I am an emotional wreck. Christmas does this to me every year. Like many aspects of motherhood, it shines a light on all my worst traits and makes me a ball of stress and overwhelm.
My husband bears the brunt of this and it makes things a little (ahem) tense at home in what’s supposed to be the season of goodwill.
Much as I want to love Christmas, I find it hard. I want it to be a happy, family-focused time but the expectations rarely match up to reality. It cannot be the relaxed fun time I want, because that’s not what being the parent of a severely disabled child is like. At least, not with my child. Spontaneity and fun are possible – but usually planning and structure are the keys to happiness.
The first Christmas after Ted was born I was in a dark, bleak place desperately finding my feet as a mum with an undernourished, unsettled, unrelenting baby. There was very little joy in it for me. And if I remember rightly, Ted came up in hideous hives and we spent most of Christmas on a frantic tour of out of hours followed by a NYE in A&E with a suspected chest infection and terrible reflux. Fun times.
So, much as we have all moved on from that particular low point, the ghosts of that early trauma still colour my Christmases. I commented on a post on Instagram the other day about there being an element of sadness in me when I think about this time of year. A lovely lady chimed in to suggest a new family tradition like eating chocolates snuggled up in bed while reading new books on Christmas Eve.
I didn’t have the heart to tell her that my kid can’t eat chocolate (or indeed anything that isn’t puréed and fed to him while in a super upright and supportive chair). Neither can I keep him still long enough to really ‘snuggle’ in a bed. Or that he is rarely open to new things. Books can be an especially disappointing example, provoking whingey cries at an unwanted and unfamiliar tale. We get there eventually but it takes a few tries. I’m sure there are things that we can do. But this sweet and seemingly simple suggestion made me cry much more than I was expecting.
The underlying anxiety that I have lived with constantly from the moment I became a mum doesn’t help. It gets worse at this time of year as I struggle with my desire for everything to be taken care of properly.
The irony of course is that nothing gets taken care of properly. I am a terrible multitasker (as most people are) and a seasoned procrastinator. In my defence, I have a lot of plates to spin and in trying to keep them all from smashing I can only focus on what’s immediately in front of me. I think we can all agree that a lack of forward planning is the worst when you’re on a deadline of last-posting dates and total seasonal shutdown.
And so, if I manage to buy Christmas cards, they don’t get written. Or I write them and don’t send them. The presents are usually rushed purchases that I desperately want to be perfect but there are too many to think about. Ted has SO many people in his life. Therapists, TAs, teachers (there are two), a PA on transport, support workers… not to mention the cleaner, my nieces and nephews, parents, in-laws, sisters and husband, kind friends and their kids.
I am SO lucky to have these people and this dilemma, I know.
I mean, to be stressing about needing to get gifts for my cleaner (and her super thoughtful daughter who passes on unwanted dolls to Dilly) screams of privilege. First world problems they may be, but they make my head spin nonetheless.
The huge pressure I put on myself doesn’t help. Essentially, I try to make up for my year-long disorganisation with one last attempt to show people that I am thinking of them.
Because I am. Constantly. I may not send a birthday card on time (or at all). I probably don’t often comment on your Facebook pics, or congratulate you on all your achievements or go to your parties. I rarely phone you or reply to your texts within a timely fashion. It might take me six months to respond to an email. But I am here.
So to all my friends, these are some of the things I think about when I hear your names or see your photos. Maybe I will get the chance to tell you individually next year. Especially if you keep doing what you are doing and sticking around even when I don’t appear to notice.
Your kids are growing up beautifully. You’re doing a great job.
Your children are giving you a hard time right now. You’re doing a great job.
Your kids are having a hard time right now. You’re doing a great job.
I’m so happy you are thriving. You have grown so much this year.
I’m so sorry you are suffering. You will come out the other side eventually, I promise.
Your business and your work is amazing – I’m so proud of what you’ve achieved.
I’m sorry that you are grieving for dear ones lost this year.
I wish I could take away the pain of your long-term health condition.
I know you miss the way things used to be.
You’re feeling overwhelmed but this too shall pass.
Your marriage may be over but your life isn’t, even if it feels that way sometimes.
You have the strength to overcome yet another hurdle. I know you do.
Don’t compare yourself to others. You are achieving great things every day.
I love the support you are giving other women – personally and professionally.
I admire your courage in following your dreams.
It’s so great to see you find happiness with someone new.
It’s lovely to see you living a full, happy life without a partner.
You make me laugh and always know what to say.
You make me think and challenge my outlook on the world.
You know me better than most people and I’m so grateful for our years of friendship.