Right around this time two years ago, I was expecting my first child. One of my biggest fears was that I would get sick right before my daughter was born, leaving me contagious and unable to kiss her tiny lips or breathe in the scent of her newborn cheeks. I was due around Advent season, which also meant the advent of cold and flu season, so my fears weren’t unfounded. And sure enough, I caught strep throat for the first time in my life just a week before my due date, and in one swift moment, my joy was replaced by fear. Will I be too tired and sick to get through labor? Will I need to wear a mask around my fragile new baby? Will these first few days with my child look painfully different than I imagined?
The happy ending to this story is that I ended up being two weeks overdue – plenty of time for my husband (who caught my germs) and me to take our full course of antibiotics and rest up for the big event. My daughter was born healthy, and I was healthy enough to enjoy her fully, no mask needed as I kissed her fingers and her cheeks and the top of her head.
But despite the overwhelming, effervescent joy I felt at my daughter’s birth, I found that new fears were always lurking in the shadows, ready to steal away my precious slivers of joy. I worried that she would stop breathing in her sleep, and I’d tiptoe over to her bassinet to watch the rise and fall of her tiny chest. I fell headfirst into frustration when I couldn’t get her to sleep at night, even after walking, rocking, bouncing and shushing with every bit of maternal instinct I had. I wept all day on Christmas as I struggled to boost my milk supply, heartbroken that this might be the end of the road for our breastfeeding journey.
But even now, two years later, I still find that joy thieves are all around me. Of course, that Christmas was a particularly tender and painful time. I was a brand new mom facing sleep deprivation and unpredictable waves of hormones, and the weird combination of anger, love and ferocity that came with it. especially at Christmas. I’m guessing if you’re human, you might sense them in your life, too. There is too much pressure at this time of year to engineer actual magic for our kids, too many expectations to live up to, and a family who is too human to match the Currier & Ives print we have in our heads.
During that Christmas as a first-time mom, I realized I needed to be a joy thief, to steal back little moments wherever and whenever I could. It was my act of resistance to the fear and doubt and overwhelm. I was struggling to overcome it, but instead of flailing my arms and legs in an ocean of uncertainty, I could grab onto the tiny life preservers all around me.
I still do this, actually – I hunt for moments the way a photographer hunts for the perfect detail shot. When I find them, I capture them, holding the colors and scents and sounds in my mind, letting them crystallize into memories. A flash of light from the Christmas tree in our front window as we pull up to the house after a long night. Lingering around the fire a little longer with my family, their voices rising and falling around me. Kissing my daughter’s sticky marshmallow hands as she pretends to share one of her treasures, yanking it back at the last minute and giggling at my surprise.
I’m all for the idea of simplifying Christmas – releasing ourselves from “much too busy” schedules, saying, “no” to a huge gathering in favor of something more intimate and quiet, resisting the consumer culture by limiting gifts, or by giving experiences instead. But even these good intentions can create a holiday pressure-cooker situation, as we try once again to nail the happy-clappy Christmas that has always eluded us.
So let’s be even more subversive this year, not by trying to conjure up the perfect holiday, but by soaking up the one we already have – the one that maybe feels a little too busy or too noisy or too lonely, the one that’s never quite merry or bright enough. Let’s look for and steal moments of joy, catching them like snowflakes and stopping to admire them before they can melt away.
Brittany L. Bergman is a writer and editor living in the suburbs of Chicago with her husband and her daughter. She is passionate about living simply, savoring motherhood and finding the sacred in the everyday, and you can find her writing about these pursuits at brittanylbergman.com.