Thursday, December 3, 2015

For Real Magic

You know those nights when thoughts take over instead of sleep? That was last night for me. I tried to rest, but instead found myself thinking, mulling, worrying, and planning. I felt utterly split in two by my thoughts and emotions - one half of my heart overwhelmingly giddy and grateful, and the other half scarred and afraid.

We went to bed after a magical evening of Christmas music, dancing in pjs, decorating the tree, and eating cookies. It was for real magic, too, not just Pictures for Social Media Magic (although obviously I documented it on Instagram, because otherwise it didn't happen). 

A lot of times, certain things seem like a great idea in theory, but they actually turn out to be totally horrible. For me, trimming the tree has historically been one of those moments. You start out in good enough spirits, but after two hours of spilled hot chocolate, whiny kids, a husband who will. not. stop. adjusting the tree, and a thousand broken ornaments, you're all screw this, Santa.

But last night was nice. I only said like one cuss word, I think.

Afterward, when the kids were dreaming of sugarplums still awake but adequately threatened with their lives not to emerge from their bedrooms because I already moved that damn elf and I don't have the energy to come up with some obscure story if they find him in his new location before dawn, Pat and I flopped down on the couch - grateful to once again be home for the holidays instead of in a hospital room.

Pat has been sore from training for a marathon, and I sweetly thought about giving him a massage. Instead, I decided to turn on the TV. 

And there it was. Another mass shooting - fourteen people dead.

I watched what I could stomach and then retired to bed. As I laid there, simultaneously grateful and fearful for my children, I once again found myself thinking about the juxtapositions of our lives: young/old; happy/sad; sick/well; magical/horrific. 

I thought about how Christmas cheer can instantly become defiled by a mass shooting and how cancer can one day threaten to define your entire life, but just a two years later become the impetus for reflection and celebration.

I thought about the things that thrill and scare me; how I could all at once be filled with joy, anticipation, gratitude and fear.

I thought about my daughter and the school field trip she had planned for today. She's been giddy all week about attending a Christmas program at a local high school - my alma mater, actually. Until last night, I was equally excited for her - I even taught her a few of the school songs, which she will no doubt perform to anyone who will listen.

By the time morning arrived, my Christmas spirit had been diluted by my midnight musings.

At some point in the night, I'd made the difficult decision to broach the topic of school shootings with my little girl. It's not that I actually know what one should do if ever faced with an armed murderer, it's just that I felt I had to say something

I started things off cool and casual by asking her about the drills they currently have in place. "So, what is that thing you do at school when you turn off all the lights and you have to be really quiet?"

"It's for when a bad guy comes and wants to hurt people. You turn off the lights and you get really, really quiet so that he can't hear you." (I know. It's soul-crushing.)

She started to bounce away and I couldn't help myself. "Hey baby - let's talk a little more."

I had no idea if what I was saying was even remotely true, but I found myself telling her that if she were to ever see a person come into her school with a gun - and she didn't have time to hide and be quiet - then she should flop face-down on the ground and play dead. I don't know if that's good advice. It tears me up that there even has to be advice on this sort of thing. 

All I know is that at 5-years-old, my daughter's cognitive reasoning and judgement isn't developed enough to know what to do in a situation of that magnitude. (Is anyone's for that matter?) Since she doesn't yet have a reliable fight-or-flight instinct, I wanted to give her something to do if - God forbid - she should ever find herself face-to-face with the devil.

So I told her and then took it a step further by asking her to demonstrate. She rolled her eyes, but flopped on the ground like a good girl. 

"What do you think about all of this?" I asked, terrified that I had done some serious damage to her psyche.

"It's cool. Hey mama, let me crawl under your legs." 

And that was that. As I watched her scurry army-style between my feet, it dawned on me that small children know how to navigate this contradictory existence better than any of us - they haven't yet tasked themselves with taking on the weight of the world.

Kids give themselves permission to show off all of their conflicting parts because they instinctively know that we are each a unique mixture of joy, sadness, expectation, disappointment, excitement and fear. (If I had written this post two years ago, I'd totally be getting royalty checks from Pixar right now.) They aren't yet scarred by the torrent of good and evil that deluges our world.

I love that my kids sing and laugh and dance without a glimmer of self-doubt. I love that my son survived cancer and lives with a disability, and doesn't have even the smallest chip on his shoulder about it. I love how my daughter wakes up foggy with sleep and all bed-heady, but taps into her boundless energy as she tears through the house in search of her Christmas elf. I love that she loves her Christmas pajamas so much, that she wears them every moment she's not in school. 

I especially love that she can tell me about the bad guys while remaining sweet and innocent. 

But even without the awareness that comes with age, kids still grasp one very important concept: Life is consistently inconsistent. They instinctively know that there will be times when you are riding high, as happy as can be. But that there will also be moments when you find yourself down on the ground, unable to move. 

In these instances, they know that best plan is not to lay there defeated, but instead look for an opening, crawl through, and go right back to looking for the magic.

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