This post originally appeared on my tinyletter, Where is my Mind?
Yesterday was Halloween. I had a good time. In fact, I had an outright delightful time. The weather was clear and cool (but not cold), the kids were in good moods, the candy was flowing, there were friends, and there were no tears, especially from me.
Holidays have typically been fraught for me. I have grand, romantic ideas of what the event in question should be, should mean to my kids. I also would get supremely anxious when things started to deviate from the picture I had in my head. Particularly public holidays, such as Halloween, where we are on display, where I could feel eyes on our family, judging me and my parenting, judging my kids who I wanted desperately to protect.
My heart would start to race and I would get shorter and shorter with the kids, as they inevitably forgot to say “thank you” or crossed a lawn instead of taking the paved paths from house to house. When they would run into people in the dark. When they would get too far ahead or behind. I would end up whisper-yelling at them, frustrated, humiliated, feeling like a failure. God forbid a parent said anything that even remotely sounded like a criticism; I would fall apart. I would have felt like I ruined the night, that I was a failure as a parent, that I had let the kids down, that I was…
That I was worthless.
Almost every vacation we’ve ever taken, each holiday we’ve ever had has been tainted by one of these irrational outbursts from me. That I knew they were irrational just made it worse, because I didn’t understand why I couldn’t keep my reactions in check, knowing how outsized and ridiculous I appeared. I never relax, always on edge, waiting for my reactions to outstrip my ability to control them. Eventually you give up and you don’t do anything, because what’s the point? I was just going to ruin it anyway.
There is a memory I have of my grandmother, who would do her Christmas shopping starting in September, and then hide the presents in her house, even though we knew what we were getting because she bought them with us. We would sit at her house on Christmas morning, opening presents and then feel terrible asking for a present we knew we were supposed to get, but didn’t end up under the tree, having been bought months earlier and forgotten in a bag in the back on a closet or under a bed. She would burst into tears, apologizing profusely about ruining Christmas and failing as a grandmother.
I think about that feeling now, realizing how acutely I’ve felt that same thing, over and over again, holiday after holiday.
Last night, we had fun. We had fun every weekend in September when we tried to cram an entire summer’s worth of family activities into four weekends. I didn’t even need to keep it together; I never felt like I was falling apart. We’re going to Disney for the first time as a family in January (shhhhhh…it’s a surprise), and while it is the perfect time to take the kids (aged 10 and almost 9), it is also the perfect time for me: I’ll actually be able to enjoy it. That, for me, is the best present I could have given myself and my family.