Holiday Reading from Martha—and Best Wishes!
The Christmas before I left for college, I made three wise men out of pipe cleaners and felt. I fashioned a camel for one the size of a mouse. I hung a paper star from the ceiling to guide them to our living room.
There, a plastic creche perched under our tree. We weren’t religious, but the symbols mattered to me; they were part of the set. Mary, Joseph, Jesus, barn animals—back then, I didn’t see how unconventional this family was.
In my teens, I’d taken over the Christmas decorations. I was bossy; I was determined. My mother the artist didn’t like “crafts”; she hated diagrams for making angels. “You kids are amazing,” she’d say, with a whiff of judgment I ignored. I kept painting partridges on blown eggs for ornaments.
Even then, I was willing my childish version of a happy family into being—caring mother, stout-hearted father, loyal younger brother—or thought I was.
What makes a family real? It can be defined so many ways that I believe all families are willed into being. Or imagined. They’re like ropes of clay made by children, jammed into jars or boxes. They’re good fits; they’re bad.