In one of my alternate lives, probably the same one in which I work as a chef-instructor teaching underprivileged youth how to establish and cook with things grown from community gardens, my holidays are magical perfection.
The tree sparkles (our tree skirt has a burn-mark in it from the year one of the bulbs got caught between it and the last quilt my mother made for us)
The house is redolent of pine and cedar (ours smells a lot like furry critters, all but one of whom is either an adopted rescue or a stray who found us)
Decorations are carefully hand-crafted from home-loomed wooly bits and pine cones gathered from our yard (we still have a lot of the cheap ornaments we bought our first Christmas together, when we were flat broke and neither of us had so much as a string of lights)
The perfect gift waits, beautifully wrapped under that sparkling tree (I'm a terrible shopper, just ask my spouse who, one year, received a rubber Richard Nixon shower-head cover, and for whom I am STILL trying to finish crocheting a lumpy, uneven scarf. I also can't wrap worth a darn which means that it must be elves who come in during the night and put my askew bows to rights)
I send cards with pictures of my child beautifully posed, his hair combed neatly, his clothes matching (one year, we sent cards with a picture of him holding his shirt up to show us that he'd drawn a ginormous smiley face on his belly. With a green Sharpie.)
Plates of beautifully hand-crafted cookies decorate the table (every year, I make a recipe from CDs grandmother. She lived to the age of 102, and somehow I was the recipient of a recipe that has been handed down for multiple generations. Once the very soft, very sticky dough is mixed, it has to sit in the refrigerator for 2 weeks before I can carefully roll it out on her old cookie board, and cut them out with the even older baking soda tin that she used for all of the decades that she was the designated cookie maker. Every year, I kvetch throughout the process)
Everything in the world glows during this season in that alternate life (one more extension cord and all of the front-yard lights should be good)
But in this life? Well. It would seem that I am imperfect. My holiday visions fall flat, go awry, make me sad, tired, angry, and stressed out. What I want and what I end up with are never the same; the results never quite good enough. And now I wonder, for whom?
They're good enough for my spouse, whose holiday is complete when he tastes the first lebkuchen.
They're good enough for my son, who is happiest when we're cuddled up on the couch watching Christmas movies.
They're good enough for the pets, who have a warm home and plenty to eat.
They're good enough for the friends and family who ask only for a few quiet minutes together to reflect, to laugh, to be content in each other's company.
It seems that I'm the only one unhappy with this arrangement; the only one who can't see perfection in the imperfect, the only one who doesn't understand the concept of good enough.
This, I think, will be my gift to myself this year: the pursuit of imperfection, and a reminder that time spent together is well-spent even when the cookies are burned, the tree is leaning sideways, and there is fur in the corners of our warm and happy rooms.