We hosted my parents and brother for Thanksgiving dinner this year. When we sat down to eat, for some reason everyone looked to me to share words of gratitude. Exhausted by an already long day and fuming over a just-discovered grease stain on my new shirt, I sighed and said that clearly we all knew we had a lot to be thankful for, and so we really didn't need to make a big thing of and let the food get cold. Amen.
Lately I've been wading through a muck of various frustrations, stressors and grievances and feeling weighted by the darkness of shortening days. Even worse in this season of holiday meals, Christmas card photos, and both girls' birthdays, I find myself feeling entitled to perfection, though it consistently eludes me.
This sense of entitlement comes from my youth, when the golden hand of perfection seemed always to alight on me when I needed it most. My everyday was decidedly imperfect. I chewed my nails and could never tame my frizzy hair. No matter how good my outfit looked in my bedroom mirror, it generally turned on me as soon as I left the house, and the right thing to say or, often, anything to say escaped me in most situations. Yet my team always won the big game, my hair was always perfect for the dance and my admissions essay got me into my first choice college. I came to count on perfection at the opportune moment.
My gilded age came to an end in college. I no longer had a team, I came to realize that even for a big night I could only count on looking passable, and that the gleaming success promised by my first choice school never materialized. It was a nice run while it lasted, and I don't usually miss it too much.
There hasn't been a big game in nearly 20 years, and there's no big dance coming up, just a PTA bake sale. It's tough to feel too terrible about your outfit when you work in education; the fashion bar is set fairly low. I still bite my nails, but I've developed some minimal small talk to pull out as necessary and I've gotten a handle on my hair. Yet there are times, particularly around this season of celebration and preparation, that I feel I deserve an occasional glittery touch of that magic from my youth, that at the very least I should be spared that splotch of turkey grease on the only vaguely glamorous top I own.
But on Friday night, my moment of delayed gratitude came to me. As we ate a dinner of leftovers for my husband and me and nutritionally-bankrupt Scooby Doo mac and cheese for the girls, I felt it. There I sat with the boy I'd met when I still had frizzy hair and too short jeans and somehow we'd come to be grown-ups sitting in our wildly imperfect house with two full-fledged people that we'd made all by ourselves --people who, though they laughed with their mouths full and couldn't be convinced to wear pants to the table, will always be perfect to me, no matter anyone else's assessment. And I felt grateful to have made it there, even without the gilding.
This new attitude of acceptance and gratitude served me well the next day, when the perfection fairy clearly skipped our house on the morning of the big Christmas card photo shoot. It was, as you can see, perfectly typical.