Poppy Montgomery’s Blog: A Mother’s Hunt for the Perfect Christmas
The mentioned photo – Courtesy Poppy Montgomery
Thanks for welcoming Poppy Montgomery!
Best known for starring as Samantha Spade on Without a Trace, she’ll be back as Det. Carrie Wells on the second season of Unforgettable, returning to CBS next summer.
In addition to her acting work, Montgomery is also producing a show, Sworn to Silence, for Lifetime.
Montgomery is mom to son Jackson Phillip Deveraux, 5 this month, with her ex, actor Adam Kaufman.
In her latest blog, the actress takes a comical look at the hunt for the perfect Christmas.
“Christmas is for children. But it is for grownups too…” — Lenora Mattingly Weber
I was wondering the other day if, as an adult, my childhood memories of Christmas color the way I perceive and conduct myself during the festive season. Do I over-compensate in an attempt not to repeat parts I didn’t like? Do I, as a parent, live vicariously through my son Jackson by trying to create a Christmas that I’d always wished I’d had?
My childhood Christmases were less Miracle on 34th Street and more National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
All I ever wanted as a child was a “normal,” “perfect” Christmas. I decide that for Jackson this year I will become the Perfect Christmas Mommy.
“Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree. In the eyes of children, they are all 30 feet tall.” — Larry Wilde
As a child I was never taken to sit on Santa’s lap. My mother was firmly of the conviction that most, if not all Santas were sweaty, sleazy freaks and she was not aiding in the feeding frenzy of these weirdos who only come out at Christmas time.
“Where do they go for the rest of the year, for Heaven’s sake?!” she would shriek, with her hands rigid like starfish.
Deprived of this tradition as a child, I determine to take Jackson to sit on Santa’s lap. We battle our way through life-size animated nativity scenes, piercing renditions of “Jingle Bells”, fake fluttering snow and suffocating Christmas crowds to finally arrive at Santa’s grotto.
We wait an hour in line and finally we are standing in front of The Great and Powerful … SANTA.
It seems I’ve taught Jackson too well not to trust strangers. He refuses to sit on, talk to or interact with Santa in any way.
I feel bad for the old fella and wanting Jackson to believe in the magic of Santa and not be afraid, I agree to sit on his lap and have my picture taken with the dear old chap. His breath is akin to nerve gas and I get the sense he’s missed a shower or two.
Finally, a picture with Santa!
The photo is awful. We make our way home.
Nothing like family – Courtesy Poppy Montgomery
“Christmas isn’t a season, it’s a feeling.” — Edna Ferber
One year in second grade, my mother won “Funniest Answer” at my school’s Parent Christmas Trivial Pursuit Night Fundraiser. To the surprise of the fundraising committee, she drank her prize before she left. At the same event, my dad got my friend Sam’s father so drunk he had to have his stomach pumped and spent Christmas in the hospital.
All I wanted as a child was my Christmas to be the way they were in the movies. Smiling, jolly grandparents, merriment, paper hats, twinkling lights and of course, a sea of perfectly wrapped presents.
So, with my parents infamous night at the second grade fundraiser very much alive in my memory, I vow that I will be the “ultimate Mommy” and participate in all Jackson’s school-related Christmas activities with a breezy attitude and a ready smile.
I vow NEVER to drink too much at the parents’ Christmas cocktail party. Unlike my parents, I will attempt to paint scenery for the school pageant, I will offer to repair costumes and help clean up after the organic Christmas feast. I will sell raffle tickets and I will use restraint and not eat a single bite of the cupcakes I make for the bake sale. I will become Super Mommy!!
“Mothers are all slightly insane.” — J.D. Salinger – Catcher in the Rye
The truth is … I like a couple of glasses of champagne at the parents’ Christmas cocktail party. I don’t like painting scenery or selling raffle tickets — so I buy them all myself; I can’t bake to save my life so I take cupcakes to the bake sale courtesy of the local bakery, and sell them for a third of what they cost!
Being perfect isn’t easy. I am starting to develop a whole new respect for my parents.
Jackson decorating the tree – Courtesy Poppy Montgomery
“We’re all mad here! I’m mad. You’re mad … You must be or you wouldn’t have come here.” — Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
My family was not like other families. We were large, fierce and frenetic with an obsessive need to waste energy. We seemed to attract the outrageous, the shocking, the excessive and of course, the behavior that went along with it.
Christmas after Christmas, as my brothers, sisters and I grew older and more aware of what we perceived to be “normal,” Mom and Dad would continue to produce yet another relative or friend to blow our hopes of a “perfect” Christmas out of the water for another year.
“Christmas to a child is the first terrible proof that to travel hopefully is better than to arrive.” — Stephen Fry
My Aunt Anne had an overwhelming impulse to continually wash her hands and she hated the beach. She was convinced it was contaminated. One year my grandma gave her a beach chair with a matching towel … she was so furious she dislocated her shoulder smashing it up.
Mom told us that we must understand that Aunt Annie had been a hippie in the ’60s and lived in a squat with her cat and hundreds of shoes. The squat caught fire one day and burned her cat and all her shoes. She married her Indian landlord who went back to India and she can’t find him to get a divorce.
One year, my mom’s cousin Cynthia invited us for Christmas Eve in the country. Cynthia’s son, Rupert, was an animal rights activist. Two days before Christmas he “saved” 12 turkeys from a farmer and hid them in Cynthia’s attic.
Cynthia’s daughter Amber, an asthmatic with an eating disorder, decided to come home for Christmas that night. She opened the attic door and the turkeys knocked her down the stairs. Cynthia was crying and spilling her vodka; the turkeys were running everywhere making a fearful noise and Amber’s boyfriend had slid down the wall and was sitting on the floor.
We were all gobsmacked. Mom and Dad managed to lock the turkeys in the kitchen and we took Cynthia home with us.
Suffice to say, the turkeys were returned to the farmer, Rupert became a born-again Christian and Amber’s boyfriend left the next day, never to be seen again.
With crazy Aunt Anne – Courtesy Poppy Montgomery
“If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.” — George Bernard Shaw
The year I was five, Christmas was at Grandma’s beach house. My grandmother — whose secret longing to be Joan Crawford had turned her into something of a diva — had invited Donald, a chubby, fairly unprincipled man with a voracious appetite for whiskey, to join us for Christmas lunch.
After lunch, Donald — full of whiskey and good cheer — decided to dance the can-can for us all on the marble patio. It was raining. Really raining. Not daunted and making as much noise as possible he started to dance, spinning and clapping his hands, pretending to tuck his uplifted skirts under his armpits, cat-calling and blowing kisses to us, his audience.
Suddenly and without warning he did the famous kick. (Leg up, knee bend, leg down, then kick.) Catching his foot under the glass table, he fell face-first into it and remained motionless. There was blood everywhere and the top of Don’s finger was missing.
Oochie (Grandma’s poodle) found it under a pot plant. Dad wrapped the tip in a tissue and Don’s hand in a wet tea towel and everyone followed the ambulance. Donald had to stay overnight at the hospital to have the tip sewn back on. He never did recover the feeling in that digit.
“It may be normal, darling; but I’d rather be natural.” — Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s
My mother called last night to tell me that, my Aunt Annie and my Grandma (Jackson’s Great-Grandma) are all coming from Australia for Jackson’s birthday (December 23rd) and staying through Christmas!
As brilliant, witty, loving and kind as these women are, as much as I love and respect them for everything they have taught me, they do not in any way fit in with my carefully-crafted idea of a “perfect/normal” Christmas. Not one bit. Pandemonium and absurdity follow wherever they go.
As my mother joyfully fills me in on her plans, visions of shattered beach chairs, severed fingers, hysterical turkeys and intoxicated oddballs dance through my head.
She tells me they will all stay at my house.
What about my “normal,” “perfect” Christmas? Having endured Santa; the school Christmas cocktail party (relatively) sober; done the end of year pageant; trimmed the tree; personally bought 300 school raffle tickets and made a guest list of family members that would ensure Christmas is a merry, joyful, blithe and cheery experience for Jackson, it is now crumbling before my eyes.
“Who you talkin’ to, Mama?” Jackson has wandered in in his red reindeer pajamas with feet.
I plaster a smile on my face, “Grandma, baby.”
Jackson’s eyes light up like… well… a Christmas tree.
“I love my Gwamma!” he says. He grabs the phone out of my hand.
“Gwamma?! Are you going to be here for Christmas? Mama says we can’t go to Australia this year and I reeeaaallly miss you.”
In that moment, it dawns on me.
Four generations in one photo – Courtesy Poppy Montgomery
“The Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas… he thought… means a little bit more.” — Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas
The truth is I am suddenly thrilled that my mom and extended family are coming. It wouldn’t be a “normal/perfect” Christmas without them.
Thinking back to my unconventional and more than slightly strange childhood Christmases, those a-typical, not-what-Christmas-was-expected-to-be occurrences, I realize that Christmas is not all about wanting to sit on Santas lap; the school pageant; raffle tickets or wishing for sober parents and sane people with sensible shoes.
It is about togetherness, humor and memories. There are so many people who never get a smile directed at them, never feel included. And despite my longing for “normality” and “perfection,” my siblings and I were always included, always had the sharing, the loving, the giving and the laughing. This is what I want to bring to Jackson and our home at Christmas time.
And so it is, with a slightly less confused notion of what Christmas should be, I accept that everyone has their own ideas about what makes a perfect Christmas.
I release the nagging worry that nobody will be available to help should anything go wrong with the dog, the plumbing or my teeth. I realize that things will rarely be perfect — and sending my vegan brother-in-law a hamper of deli meats and animal fat cheesecakes was probably not a good move.
Happy Holidays everyone!
– Poppy Montgomery
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