The day after Thanksgiving, my friend Lela, whom I love and who I think loves me back, talked me into joining her for a sadomasochistic form of torture known as Body Pump, followed by 45 minutes of spinning, an activity I had theretofore managed to avoid entirely.
I went with her because she asked me, because we are friends, because we hadn’t seen each other in a while. Also, we are old, and the upkeep program is changing. Once upon a time we went to step class to look better in our Guess ankle-zip jeans. Now it’s about preventing heart attacks and bone loss. The whole thing is very, very messy.
So I hung in and logged 90 minutes of frenetic, health-oriented virtue. It wasn’t entirely unenjoyable because I was with people I like and who, I think, like me back, even when I’m out of sync and trying not to drop the weight on my toe because I might accidentally say motherfucker in public. I felt very pleased to make it all the way through, start to finish, without injury or outburst. We were all glowing cheeks and glistening smiles as we got in our cars.
Since it was my first exercise class since 1992 (no, not making that up), I came home to find stairs problematic, and I actually did say motherfucker, out loud, in front of my children. And then I did what any sensible, self-respecting Southern woman would do: I spent the remainder of the day in bed with a book. Also, a nice Côtes du Rhône. Also, Advil. I did not decorate, or bake sugar cookies or get a tree. I did not even do laundry. It was the picture-perfect first Christmas-season weekend. On opposite day.
And we all survived, all of us – even yours truly, with her Type-A holiday to-do list. I think it’s because of my therapy group; I’ll tell you about them.
A number of years ago I abandoned the Church of the New York Times in favor of the Church of Teaching Sunday School to 6-9 Year-Olds, where we discuss Why We are Here and What It’s All About, not because that is the curriculum but because those things are very much on 6-9 year-old minds.
Children this age still believe in magic and miracles, but they also have very specific questions. Like whether or not Jesus had an Elf on the Shelf who reported back to Santa, who might also perhaps have been God, who kept the ultimate ‘nice’ and ‘naughty’ list.
They want to know more about why Mary and Joseph weren’t married, and why Jesus didn’t get grounded for being very disobedient to the old people when he was 12 and preaching in the temple, because when we go upstairs to church with our parents we aren’t supposed to make noise or talk or be disrespectful because God is watching us, and we are supposed to behave so we don’t end up on the naughty list without Christmas presents or a go-to-heaven card.
Also, they want to know whether Israel is on the African or Asian continent, which I may possibly have had to look up.
I adore these young friends. I wish I’d gotten to know them before my own children were this age, back when Christmas was good behavior season because Christmas was supposed to be perfect, and everyone was supposed to be perfectly well-mannered – children and parents alike, and all the decorations were supposed to be up and sparkly on the first Sunday in Advent, with a homemade wreath to boot, and no one was supposed to ignore chores or say motherfucker, because baby Jesus and that damned Elf on the Shelf were both watching.
What my young, elementary school-aged sages would say to you, what they’ve said to me, is that no one is perfect, not even Jesus. They’d tell you that’s the point, actually, that no one is perfect. They’d tell you that being kind is important. They’d also say it feels pretty good to be forgiven, especially after you poke your brother and write the word ‘butt’ on his drawing.
I know they are right, these little prophets, because it felt pretty good to be forgiven by my children for the hundred or more inappropriate things I did the weekend after Thanksgiving, the first weekend of Advent. It felt pretty good not to have to be perfect.
I would tell you they’ve given me a wonderful gift, this beginning-reader therapy group; but you know that isn’t exactly the case. Letting go of perfect is a gift only you can give yourself. Other people can show you the way, plant the seed; but only you can sanction the change.
Whether you just lit the last candle on the menorah, the third candle on your Advent wreath or the soy candle in preparation for the solstice, maybe this is the year to consider what it’s time to let go of. Perhaps more than hand cream or hoverboards or jigsaw puzzles or a year’s worth of family game night, permission to be imperfect is exactly the present you need, a gift only you can give, and receive.