plastic poinsettia

December 15th, 2010

She was a good woman, and she never failed to fill our table, even when we saw it as empty.

I must have been 11, my older sister 13, when we came to the dinner table one evening around this time of year and saw what my mother had placed in the middle. A spindly plastic replica of a single-stemmed poinsettia. It wobbled up from a gold-colored cup in a fashion that aspired to “modern” but that to our newly cynical senses screamed “cheap,” “fake” and “funny.” We gasped, even laughed. I remember because it’s hard to forget the first time you laugh outright at your mother, taking up a cruel sport that can take some time to put down. It would color much of what I perceived of her in the years that followed – until I became a mother myself, until I felt the tender wounds in my heart from the way I had once ridiculed and rebuked her.

I remember this now because it’s Christmas, and I’ve trimmed the Christmas tree. I did it by myself and I did it for myself. I did it for the mother in me.

Growing up, ours was a cramped house, made smaller by three kids, a piano, a few dogs, a hamster, my father’s wrathful silence or rage, and then the irreversible sadness of isolation and illness. Looking back, I’m not sure how there was ever room for my mother’s aspiration or sweet sentiments. She made what room she could find on the table, in a $2 holiday centerpiece from Thrifty Drug Store. I think I know why.

I decorated the tree with the same trimmings I’ve used for 15 years. They are not fancy, and less so with the time that keeps fraying them. Baby’s first ornaments, a child’s paper plate angel, dimestore garlands, souvenirs from the years that are now lost to me. It is a beautiful tree this year. It is the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. It makes me cry.

I am an old enough now. I have an 11-year-old doing and saying and thinking what she must. And so I keep company with the woman who knew these things all along. It’s the flimsiness that holds the fullness; it’s the fake that depicts the real. I share sweet sentiments with the one who gave me all my gifts, and has waited so long for me to respond in kind.

I miss my mother. I’ll have her with me forever.

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  1. Lovely and heartbreaking. You have eloquently expressed a sentiment that has been washing over me with this holiday season. As my relationships with my children evolve, I find I miss my mother that much more…

    Comment by jen p — December 15, 2010 @ 6:06 pm

  2. AH. ah. sigh. what we are as mothers. . .

    Comment by Kate — December 15, 2010 @ 6:27 pm

  3. Lovely. I can’t see to write through my tears. Thank you. I am lucky to still have my Mom here with me, but our relationship has been a difficult and distant one at times, due to my rejection and judgement of her. Just this past year, I have come to see and appreciate the gift of her love, and her way of expressing that love. I need to tell her while there is still time.

    Comment by Lisa Sunbury — December 15, 2010 @ 6:29 pm

  4. Oh.So bittersweet and true. I am approaching the
    4th anniversary of my mother passing away,6 days
    before Christmas. I saw the shadow of my mother’s
    face pass over my daughter’s face as she was in labor giving birth to her daughter one month ago.
    I so miss my mother too.

    Comment by Marcea Pugliese — December 15, 2010 @ 6:52 pm

  5. Maybe this is why I still hang my daughter’s first handmade ornament: a foil ball stuck with colored toothpicks. Thank you for a beautiful post. I miss her, too.

    Comment by Tricia — December 15, 2010 @ 6:52 pm

  6. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tricia Heinrich, Deer Baby and Regarding Baby, Karen Maezen Miller. Karen Maezen Miller said: "It’s the flimsiness that holds the fullness" or why mothers cry at Christmas, new blog post – […]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention plastic poinsettia | Karen Maezen Miller's Cheerio Road -- — December 15, 2010 @ 7:05 pm

  7. Aw, now you’ve gone and made me cry. Beautiful you.

    Comment by Kathryn — December 15, 2010 @ 10:58 pm

  8. So sweet.

    Comment by Jane — December 16, 2010 @ 4:11 am

  9. Thank you for making my heart smile.

    Comment by Alana — December 16, 2010 @ 6:11 am

  10. Christmas in my childhood home with my Mom was very difficult. Family tragedy occurred during her childhood at holiday time. I didn’t understand this for a very long time. One of the best Christmases (Karen this is for you) I remember was the year there was a Barbie canopy bed under the tree. It was the only gift. My Mom tried so hard. For many years it was just the 2 of us and life was a struggle. My Mom is gone too, I wish I could hug her tell her I love her and I think maybe I understand.

    Comment by suzi — December 16, 2010 @ 3:20 pm

  11. Oh gosh, how soulful and important. Every word. Sadly I don’t have any memories of my mother, only an ache that grows stronger with age that I wish that I did.

    Comment by Christine — December 16, 2010 @ 4:14 pm

  12. Such lovely writing. I find it interesting how my husband & the kids want to put “new” ornaments on the tree and I want all of the homemade ones, the sentimental ones, the baby shoes, etc. The only one who “gets it” is my Mom. 🙂

    Comment by Kristal — December 17, 2010 @ 4:00 am

  13. Our Christmas trees tell the stories of our lives, don’t they?

    Comment by Swirly — December 19, 2010 @ 6:25 pm

  14. “Feeling the tender wounds…” the stirring of healing.

    This was a very touching post. By now you have survived the holidays, but I still wish you merry.


    Comment by Stacy (Mama-Om) — January 12, 2011 @ 5:57 am

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