The Fragility of Holidays

My Mother’s Day this year was rough. I know that for many, the day is a time of sorrow due to grief, estranged relationships, and infertility. I by no means take for granted my splendid mother and my healthy son. But the day was not all rainbows and cupcakes, and if the events that unfolded had happened on any other Sunday, it still would have been a challenging day.

Mother’s Day is when kids are to be on their best behavior and show mommy some love and appreciation. They say it’s the biggest greeting card day of the year. Or did I just get that from Seinfeld? But expecting a particular day to resemble the soft-focus beauty of a greeting card sounds like a blueprint for disappointment. Maybe I should have kept my expectations low. Maybe next year I’ll ditch my family, and I’ll retreat to a lovely spa for a few peaceful hours alone.

The day started out promisingly well. In the morning, I was able to go to church by myself. It turns out that church, free of child-management duties, is sublimely peaceful! Our afternoon plans were to explore a new park and have a store-bought picnic. I love a scrumptious picnic, especially when it comes from a menu and not my own labor. I ordered duck salad and strawberry shortcake – both delicious!

However, the new, well-developed park that we thought we were visiting turned out to be a not-yet-finished park consisting of a playground and woods filled with narrow, buggy trails. The map suggested there was a picnic area, and we traipsed around, schlepping our food and picnic paraphernalia, in search of it. Oh! That copse of trees and dense undergrowth is a yet-to-be-cleared picnic area? Alas, we trekked back to the playground and sat on a bench to eat.

I still would have been satisfied with a bench-picnic. I’m easy enough to please. But impatient Sweetboy kept wandering away while I was eating, and I grew annoyed and exasperated from repeatedly corralling him back. He was itching to explore the long trails. He is an outdoorsy, woodsy, nature-loving kid. (Earlier this spring, in the Shenandoah Mountains, he hiked three miles of the snow-covered Appalachian Trail in the drizzling rain. He didn’t get the quality from me – I’ll openly admit that while he was hiking, I stayed at the lodge and took a bubble bath.) So while I was disappointed in the park’s unfinished and rugged layout, Sweetboy was in his element in a new jungle just waiting to be explored.

The walk through the woods might not have been so bad if it had been a leisurely stroll. But Sweetboy doesn’t do leisurely strolls. He has two speeds: stop and fast. There’s not a lot of in-between. This meant that I grew quite sweaty while repeatedly shouting at him to stop and wait. He’d wait half a beat and be off again as soon as I neared. I kept hollering “I do not want to walk by myself! It is Mother’s Day, you should come walk with me! Stop running up ahead! Watch out for snakes! I can’t see you! You’re too far ahead!”

By the time we finished the walk, I was hot, sticky, and cranky. Eventually, we returned to our car and left the park. If only we could have left the challenging behavior behind as well! But regrettably, someone did not get the memo regarding best behavior from children on Mother’s Day. I fell asleep that night feeling weary and low.

As mentioned earlier, if it hadn’t been Mother’s Day and instead was just a regular Sunday, it would have still been a crappy afternoon. But syrupy Hallmark commercials and the like can make the reality of parenting feel that much harsher. It’s human nature to mark certain days and invest them with extra meaning. What is precious in life is worth celebrating! And I’m all for any excuse to eat cake! But creating days that are fragile because they are filled to the brim with hope and expectations also leaves the door wide open for disappointment due to the burden of being special, of making happy memories, of living up to the Hallmark sentiment.

I borrow from my life in my fictional writing. In fact, the idea for my novel was born from remembering one Christmas morning with my family – another fragile holiday. So, a rough Mother’s Day might show up in my novel. But not the play-by-play details of my day. Not the particulars of Sweetboy’s challenging behavior. After all, it’s a novel, not a memoir. The novel is not about my family, although the main character, Alicia, is a mother who has a son with autism, as do I.

What I do save and use from my own life are the feelings. I’m not unique when I say that writing about my feelings is cathartic. Some character may feel as I felt when I crawled into bed at the end of this disheartening holiday. The despair of not knowing how to be a better parent – the type of parent my son needs me to be. The frustration of feeling lost, without a guidance system to address challenging behavior because typical parenting advice isn’t applicable. Anxiety about a possible future that requires therapeutic interventions but is plagued by unstable finances. Deep weariness. These feelings, even the unwanted ones, are part of being human. But, sometimes, they weigh too heavily on me, and a whisper of hopelessness worms its way into my ear.

Instead of being shackled by the darker moods, I choose to use those feelings. I begin to write, collecting the despairing moments and neutralizing them with black ink. I refresh my mind and clear away the gloom, leaving only the joyous moments of laughter, pride, and love – of which there are many. These euphoric feelings will make it into my novel, too, because parenting a child with special needs can also deliver the highest highs I’ve ever known.

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