Looking around my house, it doesn’t take long to figure out which holiday decorations are my favorites. I cherish anything made by my boys’ chubby little hands, from pipe cleaners, glitter, beads, Popsicle sticks, construction paper and crayons. Seeing these pieces from years gone by makes me smile. And I display them along with my nativity scenes, Christmas lights, Santas and nutcrackers every single year.
Sadly, they aren’t very durable. Each year, Andrew and Jack’s old holiday crafts look a little worse for the wear than the year before. We now have felt snowmen missing googly eyes causing them to look like snow pirates, styrofoam Christmas trees whose sequin ornaments have long rubbed off and a manger scene missing Baby Jesus. (One year, he came unglued and fell off, never to be seen or heard from again.)
The other day Andrew and I were having a good ole time looking through old school art projects and laughing at what his handwriting used to look like.
ANDREW: “A-N-D-R W-E-I-F-U. Wow! That’ll teach ’em to ask how to spell my last name. And what’s with all the turkeys? Is that all we did? ‘Happy Valentines Day, here’s a hand turkey.'”
Me: “Be sure to include all that hand turkey experience on your college applications. Acceptance is competitive and sort of a crap shoot these days.”
Carefree laughter turned to stunned silence. And my heart dropped to the pit of my stomach as I read a Christmas list he had made several years ago in elementary school.
Every year I hang this with all the other arts and crafts. Have I never taken the time to read it? (It’s bad enough to find a cry for help in your kid’s Christmas list. But to not even notice it for at least five years? I’m pretty sure this makes me an extra horrible parent.)
I’ve gone through bouts of depression over the past few years, been too busy and stressed out, have barked and snapped when loving words were much needed. And way too often (especially back then) I sought coping skills and solace from a bottle (or more) of wine.
But I always sent cupcakes and goodie bags to class parties, never missed a baseball game or practice, cooked dinners that we all ate together most nights, and made sure the boys were up to date on their vaccinations. As a mom, I looked good on paper.
As they say about sports stats, “the game isn’t played on paper” and neither is parenting. Being second grade room mom means nothing if you’re always too busy to play basketball whenever your kid asks you. And making sure your son gets an A on his solar system project is misplaced effort if you never have time to ooh and ahh over the Lego ship creation he’s just made.
Through cutting out certain behaviors and praying daily for serenity, courage and wisdom, I think I’ve come a long way since then.
Judging from the wobbly cursive on the Christmas list, I’d say Andrew was in third grade with Mrs. J. Or maybe second grade. Mrs. Slade’s class. What’ must she have thought reading this? Or maybe she already knew I was a terrible person. Maybe she’s the one who told him to erase it.
What must have happened that morning or in the preceding weeks to cause my son to ask Santa to help me to be happy? How often did he push aside normal kid thoughts of Transformers, Spongebob and baseball in order to worry about how I was doing? Or maybe I’m reading entirely too much into the whole thing and he was getting back at me for saying no to Chick Fil-A the night before.
And I’ll probably never know. There was no falling into my arms and tearfully opening up about his painful childhood…or explaining that he was mad at me that day about chicken minis. To my incredulity, Andrew took the list, read it…and began to laugh, realizing I’d just handed him a lifetime supply of parental guilt ammo.
“Yeah, Mom! I’m scarred for life now! See what you’ve done to me!”
Even Jack piped up from his corner. “Well, Mom, this may explain what’s wrong with Andrew.”
ME to ANDREW: “Why did you write that?”
ANDREW (laughing at my grief): “I seriously have no idea. I don’t remember the list or what class I was in. But it looks like I didn’t get a single thing I asked for that year.” (he said, punching me on the arm)
ME: “I still feel horrible.”
ANDREW: “Would you feel less horrible if I let you beat me at ping pong?”
ME: “Maybe. Let’s go find out.”
One day at a time, I’ve learned to slow down, to be present in the moment and to enjoy those around me. Being unemployed helps a lot.
I haven’t seen Andrew’s Christmas list this year, but hopefully, he’s not worried about me anymore.
Oh yeah, and I have a book out!
Click here to download to your Kindle. (Nook is coming. I promise.)