One of the things I’ve learned as a mom is that things don’t always turn out like we plan. We spend tons of energy organizing parties, holiday gatherings and our day- to-day lives, but the visions on the store-bought cards, and the ones in our dreams, do not always match reality.
Having mothered for 30 years, I realize the secret of joy during the holidays and life in general lies in surrendering to the beauty found in authentic chaos.
Peace can be found. It’s buried under the stress and the mess, but it’s there, and it comes out in unexpected places.
The elaborate wrappings and twinkling lights of Christmas past are all pretty much a blur. I don’t really remember the presents or the elaborate feasts. What I do remember, what sticks in my heart, are the crazy, funny moments.
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We’ve had a Connelly tradition of making our own Christmas cards every year. Every December I corral my rowdy, Irish children around our long, rustic table and we become an assembly line – drawing, signing, folding, licking stamps. Everyone has a job.
A few years ago, when our youngest, Veronica, was a baby, I decided to make our own family nativity scene for our Christmas card.
What could possibly be difficult about getting nine little kids to hold still and create a nativity scene? I put them all in outfits, and pulled out my camera.
Catherine was 18 and made a perfect Mary. Fortunately, she had passed out of her goth stage and was willing to be in the picture (sort of).
Joseph was 16. Guess who he was year after year?
John Francis, 11, was a somber shepherd boy. He found he could use the hook on his staff to round up Thomas, 7, who was aptly a wise guy. Justin 5, and Peter, 3, completed the picture of three, overly regal kings.
Luke, at age 2, with his brilliant, twinkly smile had to be the shiny star. And Veronica, the baby, was “the baby.”
Last but not least was James, age 9, who was chosen to be the angel. (We find this in and of itself to be very humorous.) James dutifully climbed the tree in his white sheet and angel wings, but somehow his legs got entangled. In the photo it looks like he lost them.
The idea was for him to gracefully float above this silent, peaceful, holy night.
All was set. I managed to get in a couple of pictures before the branch holding James broke. My angel plummeted right into our makeshift manger, almost killing “baby Jesus.”
Fortunately, no one was too injured. To this day the look on James’ face as he begins to fall is priceless.
Looking back at these crazy, homemade cards, I see the off-centered placement, crooked lines, barely legible signatures and wonder: “Did we really send these?”
I can’t help but love them and the memories they bring back. The card’s imperfections are somehow perfect. I realize that, like those homemade cards, families are not always perfect, but are somehow perfected by their lack of perfection.
Aren’t we all a hodgepodge of love, taped together and slightly off-center?
It is said, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” As a weathered mama, I disagree. Love means always saying you’re sorry and beginning anew – embracing each other’s wounded, rustic, imperfect hearts over and over again.
It’s like that very real Christmas, 2,000 years ago, the one that lived and breathed in Bethlehem.
No room in the inn. Really? Only a smelly barn? A homeless, teenage, pregnant girl riding on a donkey in labor? No beautiful layette and crib? Just old sheets and an animal trough? But in that rustic, imperfect, messy world, love, light and a true family were born.
And no angels fell into the crib.
Angela Connelly of Tacoma is president of the Washington Women’s Network. She is one of six reader columnists who write weekly for this page. Reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org