At 9:30 in the morning, the small swish of paper brushing across my bedroom’s wooden floor woke me.
My husband Matt was at the Ravens game with some friends. There had been an early curtain call for the pre-game frivolity, so he’d been gone for some time. The night before had been a late one, and I’d overslept. Meaning, I was already frustrated. Unless there’s a nuclear winter and all the alarm clocks have been burnt up, I oversleep in one place: in a hotel, on vacation. At all other times, I wake with the habitual thought of every “regular” morning:
What do I have to do?
Not, I slept great last night. Not, Man, that was a weird dream! Not, The sunlight is so pretty coming in through the curtains. I wake daily to a tiny cloud of obligatory doom. Feeling like you’re already behind is a good way to feel like you’re never going to catch up. So you don’t fully enjoy the beauty of not-doomed things, like this:
I felt a little thrill knowing that one of my children had taken the initiative to develop a “surprise.” On the other hand, I really, really wanted to get up, get dressed, and get going. How does one hold two conflicting sensibilities in their head simultaneously without going mad?
My sweet girl had hollered at me to close the door when I cracked it, telling me she and her brothers would come in together because they had something for me. Jesse sprinted down the hallway to hand off a picture he’d drawn:
He told me to shut the door behind him, and I did. Then, I checked my phone. I turned on the news. I brushed my teeth. And I waited.
And tried not to have a coronary.
Finally, Grace opened the door, carrying a tray:
Briefly, very briefly, too briefly, I took a few minutes to enjoy the breakfast that was delivered. But I felt myself vibrating with the need to do things, accomplish things. After a few minutes (that felt like a few hours), I sprinted out of bed to get to work.
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise, then that my son came home from school the next day and approached me, stoically, and without a hint of drama:
“Mom, I’m worried that I will get coal this Christmas.”
This is a child that’s cuddled and caressed, that’s encouraged and built up. He is parented at 110% (fine – probably OVER-PARENTED) every waking minute. I had said nothing to him about my anxiety the previous day. But it hadn’t made a whit of difference. He’d seen everything.
(Flashback sequence: cleaning toilets, vacuuming rugs, doing laundry, organizing desk, brushing dogs, and then fuming silently because the knowledge that it was all going to straight down the toilet in a few seconds/minutes/days was almost too much to handle).
“Wait – what?” I stammered. “Don’t you think you’ve been good this year?”
I took his hand, and successfully prevented myself from blurting, “WHAT KID THINKS THEY ARE ACTUALLY GOING TO GET COAL FOR CHRISTMAS? WHAT HAVE I DONE TO YOU??”
Jesse’s voice was absent of humor. It was so earnest and seeking it made my stomach hurt.
“Well, I really only think my behavior has been 50-50. Some stuff I could have done lots better.”
Anxious about what he’s accomplished? Anxious by nature? Medicated for anxiety? Well, I wonder where he gets that.
No, I don’t.
I’ve read Proverbs 22:6 more times than I can count. They practically tattoo it on your arm if you’re raising kids in church. “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it” (ASV). It’s amazing how often you can count something and still miss it.
What I didn’t count on was the nature of things. The nature of parenting itself. The nature of my son who watches me, and by watching me, learns. As all children do.
I tell him to be “anxious for nothing,” that “worry adds nothing.” But the nature of his inquisitive mind is such that he will close his ears when his eyes are opened. It is the nature of things to fall wildly, hellishly apart; the essential attribute of the universe to tumble further every day from the God who’s orchestrated it. How we respond to that devolution? Well, it proves the very nature of our character.
The knowledge of Jesse having seen my worry pressed down hard on my mother’s heart. My anxiety hadn’t been solitary, after all.
I took Jesse’s hand in mine that day, bending so that I was at eye level with him.
“You are so good, Jesse. No matter what you do, no matter how you act. It’s in your nature.”
Sarah Parshall Perry
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