When I was a kid, I looked forward to Christmas.
This didn’t make me different from millions of kids worldwide; however, my reasons were slightly different than most of my peers. What I looked forward to most were the images of perfection via mainly TV specials, magazines and the occasional “perfect” family that I encountered. Perhaps it had something to do with the chaos of my home life, but I found these images soothing.
While I seldom celebrated Christmas as an adult (so much so that most years I didn’t even bother to put up a tree), all that changed once I had kids.
Suddenly, I became obsessed with re-creating those images of perfection. On the eve of my daughter’s first Christmas, I actually wrapped and re-wrapped two of her gifts because the wrapping paper and ribbon looked “off.” Rather than go to bed, I stayed up until well past one a.m. cleaning the house so it would look perfect for the next day.
While I knew she would not remember this particular Christmas, I told myself that one day she would look back at the photos and at least appreciate how much care I put into the tree, presents and all the other trimmings.
The second Christmas was much like the first, as well as the third and the fourth. However, last year was different. I noticed for the first time that she didn’t care about the wrapping paper, her favorite toys weren’t the artisanal ones that I liked, and within 10 mins, my living room went from looking pristine to looking like a cyclone hit it.
However, she was happy—and so was I, by extension of seeing her so exuberant.
As she smooshed the Play-Doh she received from her father into the top of the coffee table, it hit me: Our lives are not perfect the other 364 days of the year, so why should today be any different?
In fact, most of the time I pride myself on my slightly eccentric life. I make it a point to say that I am not perfect in any way or try to present my life as something it is not.
Why was I trying so hard to create the perfect Christmas?
I suppose if I am being honest, a large part of it was out of longing—not just the longing for what I never had growing up as a child, but also the longing to be the sort of parent I wanted to be. Namely, I wanted to be the sort of parent who always had time for her kids, who never got bored doing the normal parenting duties and who, heaven forbid, never got bored playing Barbies for the 20th time in a day or found her mind wandering during a school function.
In other words, I wanted to make up for the failings I saw within myself by giving them perfection—if only for one day. In my mind, that perfect day would make up for everything, real or imagined, that I failed to deliver the rest of the year.
However, the truth is, even if I could deliver the perfect Christmas, it wouldn’t give me a pass for everything else. Christmas, like any other holiday or special event like birthdays, is only one day out of an entire year. While I would be the last person to deny the magic of that day—especially for a child—it is still only a small blip of time.
The undue stress I put on myself was not helping me or my daughter, who could pick up on the fact that I was stressed.
Therefore, starting this year, I vowed that my Christmases would start to resemble my reality. Yes, I decorated, I put up a tree and I probably bought my kids more gifts than they need, but I am not aiming for the picture-perfect Christmas anymore. I don’t have an agenda for that day except to enjoy it.
It’s a pretty safe bet that I will take a ton of pictures, but unlike previous years they will reflect reality, and not the false perfection I previously sought. Therefore, if my pictures show a messy home and a tired me in pajamas, then so be it.
Perhaps it won’t look that great on social media, but so long as we are all happy, that is all that really matters.
Author: Kimberly Lo
Editor: Toby Israel
Photo: James Vaughan/Flickr