It’s the saddest day of my holiday season: the day we take down the tree. This year, however, before I put the ornaments and lights away, I took a long last look at the angel we put at the top of it each year.
And decided that she would be my inspiration this year.
There’s a backstory to this angel. I brought her home during the phase of my early motherhood shopping years I like to call the “Grab and Run (and keep the receipt)” years. The day we put up our tree that year, I realized that we had no tree topper. So I sprang to my sleigh, and out to Michael’s Crafts I went. As I dashed into the Tree Trimmings aisle at Michael’s Crafts, I scanned the shelf for something – anything – that I could plunk on top of my tree. And then I saw her in her plastic sleeve, her taffeta dress and wings folded and pressed against it. A 50% off sign sealed the deal.
I jumped into line, ten customers deep at the time, and as I drew closer to the cash register, I caught sight of a Christmas star with colored lights that would have matched the small colored bulbs that adorned our tree each year, instead of the angel’s dignified, tiny white lights. No matter: I had a topper for the tree, and I was good to go.
We got home, she and I, and we set about finishing the tree trimming. Bigs was pretty small then – about 3 ½, and of course, he wanted to help. I just wanted to be finished, in all honesty. I had cookies to make for a swap, after all, then all the Christmas photocards to address! My husband clipped the top branch so she could fit on top of it and we plugged her in, where she cast a soft light over her dominion of cardboard cutout pictures, noodle wreaths, and various PBS cartoon character ornaments that were so central to my children’s early Christmases. Nothing matched: she really belonged in a white, silver and gold montage. But good enough, I thought, turning to the next holiday obligation.
“Mommy, is that you?” I heard a small voice say in the living room. “No, sweetie. I’m in the kitchen,” I called out, rummaging through my spice rack for ginger.
“No, Mommy. Look!” Big’s voice became insistent.
I stepped away from the countertop and went into the living room. Big was pointing to the top of the tree at the angel.
“That’s YOU, Mommy,” he said, as sure as he could be.
I was wearing yoga pants; she was in a long, flowing white dress. She had wings; the hood of my sweatshirt covered my shoulders. Her hair was golden and flowed in perfect waves to her back: mine, while blond, was bundled up in an elastic and hadn’t been washed since the day before. Her face was an image of contented joy. Up until that moment, mine was a reflection of how overwhelmed and cranky I had felt all day. But my little boy thought that we had everything in common. He told me that night that I was his angel. I scooped up Big in my arms, overwhelmed by such plain, strong love and approval.
I have heard many kind remarks come my way; I am lucky to be good at what I do for a living, one that I might consider, even, a calling. I fit the description of what most would call attractive. I have a good singing voice, and an even better sense of humor, I’ve been told on more than one occasion. But I doubt, though I may live to a very ripe age, that I will ever hear a better compliment than the one Bigs gave me that night. It was exactly what I needed to hear, precisely the message that I craved, and, ironically, the one that I was walking and busying myself away from, when what I needed was right there in the room I had just walked out of.
There’s a famous Victorian poem, “The Angel in the House”, written by Coventry Patmore about his ideal of the perfect wife and mother. It’s completely unrealistic and describes a woman – his helpmeet- as wooden a character as my tree topper is plastic. The poem is an example of why I think people have angels all wrong. They think that angels represent a standard that we can’t possibly reach. We describe our children, usually when they are sleeping and not actively being themselves, as angels. We put them on pedestals, where we can’t reach them, or they us. They are God’s “wing-men”, and either with Him or relegated to the heavenly host, those who are already perfect – and we believe, too often, that we certainly can’t say that about ourselves. They speak wisely and calmly, are always put together, and never make mistakes.
Kind of like the mothers we think we should be, especially during the holidays.
But angels are, really, messengers. That is what the Greek word for angel, aggelos, really means. And people can be messengers. So as much as I will, even on my most together days, not look or even act totally angelic, I will be a messenger to my family and those I care about, and I will consider carefully what message I give them.
And when I looked into our angel’s eyes as I put her gently back in the tote where she lives for the other eleven months of the year, I thanked her for being the vehicle for the message that Big gave me.