Last year, winter break started several days before Christmas, and I thought “WHAT are we going to do with all of these days?” Somehow, I decided that we would go see The Nutcracker at The Joffrey Ballet in Chicago. I bought tickets for a 2:00 pm showing on December 23rd. By that time, I was a few weeks pregnant, and on high alert. The kids were unimpressed by the ballet. Then we had to walk swiftly to the train station to catch a departure back to the suburbs, or else wait another thirty minutes to the next train. We had a few minutes to spare and were settled when a mother boarded the train at the last possible second, dragging a child behind her. The doors closed, with her on the train and her child on the other side. There was screaming as the train pulled away. It was literally feet from where we were sitting, and my heart stopped – as it was unclear if the child was actually being dragged by the train. A host of people started pounding on the door and finally an emergency lever was pulled. Everything ended up being fine, but as a parent I have been unable to erase what I witnessed.Fast forward to this year. I had no intention of taking my kids to the ballet again, until several weeks ago when they both asked if we were going. Begged to go. Personally, I had found the ballet quite magical. It wasn’t possible to bring the baby, so I bought tickets for myself and the kids, and Ger could stay home with Autumn (fine by him). As the day drew closer, Quentin decided he didn’t want to go. Decided that the ballet was boring after all. The tickets had been expensive, but dragging around a 5-year-old who didn’t really want to be there sounded like no fun either, so I said, “Fine, whatever.” As more time passed, he realized that the ballet included a ride on the train, and suddenly it was interesting again.
Then a few days ago it hit me: I would be with two kids by myself in downtown Chicago, just a few days after Christmas. Two hands to hold. Two kids on the train. Flashback to that moment when the mother was separated from her child last year. I told Ger that I wasn’t sure I could do it: I couldn’t handle the idea of somehow accidentally being separated from one of them. We talked and decided that we would bribe Quentin with the promise of another train ride in the future, since he likely did not care about the ballet anyway, and only Theo and I would go. I was still anxious, but thought I could manage.
Last night, I had a friend and her children over for pizza/movie night. After the movie, the kids played hide and seek. Quentin came down at one point with a pillowcase over his head and another wrapped around his legs saying “I’m a ghost!” Of course we laughed. It came time for them to leave, and Quentin did not come down to say goodbye, but I figured he was tired and likely pouting somewhere. After the door was closed, I called his name. He didn’t come out. I figured he was still playing hide and seek, so called his name, more sharply. Still nothing. Went into his room, and poked my head in the various closets. Nothing. I ran into the basement. Still nothing.
At this point, I began to panic. Ger was in his basement office, and I frantically burst into the room and said “I can’t find Quentin.” The worst case scenarios ran through my mind. Had he somehow gotten into the garage, where it was sub-zero temperatures? Had he gotten that pillowcase wrapped around his face and smothered himself? I had been sharing some wine with my friend – had we been that much not paying attention, even though I felt certain that I had seen him only minutes before? We both called his name, and I was shrieking by that point. Finally, he appeared on the stairs, big grin on his face. He had been hiding. I grabbed him and started sobbing. Ger scolded him for not coming when he was called. Autumn was crying in her crib, and as I went to her, Quentin brought me a note that said “I will nevr hied frum you agen.” I told him it had just scared me. As I continued to soothe Autumn, Quentin came back in the room holding a book. He said “I can read all of these words, Mommy.” The book was It’s Ok That You’re Not Ok by Megan Devine. A book about grief and loss.
That moment was not lost on me, that he brought me that book in that moment. “It’s ok that you’re not ok.” I’m not ok. I thought that my anxiety and fears were limited to Autumn, but the last few days have shown me that it translates to my big kids also. I fear losing them. I fear that something will happen to them. I have been through trauma and it has shaken me, and affects how I react and interact. On December 27th, 2015, I announced my pregnancy with Iris on social media. I can never escape what the days mean this time of year.
As I drew a bath in an attempt to calm myself I knew that there was no way I could go to The Nutcracker the next day. Whatever the tickets cost, I could not handle the trip and the fears.
And so I lied to the kids. I told him that the train could not run in sub-zero temperatures and so the routes had been cancelled, and we had no other way of getting into the city. The trauma is recent enough that I could justify not facing those fears. I needed to allow myself the time. Be ok with not being ok.