Yes, this is a post about Christmas. Yes, it is nearly mid-April. But between the five kids, the new house, a rat infestation (more to come on that little gem later) and just general, overwhelming anxiety about life/blogging/etc, four months late is the best I can do. Deal with it.
This time last year I was running so obsessively that I thought doing a quick four miler in a torrential downpour after work would be a fantastic idea. The result of simultaneously attempting to jump puddles while keeping my iphone dry? An ankle injury that forced me to back out of the half marathon that I had been training for so I could rest and heal over the course of 3-4 months.
The upside of this was that I now had plenty of time to give yoga a try, something I had been interested in for a while but which didn’t fit into my running schedule. I tried a few studios and eventually settled in at The Body Electric in St. Pete. Now, I don’t consider myself the yoga “type.” I’m pretty conservative politically, I’m not sure if pot should be legalized, and I’m only vegan when I’m not drinking (it’s a little lifestyle plan I’ve cooked up that I like to call “The Sober Vegan.” Basically, a glass of alcohol in my hand = cheeseburgers and bacon. So far I’m pleased with the results). I don’t go for a lot of the yoga spirituality – I am not a mountain, and I am certainly, unequivocally, NOT a lotus flower. But I have found that, over the course of the past year, yoga has changed my thinking and my approach to certain situations. Without really noticing it, I find that lessons I learn on the mat carry over into my real life – the most significant of these being the ability to “let go.”
At the end of each yoga session, when you are hot and sweaty and you swear your heart is going to pound right out of your chest, you take rest in savasana, or Dead Man’s Pose. This is exactly like what it sounds: you lay on your mat, supine, arms and legs spread and relaxed, and you attempt to release it all – the sweat rolling into your eyeballs, the frustration at poses you couldn’t get into, the churning in your lower abdomen that sounds suspiciously like the birth pangs of a fart. For those delicious moments your entire being should be focused on, as my instructor says, “letting that shit go.” And she talks to us about what a tremendous skill that is, to stop in the middle of a heart-pounding, adrenaline-inducing, emotionally-charged moment and release that energy, as they say, “into the universe,” and calm yourself. This past Christmas I put that skill to the test.
Some of you may remember that decorating our tree last year sucked balls. That’s putting it mildly. If you were fortunate enough to have missed all the nitty-gritty details, fear not. I’ll do a quick re-cap for you here. Christmas tree decorating 2012 was, as they say, a shitfest. If a formed stool had diarrhea, that would have been our tree trimming experience. It was a complete and total debacle, and, to be quite frank, I’m shocked that we made it out of that holiday season with five living children.
The fragile foundation upon which my expectations of a night filled with carols, cookies, and laughter sat began to crumble shortly after we returned home from purchasing our Christmas tree. Apparently my husband is under the comically quaint notion that a single strand of 100-count lights is completely sufficient for a 6-foot tree. Time has taught me that this magical thinking afflicts all straight men who are not interior designers and/or blind. Seeing the white-hot rage simmering in my eyes like some yuletide cauldron, The Dude wisely agreed to head out into the balmy 75 degree night air to purchase more lights. This left me at home with five extremely excited, antsy children who were anxious to decorate the tree. Of course that was an impossibility, because, as all Type A tree trimmers know, The Lights Must Go On First. So I did my best to keep them entertained/prevent them from being on the business end of infanticide until The Dude returned home an hour later with yet another SINGLE STRAND of 100-count lights.
I did my best – I honestly did – to conceal the fact that my rage had just gone from “simmer” to “boil” by putting on my Mommy Dearest face and quasi-Satanic monotone voice. And just as I was saying something completely insincere like, “Oh, that’s okay. I’m sure there’s a light shortage at all the area Targets, Wal-Marts, and Walgreens. No, no, don’t worry about it. The 200 lights will really light up the bottom 1/3 of the tree,” I heard a crunch, and then tears. The five children who had been waiting patiently so their anal-retentive mother could have the tree done her way had resorted to jumping on the couch, on each other, on their ornaments. Two precious, irreplaceable ornaments, smashed to bits + one homely-looking ill-lit tree + bunches of shattered expectations = a full-blown maternal meltdown during which I’m pretty sure the statement “Santa’s not coming this year, kids!” was uttered at least once. I’m not proud of it, folks.
I’ll spare you the details of what happened next, but suffice it to say that the night ended with child #1 yelling at yours truly (surprising us both) and this Mother of The Year crying on the driveway and moaning something absurd about “ruined Christmases.” It was one of my finest moments, to be sure.
So this past Christmas I resolved that things would be different. This year I stayed at home with numbers 4 and 5 while The Dude took the older three to pick out our tree at someplace decidedly less festive – Wal-Mart. I let the kids put the ornaments on the tree, even though it meant the bottom 1/2 was overloaded, and, due to the presence of an enormous green wreath made of rice and – based on the sheer weight – cement, with my daughter’s picture in the middle, had a decided tilt to the right. I didn’t even get upset that the lights – while sufficient in number – weren’t the right color (apparently most straight men also don’t realize that there is a vast difference between “soft white” and “icicle white.” Sigh.) or that they were blinking on different cycles. Okay. I did make one teensy, tiny comment about having a Vegas strip in our living room, but that was it. And, most importantly, I didn’t sneak back downstairs after everyone was asleep to re-arrange the ornaments into a more Martha Stewart style. I was proud of myself. Maybe I had changed. Maybe I could let go of things. Maybe I had actually managed to shed last year’s skin and a be one of those calm, relaxed mothers.
Until two days later and our tree fell. Not just tipped forward or scooted off balance. Like epically, face-first, go-home-Christmas-tree-you’re-drunk fell. And underneath those branches were the remainder of my precious, irreplaceable ornaments – all smashed to bits.
So I cried. I cried and cried and cried. Like, for days. I realize this may seem ridiculous to some, maybe even most, of my valued readers. But when 15 years of treasured Christmas memories are literal smithereens in your dustpan, it’s a bitter pill to swallow.
At first I felt foolish for being so sad – for walking into the living room and lovingly removing yet another mangled chard from the tree, for sniffing a little bit as I threw one more memory in the trash. And then I remembered an incident from my own childhood, where I accidentally broke a crystal platter that had been a wedding gift to my mother. I remembered her crying and crying, and not understanding why she would be so upset over a piece of glass. Now I understood. I understood why “just things” can sometimes be more than that – I understood why certain pieces of glass, or wood, or green spray-painted rice wreaths take on significance beyond the materials of which they are made. They become receptacles of memories, tangible reminders of where we have been, of what we used to be. And it’s okay to be sad at their destruction. It’s okay to wish they were still intact. It’s okay to admit that these “just things” had value and importance. But it’s also okay, indeed essential, to – like my mother did as she swept up the fragments of her wedding platter, and as I did with each ornament I tossed in the can – let go. Savasana. To truly and entirely let go of loss and pain and ruined memories and imperfection and struggle. To sigh and breathe in, breathe out all of your personal failures – the stressful holidays, the fights with your spouse or children on days that are supposed to be idyllic. Because, in this world, there is no perfection. There is no storybook Christmas, or birthday, or any holiday for that matter – because we are not perfect. We are impatient and rude and anal and overbearing and controlling. We are all very like my ornaments – fragile, temporary, weak. And that is why, especially for me, it is important to let go. To recognize that life is going to be full of insufficiently-lit trees and smashed ornaments and garish, ridiculously heavy wreaths made of rice. And that’s okay.
*I would like it noted, however, that this “letting go” is very much a work in progress. I’m getting better at it, little by little – but don’t expect me to be all calm and shit.