Last night long after my husband and daughter fell asleep Nels and I lay awake together in bed. He whispered and wiggled and babbled about two things: how excited he was for Christmas, and how absolutely and thoroughly he loved me – the latter conversation in much detail and with many kisses applied to my neck, arms, face, and mouth. At first all his chattering and moving about annoyed me; then I realized he was just overexcited. Like a puppy, he couldn’t calm himself. I laid next to him and listened to his talk and loved him up and pet him and eventually he settled and fell asleep.
I laid there for a bit, numb and terrified, and thought to myself how utterly insane it was, my having children. In no way could I imagine the vulnerability I’d feel each and every night as they slept. The thought – morbid, but obsessively addictive, like a toothache one explores with one’s tongue – of their little lives in peril or danger or them being spirited away or dying an early death is enough to strike more horror and dread and prescient despair in my heart than I could have previously wrapped my mind around. Sometimes when I think on these thoughts – which isn’t that rarely, as it turns out – I simply do not understand the depth and intensity of my feelings. It’s a helpless, formless, and useless preoccupation, and many times exceedingly painful. It’s something I try to temper with logic, common sense, and / or prayer. It’s something I can’t get on top of. Nights like last night, I just wait in hopeless, vague fear for sleep and know that another day will come and I’ll have my family with me in wakefulness again and instead of a dark night I will share with them a crystalline moment of daylight, so grateful for their presence and so in love with their bodies and souls.
I’ve never seen my kids as keyed-up as I have these last few days. It’s as if they are getting the Christmas excitement and gift-centric hype from the airwaves (we have no television or commercial influence in our home). This year for the first time in my life we’re opening presents on Christmas even (at midnight, less than an hour away at time of this entry): my husband’s idea. The children have been creating present after present; wrapping lopsided packages in craft paper and wrapping paper and even occasionally quarantining a cat in a cardboard box where I hear some muffled movement and I scold the children and demand they release the poor feline. I haven’t had, it seems, a moment to spare on thinking of the gifts that may be coming to me. Tonight as I finish the kitchener stitch on a pair of socks for my mother I think to myself how it seems only yesterday my brother and I would wake at the crack of dawn with every kind of excited imagining about the loot that was to be ours; these last few years of parenthood and my own gifts, whatever they may or may not include, are as remote to me as if we did not observe the holiday.
Tonight at dinner we have a few moments of calmness, at least. Ralph and the children play in the kids’ room contentedly as I lay out a modest but delicious Christmas dinner: roasted pork loin (with garlic and rosemary from our friend Mickey’s garden), cottage fries, Scandanavian cucumber salad, relish tray, and a chocolate oat cake (the latter delicious and very easy and satisfying to make). Something about setting the table and deglazing the pan and pouring the carafe of water from the fridge helps me feel more settled than I have for the last twenty-four hours. I feel grateful for the food, and the family, and the contentment and good humor I experience in being able to prepare a meal. This Christmas season has been harder than most I can remember in a good while – the emotional fallout from a move, a deep sadness inherent in missing my father, the very real financial changes we’ve experienced in the last few weeks; but for at least tonight, a peace and gladness has been restored.