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December 14, 2008

The Quest for the Present

7 It's a cliche, but I'll say it anyway:  life is busy.  So busy.  Especially at holiday time.

If you walked through my house right now, you'd see piles of sparkling tinsel on the floor, clusters of little boxes holding ornaments scattered across the sofa and large rubber tubs of outdoor lights, waiting to be strung along the eaves.  (I would direct you away from the poinsettias whose leaves are dropping from lack of water and the Thanksgiving tablecloth still on display in the dining room.)

My office is even worse, with drifts of catalogs on the floor, a tower of shipping boxes piled against the wall and a desk covered with everything from the children's Christmas lists, our half-written holiday newsletter and various pieces of writing to crayons, photo equipment and scads of reminders and notes.

It's not perfect.  It's not on schedule.  It's not even close.

Our holidays are cluttered and half-baked and ad hoc and I love them that way.  Why?

Because it means I'm getting better.

There was a time when I would have had all the Christmas shopping done just after Halloween.  The holiday newsletter would have been in the mail by December 1.  I was the new mom who had the baby announcements addressed and mailed just about the time our daughter was crowning.  Looking back, it's a miracle I had any friends at all.

I've been on a quest of sorts for a few years now, a quest to find some small understanding of how life works - some guidelines, a touchstone, a reference that I can turn to when I'm puzzled or adrift.  You see, I'm not religious.  That is to say, although my default setting is Methodist, I was not brought up to practice it, so it's not my nature to turn to that belief system when I have questions.

Instead I became a member of what I half-jokingly refer to as the Church of Control.  I worshiped my to-do lists and took great comfort in checking off tasks as I completed them - in a timely manner, of course.  I kept the cap on the toothpaste and my shoes in chrome racks and my photos in albums.  These things helped me keep my world in order.

Then I became a mom.  (Yes, I hear you laughing.)

Oh, I kept it up for a while, gripping my lists and schedules with a baby - and soon another baby - in tow.

"How do you do it?" people would ask.  "You never forget a birthday, you send timely thank-you notes, your house always looks perfect.  It's really...annoying."

I got that a lot.  I didn't pay much attention to it, though, until I became aware of a niggling little sensation in the back of my mind that something was missing.  The sensation grew stronger and stronger and finally I had no choice but to look at it.

What was I doing?  My lists and schedules and neat rows weren't working anymore.  They weren't bringing me the comfort they once did.  They didn't play well with my children, whose lives were all loops and curves and squiggles, not tidy little boxes that disappeared once checked.

Like plate tectonics, the earth was shifting beneath me.  My life was changing, my responsibilities were changing, I was changing.  I needed something deeper, something stronger and more reliable.  More importantly, my children needed more from me and if I was going to give it to them, I had to find it for myself.  I could no longer hide in the Church of Control - I was going to have to come out and get my hands dirty.

My children want to know what matters.  I'm discovering that the past doesn't matter as much as I thought it did.  Neither does the future.  The present, however - well, that's worth missing a few self-imposed deadlines.  And creating things - I'm beginning to believe that might be the engine that powers the messy, glorious contraption of life.

As for the quest, I don't see it ending anytime soon.  I share my findings with my family and I hope they feel the effects of my change and growth.  I hope even more that I have something to give them now that's real and that they can carry with them on their own quests.  I sure wish I had begun sooner, but that's just living in the past again, isn't it?

And the old Church of Control?  I get a newsletter from them every once in a while.  I just smile and shake my head and toss it in the trash recycling can.

Oh, by the way - if I've forgotten your birthday this past year, I apologize.

It's just that I've been really busy.

This is an original post to LA Moms Blog.

Anna Lefler is a novelist and sometime standup comic who lives with her family in Santa Monica, California.  When she's not hiding from her dental hygienist, she can be found at her personal humor blog - Life Just Keeps Getting Weirder - where she writes about family, life in general and, occasionally, aerosol cheese.

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