I Wish You a Messy Christmas!

I won’t lie. I had done a fair amount of tidying and organizing in anticipation of the big family convergence at my home for Thanksgiving. Linens were washed, beds made, most of the groceries purchased. But there were still a couple of messy “zones” I really wanted to tackle before my guests arrived. (Don’t we all want people to believe our lives are more together than they really are?)

Both areas were littered with tools, paint, screws: all of the detritus left over after painting and decorating Ellie’s room. On one level, I didn’t mind seeing them, as they reminded me how much had been accomplished with this “Extreme Makeover.”

The emerald green and deep teal walls then-fifteen-year-old Ellie was so enamored of (like sleeping in an aquatic paradise–so right for my quicksilver swimmer), had unfortunately become so strongly associated with the eighteen months of trauma and complex grief surrounding her dad’s death, she was finding it almost impossible to sleep there.

But now, with the very capable help of my friend Rachel, everything that could be changed was. The walls were painted a light latte color, while a soothing dove gray coverlet and pillows graced her repositioned bed. A gift of tiny warm lights from my sister Anna lay tucked in a strand of paper flowers, while a swarm of small white butterflies perched on branches placed above her headboard.

I’m happy to say–just as we had hoped–our plan seems to have worked! Peaceful sleep has returned to my daughter’s room for the first time in four years. (Oh, why did I wait this long?!).

Like seeing the glasses and dirty plates dotting the living room after a good party reminds you of the festivities, so it has been with these piles of tools and stacks of paint cans waiting to be put away. But after days of telling myself I’d get to them “soon,” “soon” would quickly become “too late” if I didn’t act now.

My sister Pam and I rushed home from our second round of grocery shopping with only a few minutes left before my San Diego cousin and his family would arrive, ready to relax and settle in. So here I was, smack dab in the middle of both the mess I made and the responsibility to clean it up. Or at first glance, that’s how it seemed.

My Mama raised me to believe good hosts provide, above all, a clean, welcoming, restful environment for their guests. I thought I was doing just fine with filling this mandate in most areas; but there were still those two pesky piles that could definitely put a damper on my ability to convince myself I had the situation in hand.

Well, we practically threw the food into the fridge and cupboards (a close second in speed and style to Pike’s Place’s famous fish flingers!) I ran to the living room and grabbed the cans of paint that had taunted me every time I passed by and lugged them into the garage. (God bless those humble holding cells for all things junk!) Then I grabbed an empty box and dashed up the stairs to evict the large collection of equipment spread across the linen cupboard.

I couldn’t believe it! I was actually going to make it! But then, there it was: the sound of my cousin and his family at the front door, undoubtedly feeling so relieved to finally cross our threshold after their ten-hour drive.

So, like shutting down the power on a gigantic tilt-a-whirl, my pre-holiday mania came to a screeching halt. And in that moment, one of the hardest-won lessons of the seasons following Steve’s death came rushing back to mind: I could be the opposite of “put together” and my friends and family would still love me. My home (and life) could be utter chaos, and they would still love me. In fact, I could have absolutely nothing to offer, and I would still be deeply loved.

So I inhaled this truth, dropped my empty box, and ran downstairs to open the door to my family. We were all here, a circle of imperfect people in an imperfect home. In other words, things couldn’t have been better.