There's this coffee cup I like. It's chipped, but in a spot on the rim that would never touch your lips. When dirty, I put it in the dishwasher. When clean, I nudge it back on the shelf. At some point, one of the children — livid over some unrelated thing — will spot the flawed cup and slam it in the trash, thinking it past its prime.
Till then, I cherish the little coffee cup with the chipped lip. It seems to have lived a little. It's not stained or otherwise unpleasant, but that little imperfection makes it stand out from all the other coffee cups. Like Marilyn Monroe's mole.
There's this house I like. Our house. Like the coffee cup, it has chips in spots that never touch your lips. There are cobwebs in the eaves, even after the winter rains, and it could use a coat of paint and a pair of shutters and some geraniums in a window box. But it seems to have lived a little. Like photos of rainy Paris streets, something about this house makes you want to go inside.
We cleaned it of Christmas the other day, though not completely. As is tradition, there is always some little remnant that doesn't get boxed up. This is not on purpose. You can scour the place, go over it 17 times, and there will always be a Santa serving spoon or an ornament you discover a week later under the couch.
Knowing this, I tried to talk my wife into letting me use the leaf blower to de-Christmas the house, to start at one end and — as gardeners do — bazooka the tinsel, tree needles, slipper fuzz, cracker crumbs, twist ties, broken baby Jesuses, half-dead candles, chestnut husks, North Pole swizzle sticks and the holiday cards everybody worked so hard on. In 20 seconds, I could leaf-blast it all right out of the house and into the neighbor's yard.
There. Done. Ho-ho-ha!
That's often my way of solving problems, turning them into worse problems, but I do it with such spectacle and showmanship that for a moment you don't even care.
It's that way with Christmas. If it's a little broken, I can usually make it so much worse.
Not this year. Ours was, in fact, an amazing Christmas.
Usually sarcastic, droll, moody, edgy and taking inventory of every little slight, our four kids were remarkable this year. I can't help but think they were pranking me, or that Posh drugged them or brought in impostor children to portray them over a couple of days.
In any event, it worked.
Patient and appreciative, the kids wowed me with their cheery holiday chutzpah. They even accompanied me on a long walk on Christmas Day, at that late-afternoon tipping point when the furnace heat or the too-loud TV or the coughing fits are making you a little crazy. A tinsel bomb, tick-tick-tick. You just have to get out of the house before something explodes.
So when I said, "Hey, anyone for a little hike?" they all rushed to grab their jackets, a sign (I think) of their emerging adult sensibilities.
Now, when I explain this Christmas miracle to other parents, they all say, "Huh, really? Not us."
It can happen, though. After 31 years of parenthood, we had the near-perfect holiday season.
The tree didn't fall over — not once. The girls fussed a bit, but not so it mattered. Thing 1 did not even get offended when Thing 2 said something snippy about how she does her eyes.
The boys even helped clean the post-feast kitchen. Not at gunpoint, which is how such chores typically occur. Or by standing around eating the leftover lamb with their fingers while I wash big platters. They actually helped.
It was as if all the parenting books and articles Posh has read over the years coalesced ... as if a fairy godmother watched over our Christmas, waved her wand (or her Taser), threw pixie dust into the chili, muzzling all cranky childish impulses — theirs and mine.
Yep, a Christmas miracle. Why now? Who knows? Maybe it's an awareness that we can't all stay together forever, that the older kids are bound to branch off in the next few years to stage flawed Christmases of their own.
In any event, we're now 1 for 31 on perfect Christmases. I'm as proud as I am surprised. In its perfection, it stands out from all our other Christmases. As with most perfect things, I don't quite trust it, even as I marvel at its singular beauty.
"Never again!" I warned them with a wink.
Surely, never again.