Imperfect Christmas

It was the twelfth day of Christmas. I knew we’d be taking our tree down that day or the next, so it was bittersweet to bask in its glow early in the morning, before anyone else was awake. I hadn’t turned on any other lights in the house and was struck by the beauty of the big, colored bulbs punctuating the darkness.

That I would find these colored lights so beautiful was, perhaps, a marvel in itself. I was raised on white lights, and while there are numerous ways—as my mother would be quick to point out—that I have strayed from my raising, I continue to love white lights, shining like snow and starlight on the tree. Making the leap to white twinkling lights a few years ago was bold for me.

But as I stared wistfully at our colorful tree, I also noticed that we’d apparently left a big hole in the middle of it, where the lights were unevenly distributed, leaving a dark spot. We hadn’t noticed it in a month of having our tree just feet away from where we ate every meal, so obviously it wasn’t that noticeable if other lights were on, but there in the dark it stood out.

Still smiling, I recalled the mantra of Myquillyn Smith, AKA The Nester: “It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful,” she always says.

That applies to so many things, I thought. The hole in the lights. The fact that we had colored lights to begin with, due to an Amazon shipping delay (I know–what?!). Our new house, so pretty and cozy but maligned with the random frustrations of homeownership. Our Christmas break overall…

During our holidays, we endured several bouts of bad sibling fights and preteen angst and the resulting maternal tears. One of those was on Christmas Day itself. My despair in those moments was significant. And yet, as I returned to work, I looked back on the time with contentment. We played games and did puzzles. We went roller skating and to the movies. We slept in and stayed up late. We went to parties and enjoyed the company of friends old and new.

It wasn’t perfect, but it was . . . overall . . . beautiful.

As an Enneagram One, someone who strives for perfection (his or her own definition of perfection, that is) I would do well to apply this home décor motto not just to holidays, and houses, and family relations, but to myself. Those parenting struggles cause me such pain because I feel like a failure, like I’m so far from the parent I want to be. A friend once diagnosed me (she’s good at that) by saying, “I think your life is just five degrees off from where you want it to be. And that drives you crazy.” Nothing could have been more correct (except maybe the number of degrees, depending on the day!)

I’m not a perfectionist about the tidiness of my house (as my mother, once again, would be quick to point out), the stylishness of my decorations, Lord-knows my cooking, or myriad other things. About those things, I can easily affirm, It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. But could I look at myself and claim the same thing? I’m not so gracious with myself when it comes to my own striving to be “good enough” as a parent, at my job, to be calm and kind, to live ethically and choose the good. . . . Could I call my efforts beautiful? It would be hard, but perhaps it is possible.

Perhaps you too need to look at yourself—your parenting, your house, your body, your work, whatever it is you wish were different, better, closer to “perfect”—and try to say, “I don’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.”

And then, try to believe it.

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