Friday, December 6, 2013

Unrealistic Expectations and Perfect Beauty - Lessons from the Tree

December with a five-year-old is a December of Magic. It's only Dec 6, and already my heart is full of undeserved Christmas riches and hands are full of words that must be set down on a page. But first, lessons I learned from my Christmas tree.

December 1st - Finding the (im)perfect tree

I walk amongst the evergreens at the tree farm, grimacing wistfully at the prices of the tall, full, beautiful trees standing in neat rows. I sigh and turn for the back of the lot where the bargain trees are kept. On the end of the back row is a noble fir about my height with several bare places. The branches show signs of recent vigorous pruning, ending in blunt white tips, instead of smaller fir needles. I head back to the taller noble firs, look again at a price tag that still hasn't changed, sigh, and head back to the little tree on the end in the back.

As I stand examining the asymmetry of the tree, my husband remarks casually, "You know, a real Christmas tree should be at least somewhat authentically imperfect..."

God bless that man. 

We choose the less expensive (and naturally imperfect) tree. Jane was delighted, and I quickly warmed to the thought of a smaller, authentically imperfect tree.

Jane already has a present from Tete Tanya even before we get our tree.

Home from choosing a tree, Jane begs Steve to put up lights outside. With only a few moments of daylight left hanging on the horizon, Steve and Jane decorate the little palms in front of the house. (And yes, for anyone not in Southern California, as long as the sun hasn't gone down here in the desert, we can put up Christmas lights in shorts. Wrong on sooo many levels, I know.) 

While Steve and Jane are working on the lights, I have a moment to look at our tree again, and smile. I'm very happy with our choice, and wonder what kind of tree I had envisioned before we chose this one. "I dunno," I say to myself, "maybe a smaller version of... the White House Christmas tree standing somewhere in my living room?" I laugh, knowing we have no room for a large tree, and that any evergreen that smells like Christmas would serve the purpose. Why would I spend time looking at trees, entertaining unrealistic expectations, even for a moment?  

Then I realized with groaning admission that I have unrealistic expectations in other corners of my brain, concerning, for example, the time required to complete an given task, the willingness of my daughter to be corrected, the potential of perennially clean hardwood floors and a tidy house, and of course, looking as young as I think I should, etc. 

Or, even better, dealing with THAT guy. We all have that one person we have to endure, who seems to have been put on this earth to make us better people. No amount of wishing that person were different will make it so, just like no amount of kibbles fed to a bear will make it a golden retriever. It will always maul you if you try to pet it. It's a bear. That's simply the way they are. 

Realistic expectations. 

I could do a lot to keep my disappointments and frustrations to a minimum by really checking my expectations. So, I know that going to any retail location between Thanksgiving and Christmas will take twice to three times as long because of crowds and traffic, and there will be a long line of impatient people. Thus, I can prepare in advance to meet this scenario, and come armed with either a Kindle to bury my nose in, or I can bring printed copies of my favorite carols to pass out to others waiting in line with me. Perhaps they like to sing. (Yes, I'll take pics if I do this. The idea's sounding better all the time.)

In addition to maintaining realistic expectations, my tree reminded me that natural imperfect beauty is... beautiful.  At a time when our society seems to prize perfect beauty, and the old and imperfect need not apply, it's good to embrace the very natural with all its imperfections. I know this is something I want Jane to do, and she takes her cues from me. 

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