I love Christmas. Which means I sometimes get a little crazy trying to do everything that I love to do, everything that I think everyone wants, and everything to make everyone happy. And sometimes trying to make everything perfect, ironically, ruins Christmas.
All of my family was going to be together this year for Christmas, which meant three families would stay at my house for ten days and I would host multiple events for all seventeen people. As I shopped and baked and planned and cleaned, I could feel the craziness coming on. So, as I prepared for my children to gather, I prayed earnestly and very specifically. Please let me be calm for Christmas. Please help me to feel peaceful and grateful and not crazy.
The Lord gave me what I asked for.
The day that my out-of-town children arrived, I came down with a terrible case of the flu and a chest cold. I was feverish, achy, coughing. I could hardly move, and I completely lost my voice. I had to use a clipboard to communicate.
For the entire ten days that my family gathered for the holidays, I was pretty much in bed, inert, coughing, sleeping, and very calm. I couldn’t even talk.
I lay in bed listening to my children laughing and chatting. They made meals, went on the Polar Express and to Candlelight Christmas. They went Christmas shopping and caroling—they did all the wonderful Christmassy things we had planned, just without me.
And it was OK. As I lay in bed coughing and coughing, I just felt grateful. Grateful my children were having fun together, grateful they were responsible adults taking care of meals and dishes and laundry all without me. Grateful they brought me tea and soup and were so kind to me.
In some ways, it was my best Christmas. I wasn’t trying to control anyone. I wasn’t feeling responsible for anyone’s happiness. I didn’t try to change anyone or worry about what I hadn’t done.
Every once in while I came out of my room in my jammies and just enjoyed watching my wonderful family.
Toward the end of the holiday, I felt better. I went for a walk with one of my children. We were enjoying the fresh air and I was so happy to be out of the house, laughing and talking with my beloved child. Then I reached out, almost reflexively, and straightened up her shoulders, as I had so many times throughout her growing up years. That sweet person turned to me laughing and said, “Oh Mom! You are well enough to care!”
But I immediately hated that I had done that. Why couldn’t I let go and let everyone be, now that I was well? Why couldn’t I just be grateful for the thousands of wonderful things my child is, rather than try to change her?
I hated what I had done. I just wished I could to capture that peaceful feeling of letting go, of feeling peace and calm. Why can I only let go of the need to control when I am ill?
Well. That’s a little harsh. I hope I am not truly that controlling. But there is something about being a parent that makes you feel responsible for the happiness of your children. If you think of something that might make them more happy, there is a compulsion to tell them. After all, isn’t it your job, as a parent, to teach your children?
That in itself is probably a misconception. I’m reading a book about parenting called The Gardener and the Carpenter by Alison Gopnik, a child development professor at Berkeley. She explains that we cannot intentionally craft children into adults, as a carpenter might shape a chair or a table. Instead we are more like gardeners, who provide a nurturing environment where plants can thrive and become whatever they are meant to be. Gopnik explains we need to love children, share our lives with them, but not “parent” them or try to shape them.
I’m not sure I’m not totally on board with all of this, but I do know my resolution for 2018 is to somehow become a better parent to adult children. Now that my children are grown, what is my place in their lives? I’ve started keeping a running list of my insights in that quest. I’m asking my children what I can do to better support them.
Oops. Looks like I’m still trying to control stuff—me especially. But I guess that’s OK. In any case, I’m feeling teachable. I’m letting go of the need to shape other people. I’m feeling grateful for all the good things in my life right now.
And I like the way it feels. Calm. My prayer was answered. I was not only calm for Christmas, but I can feel calmness spreading into the new year. Maybe I can keep it up even when I don’t have the flu.