I had a panic attack this November.
I'd been outrageously busy, the kids had been sick, and I had a mounting to-do list that I couldn't touch while taking care of them. The thought of my un-mailed thank you cards was gnawing away at me something fierce, but I couldn't mail them. I needed to print off photos of Pascal to attach to the front of the cards. And they were so horribly overdue.
Sam and Vava finally went back to school. It was the first morning in forever when I could actually get things done, and I'd had a gorgeously productive morning, so I thought - why not? Why not get it done now?
I found a picture I liked and tried to order prints from my phone but the Walmart site wasn't working so I turned on Patrick's desktop and it lumbered its way to life while the clock kept whirling and I started to reconsider. I had a doctor's appointment scheduled for 130pm. After his rotten behaviour at our last appointment, I didn't want to take Kachi without at least an hour's nap, and we had to leave by 115, so that meant I had to have him asleep by 1215. So he needed to be eating lunch by 1130 at the latest. And here we were, 1015 now - could I get it done?
I could feel the uncomfortable squirm of failure twisting at the base of my spine.
And so it began.
I can't even get out the door to pick up thank you cards. FAILURE!
I can't even order thank you cards. FAILURE!
After two and a half months. FAILURE!
But I gritted my teeth and determined that these cards would not be one day later than they already are. NOT ONE!
After another fifteen minutes of wasting time, trying to figure out how to order prints and failing, I decide to put the kids in the car and go down in person to see if they could do instant prints from my phone. Surely someone has figured out how to make that magic happen. We were already dressed, so I just had to put Pascal in his carseat -
Pascal. He had apparently spat up and I hadn't noticed. He was soaked and globby from neck to navel, and starting to paw at his mouth. Hungry and absolutely in need of a change.
And this is when I heard an animal groan come growling out of my mouth. I felt like my body was being squeezed between what I had to do and what I had to do, my chest and back pressed tight. I felt like I couldn't expand large enough, couldn't reach in enough directions at once.
I heard myself panting, "I ... can't ... do ... it!" and the calm part of my brain observed the panic in my voice and told me to go make Pascal's bottle and find him fresh clothes.
Kachi played in the porch, already wearing his jacket, while I did. FAILURE! NO WONDER YOUR KIDS GET COLDS!
Pascal fussed and only took half of his bottle. FAILURE! HE CAN SENSE YOUR STRESS!
I changed him as fast as I could and left his dirty clothes and used diaper on the floor. FAILURE! IF YOU CAN'T BE PRETTY OR PROMPT YOU SHOULD AT LEAST BE A GOOD HOUSEKEEPER!
I plunked Kachi down more firmly than I intended on the bench by the door to put on his boots. FAILURE! YOU'RE MEAN TOO!
I buckled him into his carseat still wearing his winter jacket, instead of changing him into a safety-approved fleece for the 5-minute drive. FAILURE! SAFETY MATTERS!
I strapped Pascal's carseat into the truck and realized his blanket was dirty. Obvious spit-up was crusted on the outside. FAILURE! YOU DIRTY MOM!
'It won't matter,' I told myself, 'it won't matter. It won't matter.'
But by the time I reached the end of our street the tears began because it DID matter and I knew it shouldn't matter and yet it, inescapably, did.
And then God sent me mercy in the form of a sleeping toddler. Kachi had fallen asleep before we got to the store, in less than two minutes. Just drive, God told me. So I did, I drove and drove for an hour and listened to sad songs on the radio and got coffee in the drive through and the boys slept. And naptime was taken care of and I cried out all my ragey, panicky tears and just drove.
The sun was warm through the car windows and the sky was cloudlessly blue.
And after an hour I parked back at home and Kachi woke up and asked if we could go to the store. Pascal started to fuss again so I dashed inside and grabbed another bottle and a clean blanket (because it does matter) and we drove to Walmart and I fed him in the parking lot, sitting in the backseat next to Kachi. Kachi pointed out all the things he saw and chattered away, happy as a clam, and thankfully oblivious to his mother's blotchy face. And Pascal burped up all over his fresh blanket too and Kachi and I giggled.
And while we sat there, God sent me more grace.
A woman came through the parking lot, carrying a heavy lot of bags. She was wearing an elegant black dress coat, and her blonde hair shone in the sun. She was slim and beautiful and she was parked beside us.
In a rusty mom-van.
And when its door slid open, I caught a glimpse of her life.
The middle row held two car seats, and I could see a booster in the back. From where I sat I could see empty juice boxes and a timbit box and a skipping rope and a big rock that was obviously too irresistible for a toddler to just leave behind at the beach. There were several single mittens and an empty coffee cup and I could not believe that this beautiful mom was, according to the evidence, an awful lot like me.
And it was okay.
It was okay to be like me.
Somebody slim and beautiful was like me.
And that was enough to help me get out of my head and out of my truck and into the store without even thinking once about Pascal's blanket.
She was just what I needed. I needed to be reminded that not everyone has everything together, that there are other moms with messy vans and hard days and unmailed thank you cards and it is okay.
That glimpse into her van was a gift straight from God.
My thank you cards? Yeah, I still have a few undelivered. Or more than a few.
I still struggle to find balance with the clock.
I still fight against that harsh critical voice labeling everything as failure.
And my truck is almost always a mess.
But God keeps sending me gifts. The perspective-shifting that comes from reading His Word. The catharsis of writing. You, friends, when you share your own inadequacies with me. When you see me ugly-crying and pray for me, pray with me. When you love me anyway.
I don't know where you are, what you're struggling with, but I wanted to share this giift at Christmas - a glimpse into my own ugly van. Because maybe you need to be reminded that you're not the only one who struggles with panic or anxiety. Maybe you need to take an hour to just drive. Maybe you really do have it all together and need to remember to be gentle with those of us who don't.
And when you're out this week with your Christmas shopping, don't rush to close your doors. Someone like me might just find relief in your cluttered car ;).
Merry Christmas, friends.