I got a gold star today.
The thing is, I'm miserable about it because I absolutely didn't deserve it.
Today was not a banner day for this mom. I made the "Mommy Dearest" lady look like Florence Henderson. I scolded. I swore. I spanked. I time-outed. I told my kids they were terrible and that they didn't appreciate anything and didn't deserve anything. Ouch, I know.
The kids had off school today, and we know that every normal mother just takes their kids ice skating or does a fun holiday craft, right? Well, I'm not a normal mother, sadly. Nope, I promised myself I was going to take my kids out into the world to do good today. We were going to spread some Christmas Cheer to somebody whether or not it killed us. I was determined to make people happy today. Ha! I'm one of those great moms teaching my kids what the holidays are all about!
Yeah, no, it turns out I'm not.
The tension began in the morning when my 4-year-old didn't want to wear a coat... and it's 25 degrees out. I spanked her for not getting her coat and shoes on and not getting in the car when she was told. Meantime, the other kids were whining about having to get in a cold car, mumbling about why they have to go anywhere and why they can't just stay in jammies and play iPads. The yelling continued down the driveway as I told them we were going to surprise some unsuspecting people today with Christmas Cheer so put on a happy face! I didn't really have a plan, but I couldn't tell that to four cranky kids at 9 a.m. on their day off from school.
My good intentions led me to Dunkin Donuts, where of course, munchkins are born —and what poor stranger could refuse delicious, free munchkins from a cheery mother and her ever-so-chipper children? Well, today it would have to be all the strangers, because the f-ing registers were down, so I left Dunkin (for the first time in my life) empty handed. But hey, no computer glitch can squash my Christmas spirit! I headed to Panera on my quest to do good, all the while yelling at the children to behave, don't move, stay here, don't touch, get out of people's way!
We left with as many hot coffees as I could hold and a dozen bagels... and a mocha latte for me that fell on my lap two seconds after I got the kids, bagels and myself into the car. Now I'm cursing at myself, and this pea coat I have to wash, and I don't know how to wash shit so that's going to suck. Do pea coats even go in the wash? I don't know, I'll worry about it later because I have Christmas Cheer to spread!
My plan was to drive to a place where they take donations for less fortunate because I see old men with all their belongings sitting on that street bench. Maybe they'd like to have a hot coffee? But I get lost navigating one-way streets and couldn't find it. I get frustrated when one of the twins says she thinks we're driving in circles. The other one asks if they can be done yet with Christmas Cheer. I find myself back on the interstate going the wrong way, yelling at the kids in the rear view mirror that they need to shut up while I'm driving or we're going to end up in Columbus if I can't turn around.
Ok, yep, now we're in downtown Cincinnati. The kids are unbuckled and tattling about who is touching who and one of the twins is laying across the back trying to kick her brother in the face. I scream for them to shut up and just look for somebody with a cardboard sign. Please, for the love of God, homeless people, show yourselves!
I tell the kids, "look how cold it is outside!" and "aren't you glad you have a house, and heat and clothes and food to eat?" I tell them how terrible it would be to not have a family or a job to keep you busy all day. My son tells me he likes the sound of that. At this point, at least four of the Christmas Cheer bagels have been eaten. I couldn't find a homeless person right now if my life depended on it —and it does because if anyone has driven with a distracted me, they know that a seatbelt and a prayer are their only bets for living right now.
We spend what feels like a Minnesota winter driving around downtown. My youngest has no coat, socks or shoes on and is crying I think because her brother breathed on her. I see a homeless person, I think, wearing a puffy, navy coat and has a backpack. Please, God don't just be a Proctor & Gamble associate out here on a coffee break. No - wait - he's clearly peeing on a concrete barrier - yes! He's homeless! I circle the block (for the fifth time) so he can zip up. The kids want to know if they can get out too, and give our guy some Christmas Cheer. Hell no, I tell them, are you crazy, it's freezing and dangerous in the city! I park near the corner, grab my bag of bagels and a coffee and lock the kids in the car. I approach him like I've just arrived with a Publishers Clearing House check and this shit's going to change his world. After I gave him a couple bagels and a coffee, he mumbled a thank you and went on his way.
This cheer crap is hard, I think. The kids feel the same. They have now officially lost it in the backseat and everyone wants out. It’s as if the last 25 minutes in the Sienna has been a Shawshank Redemption for them. I can't get anyone to listen to me or stop whining or complaining. I start telling them about how happy I would've been to go on a ride when I was little, how excited I would have been to NOT be in school, on this adventure! They better be good, or I'm taking away Christmas presents, I yell at them. I've taken away their dessert tonight, too. I decide to leave the rest of the bagels and Christmas Cheer at a nearby park where three men are smoking. They likely were not homeless, I'm guessing, maybe just city workers on a break, but they were happy to get a few cold bagels and a tired smile.
After more yelling and breaking up sibling fights by noon, I have become a volcano on the verge of erupting. I am screaming about how they should be good and loving to each other and if it were up to me, they wouldn't get any presents for Christmas. And I was thinking of getting you all a puppy - take that you ungrateful children!
It wasn't until after the kids were in bed tonight that I emerged from the exercise bike in the basement (ok yet another fail, as I was just SITTING on the bike watching Tootsie) that I found the note. It was a small, gold paper near my toothbrush, on which my daughter had drawn a star, "To Mom."
The tears came at my realization of how badly I failed today. I failed my kids, I failed Christmas Cheer. I failed at everything this season is supposed to be about. That love, the giving, the patience and goodwill —all that starts with ME, in my heart, in my home. I spent the day trying to cram it down everyone's throat but didn't realize I was the one who needed it. Who the hell am I to try and spread that crap when I can't even hand it to my own children? I wished right then that she was awake so I could tell her, tell all of them, that mommy was so sorry. I'm sorry I failed you today —and yes, I probably should have just taken you all ice skating.
But my 6-year-old got it. She was so right. It’s about the star. Our love, our purpose and meaning here is in the hope of a star, the shining star and light of Christmas! It can only be shared and spread when we realize it in ourselves. Without a light within us, how can we have life? Thank you my sweet girl, for showing your mom at the end of a miserable day that it's all about that star. THE star. It will bring us goodness and light!