trans-Siberian Orchestra, sometimes medieval chants, sometimes sweet nuns singing to me in Latin. 

No longer waiting for Santa Claus and bribing him with cookies and milk, I will toss seeds and nuts out my backdoor on Christmas morning for the birds and squirrels still inhabiting my yard.  I’ll make my mother’s jam cake.  I’ll wear flannel pajamas to bed, although I am warm natured. I won’t miss slugging somebody, but I’ll think on the that particular form of sibling love that says, I may hit you but I won’t hurt you.  You can trust me.  And you do.

Fires, Family and Furious Shopping

The Thanksgiving holiday weekend passed just as I had hoped, with food, family, fun, and ferocious on-line shopping.  And fire.  Don’t forget the fire.  

My mother and grandmother passed down the story of the twenty pound turkey that caught the oven on fire.  It was spoken of in reverent tones, tinged a little with fear, the perfect kind of cautionary tale.  The bird was simply too big.  The grease was simply too copious.  The oven too hot.  


The story never progressed beyond this, just somber and knowing looks all around. 

Did you buy a turkey this year?  Couldn’t find a small one, could you?  Me, either. 

So, an hour into roasting, and the house filling with smoke, I decided to have a look, and in so doing, adding the third element of combustion, oxygen. Up came the flames, and after a couple of boxes of baking soda, most of them were out.  But maybe not all.  911 and I discussed this, even as I heard the sirens on their way from the No. 4 fire station.

By the time the two policemen, the ladder truck, the pumper truck, and the ambulance arrived, everything was out.  Fire terrifies me, thank you “Wizard of Oz,” so I always err on the side of caution.  And such a nice bunch of young men.  Reassuring, helpful, opening windows and bringing in that nice powerful fan to remove the smoke. 

It scared my neighbors, but brought offers of another oven, offers of help and plates of food.  My sister always makes a turkey, too, so she saved the day and has called often to remind me of it.

We had a baby to pass around this year, but mostly I got to rock him to sleep and then hold him for the duration of his nap.  When anyone tried to relieve me of him, I jiggled his leg to make his startle, then told the interloper we best not disturb him.  He and I stayed like that until it was time to go home.  I looked all apologetic at his light sleeping habits, but I wasn’t sorry,, not at all.

My nephews were home with their dogs, who just love me.  I am not much of a pet person, so this guarantees no matter where I go, dogs lick my hands and jump up on me, cats rub around my ankles and silently hop onto the furniture when I’m not looking, the better to peer deep into my eyes. The toddlers I really want to play with?  I am dead to them.

Reading’s dog, Kobe, will stay with his grandparents for the week.  He pulled one of his master’s sweatshirts out of his bag, and flopped down on it.  I am told he will pine for Reading until he returns, moving from the sweatshirt to the front door and back again.  It’s sweet, and pitiful, and I don’t know what all. 

Friday I spent over an hour attempting to buy a 2022 planner on a Taiwanese website.  I am fussy about planners and am convinced the right one will change my life in all the good ways.  I will be taller, thinner, smarter, more accomplished.  This one has Tomoe River paper, of which I am quite fond.  Vertical weeks, month at a glance pages in a handsome grid pattern. 

A pal of mine likes calendars, too, whispering like it might be a great shame she gets new calendars all year long when the old ones get messy.  Oh, I get it. 

Somewhere in this calendar buying, she also posted on Facebook a photo of a new notebook she bought, something to give her that last little push to finish the semester and the year with success.  So, I had to check those out, too.  

They are Decomposition notebooks, made completely with recycled materials, which I often eschew because I don’t like the paper.  But these are great.  The size and shape of traditional composition books, they have wonderful covers and inside illustrations, and I bought several, to end my year right and organize me, too.

When they arrived I felt like John Boy on Christmas Eve with his stack of Big Chief tablets.  This friend of mine is cool, but she is starting to cost me money.  I admit I am “other directed,” a fancy term for being a follower, all shallow and insecure.   But right this minute, I am organized and creative, and too cool to hang around here much longer. And tall, don’t forget tall.