I Am Not June Cleaver
by Christine Lindsay
Every holiday season—for about ten seconds—I wish I were June Cleaver. Let’s face it, on “Leave it to Beaver,” they never had to puzzle out where to place their divorced family members at the dinner table, or whether or not one of the grandkids would be able to attend due to custody arrangements.
Nor did the Cleavers have my particular heartache of wishing their birth-daughter could attend Thanksgiving dinner. My birth-daughter Sarah is the child I relinquished to adoption when she was a baby and reunited with twenty years later. Though she and I have a wonderful relationship today, every holiday I still wish she were my daughter in every sense.
Nope, the Cleavers of “Leave it to Beaver” had a picture-perfect life without divorce or children born out of wedlock. The fictional anxieties of Cleaverland compared to the stresses of the 21st century are like a jaunty old Studebaker compared to the racing machines of the Indy 500. Our blended family complexities can add extra fuel to our skyrocketing emotions around seasonal functions.
Take my last Thanksgiving dinner. In addition to the usual fiascos most of us deal with—such as my oven element blowing, my dishwasher dying, and our one-year-old puppy barking and howling until he was allowed to sit at my husband’s feet under the dining room table—I’ve got the added strain of old family haunts.
My holiday gatherings usually have me quietly refereeing between my dear mother and other family members. With my mother’s past as the wife of an abusive alcoholic behind her, she still struggles with holidays. Knowing how much I fuss to make my home pretty for the occasion, she sometimes gets a little bent out of shape if one of my grandkids messes up my décor. She can become snappish with my adult children for not managing their kids better. My mother just can’t bear to be reminded of how my dad ruined our holidays in the past, robbing us of the joy of those days.
Then there’s my daughter-in-law who is missing her oldest son because he’s at his biological dad’s place and not ours. Sadly, with her past emotional hurts, she tends to sulk a little and that grates on the nerves of others. Also in attendance are my brother and his new wife, but I’m missing my brother’s daughters who now regularly go to their mom’s new in-laws for the holidays.
Aside from squeezing fifteen people around a table normally big enough for twelve, it’s additionally hard for family to be squashed into a high-octane emotional time capsule once or twice a year.
Then there’s me. While my husband and I rejoice that our three adult kids are here with their spouses, even after 33 years I still feel the old twinge that my birth-daughter Sarah is not among them. She has her adoptive family to celebrate the holidays with. Each holiday brings out those old haunts and weaves a bumpy thread of imperfection through my gatherings.
Coming from a fractured family due to my dad’s alcoholism, I use to daydream about the perfect family. As a young bride and mom, I worked hard to pull together our seasonal parties with the prowess of the fictional June Cleaver. Did I mention that the people in Cleaverland are fictional? It’s taken me decades to learn that my pipedream of perfection belongs solely to the land of TV and striving for it is a waste of energy.
Because no matter how much I plan, shop, clean and fuss, our family holidays always seem to take on the atmosphere of the Indy 500. The injection of excess energy into my plans may be the very thing that’s caused a few past explosions.
Don’t get me wrong, I still strive for a clean and charmingly decorated home for the holidays. I love seeing the enjoyment on my kids’ faces when they admire what Mom has done this year. But as I gently explain to my mother as she helps me lay the table or prepare the vegetables, the décor must always come last when the first family member walks through the door. It doesn’t matter if my grandsons knock over the flowers or break some china. It’s all about the individuals with their joys, hurts and complexities.
In my walk with Christ I know that I’m a work in progress. The Lord doesn’t expect perfection from me just yet. When He walked this earth, He took joy in going to people’s homes no matter how imperfect that home was. Dare I say that the Lord might even enjoy our imperfection as He sits down at the table with us, because it gives Him an opportunity—and me as the hostess—to show love, patience, graciousness, humor, in the face of sulks, temper, sadness or stressed out nerves.
It’s not easy when my daughter-in-law pouts at Thanksgiving, but I find the quickest way to lift that is to draw her into a task that she and I can share, such as filling the water glasses or slicing the pie.
As for my nieces and birth-daughter being unable to attend because of other commitments, I’ve learned to let go of sadness and schedule other opportunities to celebrate with them. If they can’t come to my place for the big family dinner, I arrange for something even as small as meeting them for coffee on their way home. Whenever I tell these loved ones that I’m delighted to schedule a makeup holiday on another weekend, I see relief flooding their faces. I just want some time to be with them.
After the family holidays, I look around at the gravy-stained table cloths, wilting flowers, the extra folding chairs that need to be stashed away, I thank God for the perfection of imperfection.
In the midst of some sulks, an occasional flash of temper, there has also been laughter, hugs and sweet conversations. In the midst of our imperfection God has made something perfect emerge.
Christine Lindsay is the author of the multi-award-winning historical trilogy Twilight of the British Raj. As a busy writer and speaker, Christine makes her home on the west coast of Canada with her husband and their grown up family. Her cat Scottie is chief editor on all Christine’s books. Please drop by Christine’s website http://www.christinelindsay.com/ or follow her on Twitter, be her friend on Pinterest and “like” her Facebook page.
We’d like to hear from you. Please share your comments below or like us on your Facebook page. Be sure to check back each month for more articles and products available at your local Christian bookstore.