It Was Two Days Before Christmas…: My Pre-Christmas Panic Attack [journal entry 12/23/2012]

by Charlotte on December 24, 2012 · 10 comments

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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?

cashregister

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.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Naomi/Dragonmamma December 24, 2012 at 6:33 am

Ho,ho,ho, happy Christmas Eve!

Anxiety and Fear, ah, yes, don’tcha sometimes wish you were a gerbil with a tiny little pea-brain that doesn’t worry about stuff until if happens?

Love the artsy black-and-white photo! Do you guys do “the family bed” on a regular basis, or is this just a holiday arrangement?

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Crabby McSlacker December 24, 2012 at 8:21 am

I so feel for you with your passionate desire to see your family always safe and happy and the toll it takes in the form of anxiety!

You must know that you go far and above what most parents do to ensure your kid’s well-being, but I know that isn’t enough when the worry goblins come visit. They are impervious to reason.

That poem is so beautiful and wise, I’m glad it provides support and solace.

Have a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful Christmas!

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Shelly December 24, 2012 at 10:19 am

This post really resonates with me. My anxiety disorder definitely comes straight from my Dad (and his Mother) and I’ve worked really hard (and gotten lots of therapy) in order to be able to live a mostly rational life. My dad still believes that his anxiety is completely justified but from the outside looking in, it’s really painful to watch him find thing after thing to fixate his worry upon since I’m quite familiar with that behavior, and how miserable it made me feel. I hate that my dad is miserable (and believes that he has to be miserable in order to protect the people he loves) and I hate that he isn’t open to the idea that he doesn’t have to feel that way.)
You used the word premonition, which also struck me. My family is kind of superstitious and we’ve definitely used the concept of premonition to justify our anxiety in the past. It’s a terrible trap.
These days, I tell myself that I’d rather die in a freak accident than spend my life worrying about every little thing- because at least I’d have enjoyed a good quality of life. I tell myself that worry is a terrible waste of imagination.
After years of practice, I can do this pretty easily, especially since my worry is only centered around my own well-being.
However, I’m going to try to have children soon, and my own anxiety disorder has been very much on my mind. I will obviously want to protect my children, but I really want to be able to give them the gift of peace of mind because it’s something I’ve worked so hard to earn. I’m less concerned about relapsing into anxiety when they arrive than I am about passing down those mental habits to my loved ones. (For this reason and a couple others, I’m going to go back to therapy this year for a bit of a tune up.)
I love the poem you posted and think I will be re-reading it over the years!

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Melissa December 24, 2012 at 2:10 pm

I love the poem, but I love, love, love that cash register. Beer and $10 oranges! LOL

Either have her ring up root beer or make sure she cards her customers. ;-)

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Abby December 24, 2012 at 2:39 pm

I hope you’re feeling a bit better today Charlotte! Your kids are so lucky to have you for a mom, never doubt it.

Have a great holiday and just be there in the moment with them. I think that’s the best gift you could give them :)

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Geosomin December 24, 2012 at 2:50 pm

That poem is beautiful.
My mum was always quiet. Giving. Practical. Such a solid presence that I never quite understood until she left us. Christmas helps me remember. I do the things we used to do together as a memorial and a joYful celebration of just how much of her is still alive in me.
I’ve not been blessed yet to be a mum, but i am sure, as I read your words ofmjust how many of these memories you will build with your family.
I hope the rest of your holidays brings peace and joy to your heart. :)
Merry christmas Charlotte. :)

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Heather Eats Almond Butter December 24, 2012 at 8:02 pm

I love that poem!!! Thanks for sharing Charlotte and Merry Christmas.
P.S. I say teach her to check ID’s – it will help her addition skills, figuring out people’s ages based on their birthdays. :)

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Emma Powell December 24, 2012 at 10:24 pm

I checked the toy cash register of the lady behind me in line at the store just to make sure it didn’t say “BEER” on one of the buttons. Then I checked the real cashier and found he never pressed any buttons, just scanned stuff. Do they make one of those toys yet?

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Jody - Fit at 55 December 25, 2012 at 1:30 pm

Thank you for sharing Charlotte!!! So sweet & honest as you always are! Hope you are having a wonderful one!! YES, I caught that on the cash register – OMG!!! :)

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Andrea V. December 29, 2012 at 1:06 am

You have given me much to ponder and possibly research with this post. I have often wondered if it is just a normal part of motherhood — to fear for the future and safety of your children so intensely that you cry yourself to sleep at night, pleading with a Father in heaven to watch over and protect your babies. But I have come to realize that such a cripling fear is neither normal nor healthy — only paralyzing. Life does not function in the way that it should. I have tried to simply replace this fear with faith, but I think that more may be needed. I don’t wish to live with such feelings forever. Thank you for your post and uplifting words — I plan on coming back to this one often.

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