Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Norman Rockwell Moments

We're almost out of the "Holiday Season" woods for 2009. Just one more day...

How did you fare?

My family celebrates Christmas, and during our visit to see my in-laws in Minnesota, my mother-and-law and I had this really enlightening conversation about Norman Rockwell.

Before I get to that, a little background: my mother-in-law is a Ph.D. art therapist for children and adolescents. As luck would have it, she is well-versed in the issues that affect my son: anxiety, ADHD, PDD-NOS. Consequently my in-laws, and mother-in-law in particular, are not only sensitive to my son's needs when we visit, they're educated and extraordinarily helpful as well.

As I mentioned, my mother-in-law is an art therapist. She loves visual arts and her house exudes it. Full of color, photos, books discussing art, coffee table books full of pictures and photographs, and original art that she and her grandkids have made together. There is a wonderfully comfortable, relaxing, messy (did I mention she's an artist?) and familial feel to her home tucked into the woods next to the Rum River.

All this to say that of anyone in my close, personal circle of friends, my mother-in-law is the foremost authority not only on art but on psychology and interpersonal relationships.

At some point during our visit, my son was off his meds and racing their six-month old poodle puppy around the living room and kitchen, which included not only the enormous obstacle of the Christmas tree and all the packages beneath it, but also a carved wooden antelope that my in-laws had purchased on one of their trips to South Africa, the dog's food and water bowls, a small stool, and a floor carpeted in one location with all manner of legos.

And while this raucous puppy chase was happening, my mother-in-law was simultaneously opening the oven door, my father-in-law was trying (and failing miserably) at getting the puppy and the child to calm down, and the television in the kitchen was on full blast (either my in-laws have yet to admit that they're getting a little hard of hearing or they were trying to drown out the staccato pants straddling both anxious fear and pure joy that my son was emitting as he blasted through the house).

For a moment, there was nothing I could do but stand there and watch. My mother-in-law noticed me and came to my side. "Definitely not the Christmas Norman Rockwell painted," I said to her.

"True," she said. "But does anybody ever have the Christmas Norman Rockwell painted?"

Surely someone does, I thought. Surely many people do. Surely, almost everyone does but our family, laden with all the issues a severely hyper, anxious, sensory-seeking child brings to our proverbial table.

"I mean, he painted an ideal," she said. "A moment in time that maybe some of us only witness once or twice."

And then the dog ran round; then the child, shrieking with delight; then the grandfather demanding in his booming, preacher voice (did I mention he's a preacher?) that everyone "SLOOOOOOOOOOOW DOWN!"

Which was when I realized this was our "Norman Rockwell" moment. The running, the chasing, the pull of hyperactivity dragging the insistence of "calming down" to its knees, the hot oven open for the tripping and potentially the burning, the mess in the house, the now tipped-over bowl of water sloshed about the floor that beckoned both child and beast to run and slip on it -- the stuff of life, lived.

There's a guy named James Lehman who said, "Don't compare the inside of your family with the outside of someone else's." Well put and easy to grasp. Sometimes hard to do. But if and when you get there, maybe a time will come that those messy moments of life become the ones you romanticize the most:


  1. "Don't compare the inside of your family with the outside of someone else's."
    I've never heard this quote before. I LOVE IT!!!!

  2. Such a brilliant, poignant and timely post. I needed this today as I've been lamenting my own lack of Norman Rockwell-esque holidays. Thank you. Happy New Year!