The house is always the first thing to slip for me, partially because it's emotionally draining to watch my work be undone by toddlers as fast as I can do it. I'd rather cheer on a student learning a new musical concept, or fill a blank page with words--words that I save compulsively to ensure that they will STILL BE THERE when I come back.
But my normal pace of life is somewhat frantic, and when I add in a messy house, my brain and emotions turn to chaos. Add lack of sleep (I've never yet had one of those magical babies who likes to sleep through the night), and it's a proven recipe for depression.
And so, a month ago, I skipped out on a women's activity I had signed up for at the church. I pounded away on the piano and then took my girls to the park instead. Two weeks ago I told Ryan I wasn't going to a scheduled girls' night.
"Why not? I'll keep the kids."
I shrugged. "I don't feel like it. And I don't want to make cookies for the cookie swap part."
"I'm sure they won't care. Don't you like the people going?"
"They're awesome. I'd just rather read a book or something."
***NOTE: Reading books is normal for me. Lots of books. But skipping a party and the chance to get out of the house without kids? I'm an extrovert, people--that's not normal.***
Two days before my birthday, I told Ryan I was completely empty. I didn't want to go anywhere. I didn't want to do anything. I didn't want to read. I didn't want to write. I didn't want to talk to people. I wanted to sleep, and I wanted to hide in a closet and be left alone.
That was when he told me we'd be loading the kids into the car at 5:00 a.m. on my birthday and wouldn't return until the next day.
He'd planned a huge surprise for me, and I wasn't even excited or curious. I just hoped it wouldn't require much energy.
The night before we left, I frantically canned applesauce. I'd bought a box of apples, and though I hadn't even finished canning the pears I'd been working on the previous week, I was determined to get these apples done before we left (next time I try to take on a project like this, someone please tell me it's not allowed until my baby passes the 12-month mark). Between batches, I scrubbed away at piles of dirty dishes, trying to get rid of anything that would stink before we got back. We'd be leaving for my parents' house for Christmas the day after we got back from this mysterious birthday trip, and I knew I'd need Sunday night for packing.
Now, I'm going to skim lightly over the birthday part, though it was probably the best birthday I can ever remember. My husband took me to see my "second family," the family I had been a nanny for through so many years. They made traditional foods I'd shared with them over the years, including Michael's three-cheese twice-baked cheesecake. They enveloped me in a love I could never question. The twins I'd cared for as babies took care of my babies, patiently letting Cim help them feed the goats and chickens, and even carrying Mari out on their shoulders when she couldn't find her shoes.
I came alive again.
Due to circumstances, we didn't make it home the next day, and instead headed straight to my parents' on Monday. The dirty dishes I'd promised myself I'd finish? The mountains of laundry? The piles of clutter? They'd all wait. Because, as mothers know, the chores are always waiting.
We spent a wonderful week with my parents. We had a great Christmas. Then Ryan and the two older girls caught a nasty stomach bug.
After two days of Ryan being sick, and me cleaning up vomit and running on 2 weeks of averaging 2-3 hours of sleep a night, we began the drive home. With stops for food and gas, it took us over thirteen hours.
As we pulled into our neighborhood, I turned to Ryan. "Remember those pears I never got canned? I bet they stink. And the trash. And the dishes. Our house will probably reek."
Ryan grimaced. "We'll deal with it tomorrow."
The closer we got to our house, the more tense I became. I knew what I'd see when I walked in, and I hadn't had enough sleep to deal with it. A week of nothing BUT sleep might have let me deal with it, but that wouldn't happen any time soon.
And then we got home.
And then I walked inside.
And then I cried.
My Christmas tree lights were on, and their soft glow lit a shining wood floor--a floor not buried in clutter and dust.
My kitchen counters were visible--I think maybe the corner of one had been showing when I'd left.
The bathrooms were clean.
The bedrooms were clean.
The playroom was clean, for probably the third or fourth time since we'd moved into the house.
Everything was vacuumed. Everything was perfect.
Wandering through the house, Cim exclaimed over each room. Finally, in the playroom, she turned slowly in a circle, then looked at me and said, "Wow, that was a big work. They must love us a whole lot."
Depression affects a lot of things, including creating spirals of negative thoughts. One doubt leads to another and another, in patterns like this: In spite of dear friends who constantly go out of their way for me, in the last little while I'd begun to question whether people could actually even like me, or whether they were just too nice to push me away. I'm too loud. I'm obnoxious. I have a habit of interrupting, that I've been trying (and failing) to break for years. I talk too fast. My kids are too loud. They're too high-energy. They won't listen to anyone, not even their teachers at gymnastics or church. It's my fault. They're just like me. If I were a better mom, they wouldn't be that way. If I were a good wife and mother, I'd have a clean house, and they'd be helping me clean it. If I were a good wife, I'd have dinner ready every day.
My week away had done a lot to restore my spirits, but the drive home had exhausted me, and as we'd pulled into the driveway, I'd been ready to dive right back into those same thought patterns.
But someone did a big work. And they love us a whole lot.
They love me a whole lot.
Whoever did this, if you see this, thank you, thank you. Thank you for this Christmas miracle. Thank you for teaching my daughters that love can be expressed through service. Thank you for helping me feel so loved and blessed. Thank you for lifting a load I try to pretend doesn't weigh me down as much as it really does.
I don't know why I struggle so much this time of year. But two years in a row now, I've been blessed with Christmas angels who have done what I never seem able to do. And someday, when I have the strength, I will pass it on.
But for now, I'll sit in my clean living room, stare at my clean floor by the light of my Christmas tree, and just be grateful.