I don’t think I’ve ever felt less Christmassy than I did last night.
Even when I think back to Christmas Eves where I cried about being childless and wondered about the point of it all without the true magic brought by children.
Now, over a decade later, the mother of two children and I feel as though I have a stone lodged in my chest after being treated like a metaphorical punching bag by my youngest while my eldest does all she can to connect with her friends, seemingly forgetting that the rest of us exist.
Depsite what I said at the start of this post, Christmas eve has traditionally been one of my favourite days of the year. The magic is at its height, there’s anticipation in the air and all the festivities reach that beautiful moment at the top of the rollercoaster before it all comes hurtling downhill too fast and it’s all over.
I did all I could to make it special for my kids. I booked panto tickets (insert the customary response here), we had a Christmas family movie, where the kids got popcorn and treats and drinks served in green cups with elves on them, we played Christmas songs and took them out to drive around the neighbourhood looking at Christmas lights.
But with all of that, I did exactly what I’ve been writing about over the past few weeks. I set expectations and got upset any time someone failed to meet them.
“This isn’t how things are meant to be!” was the underlying theme of my thought process most of the day.
What does this have to do with joy?
When I went to bed last night, I felt like Kevin in Home Alone. I wanted nothing more than to wake up on Christmas morning in an empty house.
I even considered what it might be like if I just got in my car and drove to a hotel for the day to spend it on my own. That felt like a step too far – but only because I felt guilty about leaving my husband to deal with the kids.
Not too surprisingly, I struggled to sleep. Tired but wired, as they say.
It took me until about 3am to realise that the main cause for my prolonged stress was that I was fighting it. There it was in the background…”This isn’t how things are meant to be! I shouldn’t be feeling this way.”
That’s when I FINALLY remembered the part of me that knows how to deal with this stuff and I submitted.
“This is how I feel so this is where I have to start.” I never find my way through hard emotions while I’m wishing to feel something else.
At that point, I lay in bed and focused on deepening my breath and exhaling slowly so I could communicate to my body that it was time to switch off the alarm.
I imagine this like “taking my own hand” the way I would do to comfort a child who is lost and can’t find her parent. “It’s ok. I’ve got you. Everything is going to be ok.”
From there, it was like magic. The more I connected with that little kid inside me who was freaking out, the more empathy I felt for my children and, within just a few minutes, the stones in my stomach and chest broke apart and I relaxed.
I fell asleep feeling grateful for my kids and the lessons they taught me and, hopefully, a little bit more understanding of how to navigate us through hard times in the future with greater ease and more acceptance.
The only way I think joy can exist is in the acceptance of everything that isn’t joy – all of life’s imperfections and unmet expectations – knowing that these are the moments at which we have to reach for the hand that says, “It’s ok. I’ve got you.”