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A perfect Christmas would be a true miracle


I'D LIKE ONE OF THOSE Christmas miracles to happen to me.

You know the kind. Where the hard heart is softened or the disbelieving finally believe. One of those made-for-TV, innocence-overcomes-cynicism holiday miracles.

But in this edition of the Christmas miracle movie, I am transformed into the ideal Christmas Mom in the first reel and we spend the next two hours watching me get it right. Christmas, I mean.

I have never met the ideal Christmas Mom. She is not my mother, or any mother I know. There may never have been one. But I have her in my head, and she is the woman against whom I measure myself from Thanksgiving to New Year's.

She comes to me, I think, out of the pages of Woman's Day or Family Circle magazines - and from an old issue of the Saturday Evening Post, the ones illustrated by Norman Rockwell. She isn't Martha Stewart - that woman's Christmas incarnation gives me hives - but I think she haunts Martha Stewart's Christmas dreams, too.

The ideal Christmas Mom is a phantom of our chaotic modern life. She is a collage of memories that are not our own. But she springs to life this time of year out of our guilt and inadequacies, and her tranquil perfection haunts every corner we cut, every tradition we botch during this season.

Who is the ideal Christmas Mom?

She is cheerful, but not irritating in her cheerfulness. She is calm, but not because she has surrendered to madness. And she makes the holidays jolly for her family without demanding that they appreciate the effort.

Did I mention that she doesn't have a job?

She bakes, but her cookies are elegant in their simplicity. She decorates, but it doesn't look as if she spent a fortune on fancy bows. And you can smell the pine when you step inside her door.

She shops, and each gift is modest but ideally suited to the recipient. She wraps, but she does not make her own gift wrap. She cooks, but she doesn't spoil the taste of the food by announcing that she was up until 3 a.m. making pies or describing the hardships of the grocery store.

She looks the part, but not as though she's spent a fortune on velvet pants suits or gold lame shoes. She might wear a pair of Christmas earrings her daughter bought for her when the child was in grade school. Her cheeks are rosy from opening the oven door, but her hair is smooth.

Her cards are mailed in early December, but there are not 120 of them. Each is hand-addressed and signed and contains a short, personal note and a snapshot of her children. There are no embossed signatures in black script. No portrait of the family in holiday garb. No mailing labels. No Christmas letters written by the family pet.

The ideal Christmas Mom never melts down in self-righteous anger or self-pitying tears. She never uses her emotional temperature to heat or cool the room. No one need watch what they say around the Christmas Mom.

She never minds the snowy mess of coats and boots in the front hall. She makes hot chocolate from scratch and serves it with tiny marshmallows.

In the days just before the holiday, she does her Christmas shopping on Main Street, smiling and holding her husband's hand while they choose a last-minute gift or two. Her spiritual peace is contagious and her family willingly accompanies her to church on Christmas Eve.

She is my ideal Christmas Mom. If you know her, tell her I'm looking for her.

Pub Date: 12/20/98

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