Parenting with the Pastor: Nightmare Before Christmas
No, not that one. We can talk about the pros and cons of Tim Burton some other time. I’m talking about the recurring nightmare that parents deal with every year, making a magical Christmas. I’m a huge fan of Christmas. I don’t do the Hallmark movies, but I might secretly read British Christmas Romance. Maybe. Every year I join the millions of parents worldwide (or would it be billions?) and attempt to make the December holiday we celebrate magical for my kids. Raise your hand if you’re exhausted (and give me a sec while I raise both). The pressure to be a perfect parent is extensive and constant, but it doubles at Christmas. There are countless blogs that will give you ideas for magical moments and Christmas. Everywhere you turn you’ll find creative ways to position your creepy surveillance elf and mischief for your elf to make while you’re asleep. This is not that.
Shockingly, I’m not an advocate for perfect parenting, at Christmas or year round. I think now is a good time to supply you all with a bit of my background. It’s time to tell you my parenting origin story. It started almost 12 years ago now, when I became pregnant with my son, Isaac. The pregnancy was rough, but it was anxiety that made it so difficult. Every small bleed, every cramp, every moment of fear had me racing to the doctor. I baby proofed everything I could and I waited. I was induced a week early because of how uncomfortable I was. I realize now that a lot of my discomfort came from the intense fear I was experiencing. Labor was fine. I had some back labor, made it to 6 centimeters before asking for an epidural, and that’s when the fear turned to guilt. My mom gave birth to both my sister and I mostly without pain meds and completely epidural free. The doctors had to strongly recommend something when my 10 lb 13 oz sister needed some assistance with removal. I had planned on a “natural” pregnancy too, but I fell short. Isaac was born at 5:12 pm after 10 hours of labor.
Needless to say, guilt and fear skipped hand in hand through my first weeks of motherhood (and they didn’t go away). First was the circumcision decision and procedure, which I made myself watch. I left the choice up to my husband, because I felt the different equipment meant my opinion would be lacking any insider knowledge, but I took the responsibility for Isaac’s pain. Then it was breastfeeding. Ike latched on right away and ate voraciously. It was so voracious that I cracked and bled badly, and then felt like I was wimping out when I asked for some really good cream of some kind. Bringing him home led to greater fear and deeper guilt. He cried and his tummy hurt, which was my fault. What did I eat that upset his stomach? He woke my husband up in the middle of the night and I was too exhausted to care for Isaac all by myself. I fell asleep in the rocking chair and Isaac almost fell out of my lap. It got so bad that I stopped sleeping for fear of his waking. I cut out all foods except for yogurt and string cheese because I was afraid of hurting his tummy with anything else. I was in the shower crying and wanting desperately to die before I realized that things with me were very, very wrong. I called my friend Kati (forever in your debt lady), and then I called my doctor. The first nurse told me they could start me on some mild antidepressants. I knew she wasn’t getting it, so I called another nurse on a helpline. They told me to get to the hospital, ASAP. I was hospitalized for a week. I was separated from Isaac and went from feeling everything to feeling nothing.
It was bad. I went through two years before I finally started to come out of severe postpartum depression. I went to therapy, took meds, stopped breastfeeding so I could take meds, had a setback at the extreme guilt I felt over the breastfeeding, and then moved in with my parents. Isaac’s dad worked 14 hour days, and I couldn’t be alone. My sister was getting married, and Isaac and I descended upon my family in a big way and probably made the planning a whole lot harder. I wasn’t there emotionally for all of the wedding joy and I will forever carry that loss and regret. I lived in a emotion dampened state for two years and didn’t know how to love. I got through because of the way my parents demonstrated their love. I looked to that as my guide and acted out my love, even when I didn’t feel it.
Fast forward 7 years. Isaac’s dad and I divorced. Twice. There isn’t time for that story today. I married my best friend and love of my life, Geoff, in 2016. We got pregnant with our daughter that year. I was happier than I ever had been. And then the whole pregnancy sucked. It wasn’t fear this time, or anxiety, it was just a whole lot of genetic weirdness and random happenstance. First they told us our daughter might have genetic abnormalities and I had to have gene testing done. Then pain started. I kept having intense, right side pain that no one could figure out. At five months, they removed my gallbladder. At 6 months, I was diagnosed with H.E.L.L.P.S, which is basically an intense form of preeclampsia. They had to take Kelsea in an emergency cesarean within 48 hours of my diagnosis, or I would die. She was only 26 weeks, 6 days into her development, so there were a slew of ways she could suffer due to her early birth They listed each one in detail (The doctor who shared this information was nicknamed Dr. Doom by Geoff and I. We didn’t see him again).
Recovery sucked a bit. I came down with a virus less than 48 hours after delivery and had to leave the hospital without seeing her. While I was packing up, I watched my graduation on Geoff’s laptop. I received my Master’s of Divinity from Iliff School of Theology, but I wasn’t there in person. There’s a whole touching story where I was handed my degree by the president of the seminary while wearing slippers, but that’s also another story. I had fairly typical hormonal shifts and sadness, and I am still trying to decide which is harder to recover from, an episiotomy or c- section.
Kelsea has surpassed all expectations. She was in the NICU at St. Joseph’s for three months and had the most amazing nurses and the best care. I got to breastfeed her when she was two months old and continue that magical (and occasionally very painful) connection for over a year. Kelsea didn’t even need oxygen when she came home. There are full term babies who don’t manage that in Colorado, but our Kelsea rocked it. Her sight is great, her hearing is good. There are some lingering concerns over development, but we’ve had none of the experiences that Dr. Doom warned us about. Things were hard and harder, but I got to feel all of it, and that was a gift.
This is my parenting origin story, but no one is going to call me supermom (comic nerd alert, if you don’t get it, Google it). I am human, all year long and especially at Christmas. Yep, we’re circling back to the original point now. I thought it was important for you to know how I got where I am as a parent. Hopefully it will give weight to what I tell you now. Do what you can, enjoy what you’re experiencing, and say screw the rest. I think you should toss the elf on the shelf and tell your kids you evicted it for illegal surveillance, but that’s me and you should do you. Let your kids color on the presents. They even have wrapping paper for that reason. Or use newspapers. Breathe deep when they tear the paper while trying to “help”. Decorate the cookies, if you make cookies, and enjoy the heck out of store bought ones if you don’t. Watch Nightmare Before Christmas if you want, or 86 all of the Christmas movies and give your kids headphones if they want to watch. I will pitch Jingle Jangle again and say everyone should watch that, but that’s me again, being me. Deal with ornaments all in one place on the tree, or fix it and tell kids the elves had other ideas for your tree. What works for you, works for you. if you can’t feel the holiday spirit, but still want your kids to enjoy it then you fake it while you make it and try again next year. Forgive your mistakes and enjoy them if you can. Experience the joy as it comes, and your kids will too. This is my advice. That, and toss the elf on the shelf. Merry Christmas everyone.