Putting the Brakes On This Old Train

Today I am thinking about a conversation that took place on my midwife’s exam table accompanied by the sound of crinkling paper. I’ve mentioned earlier on this blog about the time my midwife remarked what a gift it is to be responsible for making the memories of our children. It freaked me out then and it’s still freaking me out now, 13 years later. And since pregnancy is the hot topic of today’s news thanks to Kate Middleton’s upcoming prince or princess, the role of parenting and our children’s ensuing memories seems apropos. At least to me.

Because it is the holidays and I’m not so good at this time of year.

I’ve long remarked that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and I typically add to my remark that it is the holiday my family managed to not muck up for my younger self. That Thanksgiving has good memories for me, unlike Christmas which has lots of memories of fighting and angry faces.

As an adult, I totally understand what might have led my parents to argue about the mundane. I’m sure it was stressful trying to figure out how to give my sister and I a nice Christmas. Both my parents had childhoods that probably made them feel like they wanted to create a different sort of Christmas memory for us.

And yet, while I have memories of dollhouses, and stockings, and stacks of board games, my strongest early memories are of them being unhappy. It has taken years for new memories to supplant all the old ones, for Christmastime to become a more sweet than bitter time. The hardest years of Christmas memories are from my earliest years. They hold a weight far heavier than the many years of laughing while baking cookies, of wrapping gifts, and giggling as my family grew first with a sister and then a brother.

One’s earliest memories create our emotional foundations. And my Christmastime foundation was a wobbly one. Thanksgiving’s was solid. But not Christmas.

Fast forward many years, and Thanksgiving this year had more than a few brief moments of me being unhappy. And now I am wondering what kinds of foundational holiday memories I am creating for my children. Am I wrecking Thanksgiving for them the same way my family wrecked Christmas for me? Not truly wrecked, but made wobbly and less of a favorite.

Is it possible to put the brakes on our own emotional trains long enough to stop them from running into our children? I think for many yes. But for me, I’m not so sure.

Christmas is definitely stressful for me, but my kids have Mister Soandso who does a great job of balancing both me and the holiday stresses for my kids. But I am part of their holiday memories.

I am their mother and they know I love them. They accept that sometimes Mom is more stressed out than usual and when that happens, she often gets angry over not-so-important things. They love me in spite of my times of sadness. I just wish upon a thousand stars that I could be different for them.

I am fairly certain that without Mister Soandso, Biggest, Middlest, and Littlest, my train would have careened out of control long ago. I am so thankful for them and their ability to help me put the brakes on, even on the days when I do a poor job of it.

But I hope and pray that someday, their memories of me during the holidays are me being happy more than any other emotion. I suppose this year what I should ask for is some new brakes for my train before I’ve made such a wobbly mess of their memories that they too must find a way to prop up the foundations of their holiday memories. I covet an emotional train that’s more like the Polar Express, keeping the magical aspects of childhood alive and well for my kids for as long as possible. Instead, my emotional train is looking pretty shabby and in need of lots of work. For now, I guess I’m going to work on the brakes for this train I’ve already got.

Dear Santa;

This year, can you please get me a new emotional train? I’d like one with good brakes for the times when life makes emotional trains fly out of control around too-tight curves. I’d like one with an engine strong enough to get up the steepest hill and keep going for the longest distances needed. I’d like it to have a passenger car big enough that I can have lots of people along with me for this journey because I love so many so dearly. And I’d love it if it had a hospitality car stocked with lots of ways of making us all enjoy the journey. Thank you Santa for being magical enough to maybe, just maybe, make this happen.

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2 thoughts on “Putting the Brakes On This Old Train

  1. The December my oldest was three and my son was one month old, they lost their gran. Daughter had night terrors for the next six months. It was an incredibly sad time and probably not a good foundation for happy Christmas memories and yet they are growing up with the same love of Christmas their gran always had. You just never know.

    Sometimes we have to be forgiving of ourselves and the job we’re doing. By laying down the fears of our own bad parenting, we can be more open to the things our kids are telling us they need.

    That first year, my daughter confided she was worried Mama and Daddy would die too, just like Gran did. It seemed like such a huge existential crisis to me—and then she added, “And if you die, how will I open the fridge? I’m not nearly tall enough.”

    So I showed her how she could use the stool to open the fridge and that comforted her. If I’d jumped into the conversation I thought she needed, I would have just scared her more.

  2. Oh Kristina, I get that. For the most part my childhood memories of Christmas are very good, though I remember some weirdness’s too.

    The Part I really relate to is the “how do I make this good for my kid(s)?

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