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Celebrating Imperfection

Sometimes, things don't happen like we wish they would, and we're all finding that out this holiday season. However, it's in those times of adaption and "imperfection" that we often find things that are even better. Here's a story I wrote several years ago.

I was four when I learned the true meaning of the holiday season. (For purposes of this discussion, “holiday season” is defined as that time between Thanksgiving and the New Year.)

It was Christmas Eve 1968. After returning from a gathering of extended family at my grandparents’ house, the “Haznaw 6” settled in at home for our annual family gift opening.

My sisters, Diane and Kathy, distributed the presents, as Mom and Dad sat in their respective easy chairs, my brother, Mark (the oldest) slouched on the couch, and I … well, I was likely running around like a hamster in search of a wheel. After all, I was four and it was Christmas Eve.

After all the gifts had been passed out, we were allowed to start. I, of course, decided to open the biggest gift first because that’s what you do when you’re a high-strung four-year-old who had downed a half-dozen too many Christmas cookies at Grandma’s house.

After tearing the red and green paper like a lion ripping the flesh from a newly captured gazelle, I saw my gift was a Playskool desk … just what I had hoped for. Santa rarely let me down. (Thanks Mom.)

“Oh boy!” I yelled … OK, that’s not what I said at all. I mean, I’m not sure what I said, but I’d be lying if I even hinted that it was “Oh boy!” since I don’t believe I’ve ever said, “Oh boy!” in my life. Anyway, let’s just say I was excited. I mean, this desk had everything: a magnetic side with colorful block letters to make words and messages, a chalkboard, and even a flip-up top for storing my stuff. (Not sure I really had any “stuff” at that point in my life, but I was determined to get some. After all, you can’t have a flip-top desk and not have stuff to put in it.)

But the greatest feature was the green plastic swivel seat. I couldn’t wait to open that thing and start “desking” and “swiveling.” Unfortunately, just as I started to pry open the box, I lost my balance, falling smack in the middle of it. It was then I heard the crack, not of bones, glassware or anything like that. No, it was coming from inside the box.

The room went silent, as Dad helped me up, and then he finished opening the box. Luckily, the desk was not damaged, but to my great disappointment – my horror – the attached, molded plastic swivel seat, the feature I treasured most, was shattered along with my spirit.

At first, I just stared at it, a small toy desk with a metal shaft that had once held a super-cool office chair ideally sized for a four-year-old, and specifically, this four-year-old. Then, I did what any high-strung, over-sugared, upset kid would have done: I cried. More to the point, I cried, yelled, screamed and generally made the next few minutes hell for my family.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Mark -- who had unslumped his body from the couch -- calmly put his hand on my shoulders and said, “Let’s see what we can do.”

The chair was history, broken into hundreds of little green pieces of plastic sitting at the bottom of the box, so it was obvious we wouldn’t be able to save it. But Mark (who was 17 at the time) had an idea. He told me to open the rest of my gifts and not to worry as he took the desk into the basement.

Meanwhile, the rest of the family continued the gift-opening process. Peace had been restored for the most part, and we started to hit our stride. Mom and Dad got lots of practical stuff (things that kids can never understand because when you’re young, you think good gifts = fun gifts). The girls got mostly clothes, along with a few albums (that means music for you younger folks). I got, not surprisingly, more toys.

About a half hour later, just as the last of the gifts had been opened, Mark emerged from the basement with the desk in tow. He set it down in the dining room and called me over. I looked at it, and I looked at Mark. And then, I smiled.

In that half-hour, Mark had fashioned a small, round piece of wood and attached it to the post that had previously held the swivel seat. It was rudimentary and primitive. And it didn’t swivel. But that didn’t matter, because Mark had fixed it, and made it usable for me.

And I couldn’t have been happier.

It was on that day, Christmas Eve 1968, that I learned two things about the holidays: 1) that things don’t need to be perfect to enjoy them and 2) the value of adapting to a situation or a circumstance can and often does define the difference between misery and happiness.

Christmas 1968 could have been ruined for me after that incident. But Mark didn’t let that happen. He adapted, acted quickly and came up with an alternative … a solution. And while it wasn’t perfect, it made that gift so much more special than I could ever have imagined.

Over the next two years, I used that desk more than just about anything I owned, and never once did I wish I had that original swivel seat because I had something even better: a brother who had my back when I needed it. And that has been reinforced so many times over the past five decades, not just by Mark, but my sisters, Diane and Kathy, my mom and my dad (until he died in 2000, just before Christmas).

And for that, I’m so grateful.

So, if I may offer a perspective based on what I learned so many years ago when it comes to the holidays, let it be this. Let’s all realize that things won’t be perfect: maybe the weather will cause travel problems, or the gift you received from Aunt Freida is the wrong color or you burned the spinach and artichoke dip and now it looks like huge, infected scab. Big deal. This about people being together, enjoying one another, and adapting to whatever happens, whether it’s an aunt or uncle who’s had has a bit too much eggnog, or the relative who shows up unannounced, late or early or with a chip on his or her shoulder.

And sometimes, it’s those situations, those imperfections, those things that cause us to adjust and adapt and “roll with it,” that make for the most special times, experiences and memories.

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