The Key to Happy Holidays? Selective Amnesia.
December 21st, 2015
Recently, I wrote about some of the activities and traditions that make the holidays merry and bright for my family, but I forgot one important piece of advice: choose your memories carefully.
The other night, I was looking at pictures I took a few weeks ago during an afternoon of raking leaves with the kids. They were luminous, radiant pictures. Dozens of them. I got a little carried away by the beauty of the afternoon light and the way the leaves blurred in the background behind the sharp images of the kids’ exuberant jumps.
The pictures reflect my memories of that afternoon – big smiles, floating golden leaves.
In reality, of course, it was more complicated. The leaves were actually a bit damp and somewhat paltry; we had to glean from a pretty big swath of yard to make a decent pile. The toddler stepped in dog poop. The big kids bickered over whose turn it was to use the rake, whose turn it was to jump first, whose turn it was to breathe, and a hundred other points of contention so ridiculous they could only be conceived by siblings.
But by the time it got dark and we tromped back inside, the feelings that lingered were happiness and laughter.
Ditto for decorating our Christmas tree. Let me tell you that decking your halls with the help of three small elves is not a task for the faint of heart. My oldest insisted on helping string the lights, which meant that they wound up desperately tangled in the lower branches of the tree as she dutifully followed me around and around. The two-year-old was mesmerized by the ornaments and proceeded to remove them all and pile them in her lap. Meanwhile my son was engaged in a ferocious battle with a large stuffed reindeer named Edgar with a zeal that endangered every item of décor in the room.
In the midst of the crazy, however, there was so much fun. We have zillions of funky ornaments that tell the story of our family and my kids love to ask where each wacky tree addition originated. There’s the winged turtle my mom gave me in college and the little stuffed bear in the Santa hat my husband has had since childhood. There’s a pair of crystal bells that were a wedding gift, hanging next to a counted cross-stitch violin I made in high school. There are ornaments celebrating the birth of each of our kids and an increasing cohort of decorations emblazoned with handprints and covered in glitter.
We unpacked the ornaments one-by-one and added them to the tree, then arranged ourselves in front in our matching reindeer jammies for the obligatory family photo. And sure, the tree is asymmetrical because the toddler hung all of her ornaments on the same branch. And a small skirmish broke out over who would hang the final ornament. But as far as I’m concerned, the day was perfect.
It’s not that I actually expunge the bumps in the road from our collective memories. I don’t think that’s possible or healthy. But they don’t get to be the focal point of my remembrance. Like the background in the pictures I take, the setbacks and grumpy moments are blurred and out of focus in my memories. The important parts are crystal clear.