The kids and I put up our Christmas tree last night.
It's not the seven and a half foot tall, lush and well lit, sprinkled with "snow" tree that typically adorns my living room. It's not decorated with the expensive Macy's ornaments that my extended family purchased for me year after year (despite me telling them that I don't collect ornaments). Long gone are the "our first Christmas ornaments" that my ex and I got and far away are the hopes and dreams that went with them. It doesn't even have the ornaments on it that I helped my daughter make for her daddy the first three years of her life. It also doesn't have the snowflake on top that the man-that-came-after-my ex and I bought on our first Christmas together.
Nope, this tree is barely four feet tall, fairly sparse in branches, has sporadically placed lights, and the ugliest ornaments that you have ever seen because I set the kids loose in the dollar section of the store with five dollars each and told them to "have at it" and the rest of the ornaments we made ourselves.
I love it.
I've faced a lot since my ex left and for a long time I just pushed through one experience after another, willing myself to face the past and walk through the pain. As I explained in the post "That Post Where I Show You My Ex," it was important to me to stare painful memories in the face of their ugliness and prove to myself that I could not only accept them for what they were, but move beyond them. I needed to revisit those memories, the memories of my pain and my failures and replace them with new memories of my strength and perseverance.
That never happened with my Christmas tree. The first year my ex was gone I didn't even want to pull it down from the attic.
You see there is nothing that a person with a childhood like mine wants more than a Hallmark movie holiday. Sure, I get it, it's probably not realistic, but I wanted it. I wanted it so bad that it hurt. I would spend hours researching the local holiday events; events that we never made it to. Every year I would put on Christmas music, make hot chocolate, pop popcorn, and wait for my husband to get home so we could decorate the tree. Some years, he simply never came home and on the years that he did, well let's just say that it never turned out like I had imagined. In fact the last year he was here, my dreams of a "Hallmark style tree decking" ended when he threw the popcorn bowl (with the popcorn still in it), at me before storming out of the house while screaming "this is why I don't come home to you" simply because I wanted to put Christmas music on. He left me in a pile of tears and hurt feelings while I joined him in berating myself for ruining another holiday.
Year after year I tried, and year after year I was left with nothing more than broken dreams and the sting of failure.
I have a very distinctive memory of sitting in the living room one night while I was nursing my daughter when she was just shy of six months old. It was probably 1 AM and all the lights in the house were off except for the glow that was cast about the room from the Christmas tree lights. I remember looking at the face of my daughter as she nestled into me and just feeling like I was the luckiest mother on the face of the earth. As I looked up my gaze settled on the tree, glistening just right in an eerie calm light. Snow was falling outside, the house was warm, the tree was beautiful, I had my baby sleeping in my arms, and I just remember thinking "everything is so perfect and yet my heart is so heavy with despair." You see while everything appeared perfect, it wasn't. I was home alone while the atmosphere dumped two feet of snow on us, my infant daughter was in my arms, and my husband was with another woman.
Tears rolled down my cheeks and before I knew it they were stirring my daughter awake as they landed on her tiny little head. I carried her back to her crib, laid her down, and then curled up in my bed to sob.
Many nights were spent looking at that tree, unable to sleep, and wondering where my husband was. A tree that looked perfect enough to trick the mind into believing that all was calm, all was right, but under it's branches I knew how deep the roots of my despair were anchored into my heart.
|Mommy and the Girl Child spending Christmas Eve alone. Hallmark pictures from a broken family|
The year after my ex left, the thought of having to look at all the holiday decorations, the one thing that I had yet to filter my ex's stuff out of, just seemed like such a monumental task. The man-that-came-after-my-ex had the perfect solution to that. While I wasn't home he got the tree out and redecorated the entire thing, new ornaments and all. When I arrived home he proudly presented "our tree" to me, complete with a Buzz Lightyear ornament right in front, exclaiming that he loved me to infinity and beyond.
I do believe he misunderstood the meaning of "infinity."
So when last year rolled around, my first Christmas "alone," the thought of pulling the tree down and having to go through not only my ex's stuff, but also the items from the man-that-came-after-him, I just couldn't.
So I didn't.
We had no tree last year.
Since then I have promised myself all year that I would tackle the task and be ready for this holiday season. I've constantly reminded myself that I have done so much, come so far, and that I won't let a stupid thing like a Christmas tree hold back my progress in the healing department. I've reminded myself that if I could face my ex, disown my family, even take the kids to Disney World to conquer that pain, that it would be silly of me to let a damn tree hold me back.
Yet here we are, in December, and I have yet to be able to even fathom facing the Christmas tree.
So, I'm not going to.
I'm ok with that.
You see the thing about healing is that you don't have to do it all at once. Healing is a process and it moves at different speeds. This is one thing that I'm not ready to tackle yet and that is ok. The key to successful healing is not that you must "do it all at once," but rather that you keep moving in the right direction. I have made so much progress over the last two years, dealt with so many things, and part of what I'm learning is that learning to heal means giving yourself the time and space to do it in the way that is the most beneficial to you.
I've tried many times to face this tree and I'm finally realizing that maybe facing it is not what I need. I don't need to "conquer" everything. I needed to conquer a lot of things, but maybe some things I just need to let go of. Maybe healing for me in this instance is not to make a situation better, but to realize that I need to let go of it completely.
Maybe this tree is very much like my family, I just need to let it go. I'm donating my beautiful-but-eternally-painful tree to another woman in need and I'm replacing it with a tiny, under-lit, ridiculously short, oddly decorated, and might-actually-fall-over tree that I love.
I will never have a Hallmark holiday. I realize now that in the real world, they don't exist. Things are bound to go wrong, plans change, kids are crabby, people get sick, snow falls at inconvenient times, husbands don't always come home, and I can't control everything. I can't, I just simply can't. But what I can control, what is in my power, is to control is to be fluid in my acceptance of perfection.
This Christmas will be different because for once I'm not looking through binoculars at the island of perfection, I'm choosing to be happy in this place called the present.
You know why? Because this tree, very much like my life in many ways, was not what I wanted. It's not what I had in mind, it's not what I dreamt of, it's not what I expected to see in my life when I looked around at 31 years old.
But it's mine and I love it.
This tree isn't what I thought I wanted, but it's everything I needed. It's the healing of our family, it's the new beginnings that I've been working towards. It's the happiness of my children and the start of something fresh.
It was only when I let go of an ideal that I was clinging to so tightly was I actually able to embrace what I really needed, the beauty of my reality.
It's not the the perfection that I had in mind, but it's the joy that I never could have dreamed of.
Oftentimes in life we have our sights set on the island of perfection; the perfect proposal, the perfect wedding, the perfect holiday, the perfect home, the perfect vacation, and we set the bar so high that anything less than perfect just feels like a failure to us.
Life isn't perfect. Life is a messy confusion of uncontrollable events that at best we can string together into a lifetime of happy memories.
How you make those memories are up to you.
We can go through life constantly unhappy with the failures of our perfection, but at the end of our time we will look back and see nothing more than failed expectations and a wasted life. If we learn to love the beauty that is in our present we are setting the stage for a life filled with joy.
The beauty of the tree is in the eye of the beholder. Perfection is nothing more than an ideal, but reality is what our memories are made of.
Let go of your expectations and choose to make your memories from the beauty of your present, because the present is where you are, and perfection may never come.