Tonight is the early year's Christmas concert.
Every year, this day serves as a sober reminder for me. Like an anniversary of sorts.
It was the year that Hannah was in grade two. Ellie was four and Sasha, two. If you'd look at a picture from our family from that night, we'd be smiling. We'd look together and happy - like a perfect family.
If you'd take a look deeper, and rewind the film to the hours before the concert, you'd see something different. It was cold outside, much like today. Mike was still at work, hoping to rush through the door in just enough time to load the girls into the van and make it to the school on time. I was running on empty. The chaos of life with a toddler and preschooler, and endless drives back and forth to school to pick up their older sister was beginning to take its toll. Meds had been started, but dosage was far from perfect. Layer that reality on top of a mind that had this soundtrack playing on "repeat":
You're terrible at mothering.
You fail everyday.
You are ruining these kids.
Why did you ever want this?
If you'd look a little closer, you'd see my hands shaking a little as I held the curling iron and had Hannah sitting on top of the kitchen table, all decked out in her Christmas finery. She was going to look perfect. Beautiful dress, curled hair, sparkling clips, shiny shoes. If I couldn't mother the right way, at least I could have a daughter who looked like I could. She had an idea in her mind of what she wanted to look like that night too. Only I couldn't see it, and the soundtrack in my mind was playing too loudly for me to hear it. And so with Ellie and Sasha running around at my feet, I began to curl Hannah's hair and create the image of the daughter I needed her to be.
My voice was harsh with a prominent edge.
"Sit still. Turn your head this way. We're almost done."
When she was done, I was done.
Exhausted, lost, and teetering on the ledge of the last shred of control I had.
Then she looked in the mirror, with her taffeta dress and her shining cheeks and began to cry.
"I hate it! I didn't want it like this! Everyone will laugh at me! I don't want to go like this!"
Cue the sound of the guttural yell and words that only moms at the end of themselves say.
Cue the tears and the exasperation and the overwhelming desire to curl up in a corner and give up.
Cue the phone call to Mike telling him to HURRY HOME because I was falling apart.
Cue the volume of the soundtrack being turned up louder, this time adding a few new phrases:
You should be ashamed of yourself. Who yells at their 7 year old like that over hair?
I told you you're terrible at this.
You shouldn't have kids.
What would people think if they saw you like this?
When shame comes, it usually makes itself comfortable and takes up residence for awhile. And so it did. I fixed the hair the best I could and went about the feeding of the girls and the dressing of the little sisters with robotic-like movement. Lipstick went on, eyes were dried, deep breath taken, and the show went on. Off to the school to shake hands and smile, wishing "Merry Christmas" with perfect tone and eyes as bright as I could muster.
We got through that night. I conjured up every single ounce of joy and optimism I had for that hour. I had to. Hugs were given and "great job!" was offered. When we got home and the three perfect little bodies were tucked into bed, I was done. Again.
I remember sitting on the couch beside Mike by the Christmas tree.
"I can't do it tomorrow by myself", I said.
"I'm not strong enough to do it."
And I cried.
I cried, and he stayed home.
A sick day, I think.
Because someone was sick and just could not do it.
Sitting here today, I'm sad when I think of that concert.
I'm sad that the soundtrack was so loud and the other little voices were so small.
I'm thinking about the moms with little ones who can feel their hearts pound of their chests the weight of the world crashing in around them.
I'm wishing I could go and do it over again.
I'm grateful I'm stronger.
I'm frustrated because I'm still fighting with the volume control that controls the volume that plays in my head every day.
I'm thankful that each year is better than the last.
I'm aware that I'm still not strong enough to do it alone.
Having that realization every day is part of what makes me stronger.