Thursday, December 4, 2008

Twelve Gifts: #3 PARTICIPATION (requiring of course a letting-go of perfectionism)

One Christmas – when I was very little – my mom let me help her with all the holiday preparations. I don't know whether we were especially strapped for cash that year (children are rarely aware of things like that) but it was a year when Mom decided to make EVERYTHING...from the gifts we gave to the paper we wrapped them in. I spent that December merrily dipping potato stars in tempera paint and stamping them on rolls of kraft paper, hammering away at chunks of broken candy canes under layers of grocery sacks, drizzling chocolate all over the kitchen and myself, and taping paper around secret surprises. This was kid heaven!

What I know now that I didn't fully appreciate at the time was that my mother was a consummate perfectionist. She liked everything neatly sorted and labeled, pristine, organized, clean. (People who know me must be laughing right now...I clearly did not inherit that gene.) She liked beds tucked tightly with hospital corners – and packages wrapped even tighter, with just the right amount of tape, neatly placed. She liked carols sung in four parts, right on pitch. She liked our bedrooms neat and tidy, with our clothes sorted by size and season. I'm telling you, Mary Poppins had nothing on her!

It must have been sheer agony for her to watch me wrestle with a crumpled mass of paper and hold it down clumsily while tearing off a twisted piece of tape. But she let me do it anyway. I'm sure the potato-print wrapping paper was messy and the candy cane pieces were not uniform. The turtles got blanketed in too much or too little chocolate. But I was having the time of my life! Best Christmas ever!

The one task she never relinquished was the tree – that was hers alone. She insisted on a blue spruce. She wound big colored lights tightly around the trunk. Then placed a whimsical assortment of holiday TOYS on every branch. No balls, no ornaments, no tinsel or frills – just toys – carved, painted wooden ones, old-fashioned wind-up ones, stuffed animals and dolls, all hand-selected, sorted by size, and balanced proportionally on sturdy evergreen boughs. It was a favorite tradition. And so very her...Fun. Not fancy. Fastidious. Yet somehow fabulous.

When I grew up and had my own house I didn't even TRY to imitate that treeful of toys, but I did employ my own brand of perfectionism. The designer in me did a different-themed tree every year or two, including an edible tree made entirely of cut and baked gingerbread cookies tied on with colored ribbon, a Mexican one with brightly colored handmade straw ornaments from south-of-the-border, etc. Some were better than others. The fait accomplix was the year I dried my own hydrangeas and hunted down miniature, ornament-sized pears, apples and eggplants from and Armenian market and wired them to the tree, with excelsior for tinsel. I LOVED it. The kids hated it. They literally groaned when I said I was going to do it again the next year.

So when we moved here a few years ago, I gave my children a gift. I let the tree go. I relinquished my designer pride and let the children do the decorating. They put up all the mis-matched ornaments wherever they wanted. With bronzed mistletoe right next to a clay one hand-shaped by a kindergartener. When they were finished they all declared it the most beautiful tree we've ever had. Because they participated in its creation.

Lesson learned. This year our nine-year-old has decorated the tree all by himself. It's been a three-day project, putting up a handful of ornaments before school each morning, and a few more before bed each night. Today I tried to move one that was crowding the one next to it, and he said I was being OCD, and moved it right back again. So I stepped back. Christmas is a time to let EVERYBODY enjoy the process of doing. And this is his moment to shine.

15 comments:

Kazzy said...

I love that you tried all of those different themes. All of these things I am learning about you that I feel like I should have known!

I LOVE the kid-made ornaments. They are my faves. Congrats to your letting go, and to the Little Prince for his own style. See, you are raising artists of your own!

That Girl in Brazil said...

*clap clap clap clap clap*

The real reason for the season is love.

Why is it so hard to remember sometimes?!

breckster said...

Its true! I never realized how much work it was for my mother to allow us to "help" her. Reuben loves to help me bake, it adds hours. I let him help me decorate our table top tree, and he picked all the ugly ornaments to hang in the front, and there are 12 hanging where he can reach to look at them. I tried to move them and he cried.

This post made me realize that it is all worth it.

Melanie J said...

I am a hardcore haphazard tree girl myself and have been since I was a kid. I remember one year when we were super poor so my mom helped us make ornaments by gluiing (badly cut) construction paper circles on frozen orange juice lids and hanging them with a paper clip. Still have some, still use them. The crazy, mismatched trees are always my favorite and it makes me really happy if I get my way and get to buy the wonky Charlie Brown Christmas tree so it won't be lonely.

The Mom said...

I have my tree, which I do (and I did let one child "help" me this year), but we also have a family tree which my children do. They do the lights, the ornaments, everything. That way we are both happy! :)

Kimberly said...

I'm feeling all inspired suddenly!

Heather of the EO said...

Oh boy was this a gift to me. I get too uptight about how things are done. And Miles really does have tons of fun when I forget the mess and let him do things his way.

I love that I was reminded of that today, I needed it! :)

Heidi Ashworth said...

Beautiful post! I really admire you for being able to let go. The tree is "my thing". I really should be better about it. Maybe next year. (I'm not too optimistic)(boy, this sounds so serious--it must be because it's so darn late and I've really been asleep for about an hour already).

Brillig said...

HAHAHA. This whole post is so delightful.

I was blessed with a complete and total lack of design/decorating skills. I let my children decorate the tree. That way I can honestly say, "my five year old did this."

:-D

Mrs4444 said...

Definitely a gift :) So sweet. Okay, so SISTERS for sure: I don't even MAKE my bed! NOT SO SURE on the tree thing; I HATE decorating the tree. (Mostly, it's the lights.) Yesterday, we bought a 12-foot tree. We also bought four facecords of wood. So, after church and a birthday lunch, we'll be stacking wood and decorating the tree. Oh, and did I mention grades are due tomorrow? Pray for me!!!

Marivic_Little GrumpyAngel said...

When you described your Mom and how she liked things to be, I thought you described the inner me :-) But then as I read on, then I realized I am more like the YOU who let go! My husband and kids say they like our old fashioned tree laden with sentimental ornaments best of all, so I have long given up on "designer" trees. Sometimes I still feel like "editing" their work, and it takes all I have to step back, but I'm always glad I do :-)

Heidi Ashworth said...

Where's days 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8? Miss you!

Allison said...

Mr. Cool, I love you to bits.

Eowyn said...

I love thinking of your nine-year old decorating the tree.

I'm loving these posts Charette!

Luisa Perkins said...

I love this post.