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January 18, 2009

My children’s birthdays make me incredibly tense. I vacillate between going completely over-the-top, spending hundreds of dollars on an extravagant event that they don’t remember (like Jon-David’s fifth birthday, when I bought everyone in our extended family tickets to a play and got him a specialty “Larry Boy” cake from a local designer bakery) and planning something extremely simple (this usually means we buy a toy and take our three children out for a “birthday dinner”).

When I was growing up, holidays were often painful. People were either drunk or fighting, or the holiday was canceled altogether. I often lost holidays as punishments for a bad behavior – a symptom of the craziness that pervaded my little home.

Christmas was canceled the year I was ten. My parents left me at home – one went to work, and one went on vacation. I spent the day watching “Babes in Toyland” and eating chocolate Dove Bars. I was lonely but also reveled in the solitude as I sat quietly in our government-subsidized apartment eating ice cream.

I thought about my “Babes in Toyland” Christmas yesterday as I nervously got things ready for Lucy’s Puppy Party. My battle with anxiety about her birthday started mid-week. I wanted everything to go well. I wanted her day to be perfect. I cleaned the house (because that is so important to a four-year-old) and cut out little bone-shaped sandwiches. I did all the laundry. I scrubbed the floors. I checked my evite several times. I made the “doggie bag” goodie bags.

We were ready.

Except, of course, for the cake. I was so worked up about the party that I had completely forgotten to order the special puppy cake. Or even pick up any birthday cake at all – even a generic chocolate one with a simple floral design.

This is what happens every time I try to control the situation. When I bring in my old fears and start flinging them over my family, chanting under my breath, “this day won’t be ruined, this holiday won’t be canceled, I won’t let it, I won’t let it…” then I stop trusting God and start relying on my own small strength to make life work.

I lost His perspective. I was too busy cleaning to slow down and say, “Lord, show me the truth about Lucy’s birthday. Remind me that my daughter is NOT me and that she has a healthy, stable family. Help me to relax. Help me to trust you.” Instead I wiped and planned and made life miserable for everyone in my house for a few days.

The great news for me is that Lucy has a wonderful birthday, despite my anxiety. Hugh ran out to Harris Teeter and bought a cake. Her little friends came over. No, they didn’t all like the puppy ears and half of them didn’t want puppy face paint. No, they didn’t really want to play the fun puppy-themed games.

But for two hours my little girl ran around our house eating candy bones and barking with her friends. She ripped open presents, forgot to say “thank-you”, and ate too much cake. And somewhere between the defunct face-painting and bad manners, I started to relax. Lucy is living with love and security and good memories.

And as I watch her dance across the room in her face-paint, I continue to heal.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Amanda McEwen permalink
    January 18, 2009 6:20 pm

    Lucy’s party was wonderful. Andrew talked about it all day…though he was one of the main ones not participating 😐 . More importantly, you were so relaxed. I am proud of you.

    And if I see your mama, I might slap her….er……with the love of Jesus…..yeah. (Sorry these posts leave me feeling protective)

  2. January 18, 2009 9:21 pm

    Wow. I see myself in that post big time. I try so hard to keep from recreating the tension I felt as a kid, that I cause a whole different type of tension in my house. I’ve realized my obsession with perfection is ruining me. I just wrote a whole post earlier today about how I need to ease up and stop taking myself so seriously. This is so much easier said then done, but I’m trying.

  3. January 18, 2009 9:24 pm

    Your memories remind me of similar family events at my own home. Yet, we aren’t our mothers, Jess. We aren’t. We are better than they are. All we have to do is show up and we’re already better. You showed up. Good girl!

  4. January 19, 2009 10:21 am

    I sometimes wonder, without this overwhelming fear of recreating my childhood, if I would be as dependent on God for raising my children. Though it (the desperation) can be a handicap, I love that our amazing Father is faithful to model parenting for us, and that He can use the anxieties for His good purposes at the same time as slowly whittling away the pain & baggage we stubbornly carry.

    Thanks for sharing the journey, Jess. You’d be amazed at the work it’s doing in hearts very similar to yours.

  5. Dawna permalink
    January 21, 2009 10:51 am

    Thank you for sharing your heart. I am certain that God is using you. I stress out terribly trying to make birthday parties perfect, as well as Christmases. Some day we may get it right.

  6. Joy F. permalink
    January 23, 2009 9:04 am

    The birthday party was perfect in every way. Four year olds were being four year olds, and I think they all loved everything, even when they wouldn’t run around the circle for the game or put on doggie ears. It was wonderful!!! What a nice memory for Lucy and for her friends too.

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