I'm learning in school strategies for self-care and maintenance, how to fuel body and mind to fight off stress and inflammation, to achieve optimum mental, emotional and physical health. Funny how book learning can resonate and generate many notes and head nods when listening to a lecture, but it all goes "poof" when you step back into reality.
But I vow to create a new reality. A reality of belief becoming part of my day-to-day: being comfortable feeling out of my comfort zone. And also feel the difference between "red lining" and "pushing myself to grow." I want to recognize the red line and call a time out to do what I need to be my best self. Confident, self-aware, patient and zen. Oh, and smart. (I really want my brain back.)
Willing ourselves to believe in something when we feel let down, down or adrenally fatigued poses a challenge. But when you do, a certain joy reinserts into life to make everything shine a bit brighter.
This concept became evident in my daughter's realization this Christmas season. She's 10, and approaches life with the enthusiasm of an Energizer bunny cheering at a high school football game. She is all in in whatever we do as a family - purchasing gifts for dad and her brothers, unpacking Christmas boxes, decorating the house (I don't have the heart to take down the ribbon she proudly draped over the bannister upstairs).
The day after Thanksgiving as we smugly (this was early for us busy procrastinators) took out all of the Christmas boxes, she was chatting away in a fluid stream consciousness babble when all of a sudden she froze, mid-sentence. Noticing the silence, I glanced over to see her holding the Elf on a Shelf box, eyes wide and mouth frozen in a disappointed "Oh!"
Shit, I thought.
"What!" she wailed, her voice adopting its former scratchy toddler pitch. "Ellie's a toy! Ellie's not REAL?"
"Um," I murmured, thinking fast. (Come on, brain cells. You have a master's degree.) "No, honey. She's not. We bought her from the store."
"You mean all this time you and dad have been the ones to hide her? And told us we couldn't touch her or she'd lose her powers?"
Pause. I folded.
"I'm sorry, Audrey. It's a fun game that parents do. Part of the fun of Christmas, thinking of ways to hide the elf and watching kids look the next day. Maybe you can have that job now that you are in the know?"
She nodded thoughtfully, then carefully reached in the bag to pull out Ellie.
"Oh Ellie," she said. "You tricked us."
"Can you be sure to not tell anyone else - your brothers? The neighbor girls? Friends at school?"
"But mom, I know that the elf at Annika's house is real because they accidentally saw her move. They did, they saw it! So maybe some elf on a shelves are from stores, and maybe some are real. We just don't know what ones are what. Is that it, mom?"
Inwardly I blessed not only her quick resolution skills, but also her ability to rationalize reality with belief.
"That sounds exactly right, Audrey. You figured it out!"
She smiled. Then she marched inside, holding and talking to Ellie the whole time. And, being the impulsive know-it-all-she is, she yelled upstairs, "hey boys - guess what? Ellie's not real!"
I couldn't fault her for that, being the one who just smushed a bit of her Christmas magic.
Over the next few days she had fun hiding Ellie - guiding the boys through Cloak and Dagger excursions through the house to find the new hiding spot. She forgot a few nights, and admitted, "man mom, it's hard to remember sometimes." (Word, child) She tried her best to not tell her friends, but admitted that she spilled the beans one day and it prompted a big discussion at lunch, the outcome being that her theory about some real, some pretend held the most ground. I'm sure that made her feel pretty damn cool.
About a week ago as I did the dishes, she walked up to me. Quietly, thoughtfully, with that telltale quizzical look in her eyes that I know means she's been formulating an idea.
"What's up, babe?"
"Mom, can I ask you a question? Can you take over hiding Ellie again?"
"Sure, that's no problem. Can I ask why?"
"I know she's just a toy. I understand she's not real. But I really like believing that she's a real elf. I like looking for her every day, pretending that she hid in the middle of the night. Pretending that she has powers. I know you and dad move her, but I want to pretend again. Can I give the job back to you?"
I paused, blown away, before I gave her a big hug. She nailed it. In a raspy-voiced statement, she summed up for me the real reason for the season. It chased any remaining adrenally-fatigued Bah-humbug-ness right out of my psyche and out the window.
What is belief beyond suspending disbelief and choosing instead to believe in magic and mystery ? Magic, mystery, spirituality give life meaning beyond the day-to-day grind, reality and logic. In that realm of mystery, life becomes more fun and full of wonder. As it is in childhood. As it should always be in adulthood, on some level.
Every day since then (well not anymore, since thankfully Christmas is over and Ellie will go back in her safe little box), we've hid the elf. Audrey, leading the charge in front of her brothers, looks through the house. When they find her, she claps, "Great job mom (or dad)! That was an awesome spot!" Cheers to a 10-year-old with an-parallaled zest for life to remind me why we believe, even when logic points us in the opposite direction. She refused to give up that belief and she had the confidence to claim it.
Chock this up to one of the thousands of times one of my kids has taught me something precious beyond book learning or life experience. When Liam asks for a hug in the middle of a frenzied moment, holds my face and pleads for me to "just be happy, mom." Or when Aedan admits that "I just want to be good, but sometimes it's really really hard." Wiser words were never spoken. Sometimes it takes an honest kid, who believes in himself, to speak it out loud without judgment.
I will never look at Ellie the same again. Instead of unpacking her with the attitude of "one more thing to do" next holiday season, I'll thank her for reminding me to believe. In myself, in the power of belief, and the joy of seeing life with the eyes of a wise child.