Man, I love these kids. Especially when they’re asleep…;)
It was two days before Christmas. How many a story has started similarly? It’s a cliche of the tiredest sort. Add in a frazzled mother and over-excited small children and those six words take on a strangely sinister meaning. The stories never end with “and then everyone woke up and Christmas was exactly what they hoped it would be!” Which is why the cliche exits. For some reason, things that are normally sad take on an extra poignancy.
He lost his job is sad. But add and it’s just two days before Christmas! and his boss turns from economic victim to Scrooge.
But I’m not writing this because I’m irritated with the cliche. Or rather, if I am, it’s only because I’m caught in it.
I’m sitting here watching my babies sleep. It’s two days before Christmas. Sugar plums (and Nintendo games and Lego sets) may be dancing in their heads but after all the gifts are wrapped and food is bought and arrangements are made, I find myself with a heavy heart. It’s this unnamed worry. I walk around the house checking the flue on the fireplace (even though we didn’t use it), all the locks on the doors, the smoke alarms, and unpluggling appliances.
When I lived in Seattle I had a close friend’s house catch on fire thanks to a malfunctioning blender they left always plugged in. Even more harrowing, none of their smoke alarms were in working order and if it hadn’t been for the beeping of the computer dying that woke the husband – wondering which of the children was sneaking video games in the middle of the night – the whole young family might have perished. But they didn’t. And it wasn’t two days before Christmas. See? These stories do sometimes have happy endings. I try to remind myself of this as I check the lock to the garage door for the umpteenth time, pushing away the stories I’ve heard ever since we moved to Minnesota about toddlers tumbling curiously out into the winter night, only to become the worst kind of snow angels. It seems like there’s at least one case every winter that this happens.
But see? I’m already making things worse than they need to be. It’s two days before Christmas! My babes are safe, my home warm, my husband happy – I am blessed beyond measure. Why invite trouble? Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof.
Is this superstition? Premonition? OCD??
It’s a mother’s heart, I think. It encompasses it all. I say this because I’ve seen it reflected in my friends’ eyes as they give extra to the children’s charity, heard it in the slight quaver of my sister’s voice as she recounts a late-night moment with a daughter, and watched it unfold, of the course of years, in my mother. My father and I are so much alike – big, outgoing personalities that make a lot of mistakes (sometimes very public ones) and feel everything deeply, passionately and loudly. My mother, on the other hand, has been somewhat of an enigma to me my entire life. She was the quiet thinker in a house of loud performers, debaters, and acrobats. She was the one behind the scenes sewing the costumes, driving the carpools and clapping at all the right moments. We all fought loudly and hotly around her but the flames were brief. Yet I don’t even know how to describe her anger, as I saw it so little, that much kept inside. We were volcanoes that made mountains into molehills. She was the river that carved the canyon.
She was also the one who checked locks, counted heads in beds and worried over every last present, two days before Christmas.
Tonight I feel as if I understand her a little better. As I watch over my own children. And worry. About what? That they will die young and tragically? Or that they’ll live to discover that life, like Christmas, never turns out exactly the way you hoped it would? Which cuts worse – the sharp knife of a short life or the dull rasp of overlong years? The question, of course, is moot because none of us get to choose. And even if we could, would we want that power in our falliable hands?
Years ago this would have been the end to the story. I would have gone to bed, having done every precaution against it was two days before Christmas I could think of, and fallen asleep repeating a prayer pleading for my children’s safety and peace. But as I’ve grown older – and they’ve grown older – I’ve changed the narrative. This worry of balled-up newspaper clippings, tragic non-fiction, and Nicholas Sparks novels is not what I want to hand down to them. In some ways this mother’s worry is good, protective even, and I wouldn’t wish it all away. But now I prefer to temper it with wisdom and strangely that wisdom isn’t about better safety procedures or re-upping my pediatric CPR certification or trying to foresee every wrong that might befall them. Rather, that wisdom is about learning to watch them sleep and not projecting any disaster movie over the top of their quiet snoring; knowing that their lives, whatever they will be, are theirs to live and will overflow the measure of all beauty. Knowing that I am just blessed to watch the epic – their epic – unfold.
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.
I still cry every time I read this. Every time. This poem – “On Children” by Khalil Gibran – has become my serenity prayer. I’ve repeated it so many times I’ve memorized it, imprinted it on the back of my skull, just behind the pictures of my babies the day each was born.
I still check all the locks, unplug the appliances. Count heads in beds. But this year I called my mom to come to me – a feat in a family that prides itself on self-reliance – not because I need her to chase away my fears, like she has so many times in so many years past. But because I need her to teach me to embrace them. To love, unafraid, with open hands.
Because it’s two days before Christmas.
I leave this here because I can’t sleep. Is anyone else awake?
And in case you need a giggle, I was wrapping Jelly Bean’s gift – a long-coveted cash register – only to discover… Can you spot the problem?
Who puts BEER as a shortcut key on a list with dolls, butter and apples on a toy for toddlers?? (Apparently people from a country where fish is only 2.50 but an orange is 10.00. This is what I get from ordering online.) Still trying to decide if I should black it out or teach her to check ID.