The day of his fifth-grade Celebration of Learning, aka “graduation,” Alex was emotionally tied in knots before school. First, I didn’t have his usual breakfast food available. I don’t know how I messed up the grocery run that week, but I didn’t have either of the options he normally wants. Then, while I was trying to talk him into eating something, he insisted that he needed to put on his nice clothes before I thought he should. I didn’t want him to get food (not that he wanted to eat what I’d offered) or toothpaste on his clothes. He kept saying, “I can’t be late!” Ben and I reminded him that he’d never been late for school. I said, “This is supposed to be fun. It’s a celebration.” Then he exclaimed, “Not all celebrations are fun!” And I felt that in my bones.
When we prepare to attend a big event, I often feel anxious because of the logistics, like what to wear and how to get there, including directions, traffic, parking. The anxiety that accompanies the anticipation of the event can make it much harder to enjoy the occasion once I arrive. I need to really settle in and calm myself to be present for the performance, game, or ceremony. Of course, that assumes that the people around me won’t talk through the event if they’re supposed to be quiet, won’t stand in front of me the entire time, or launch their phones high in the air blocking my view. And those are the times we are just going to something that someone else has planned.
When I plan or host a gathering, the stress can be almost overwhelming. If it’s at our house, we must clean and declutter. The areas of the house that need improvement become glaringly obvious. I have friends who are wonderful hostesses, they can pull off a dinner party with a beautiful homemade meal without breaking a sweat. That is certainly not my gift, and I admire those who make it look easy.
While Alex’s comment that not all celebrations are fun resonated with me, it also made me reflect a little deeper. Do I allow my anxiety to deplete my joy? Do I focus too much on the negative so that I leave little room to celebrate? The answer to those questions is a resounding yes. But as demonstrated by Alex, there’s both nature and nurture involved in this situation. He and I have a bit of a genetic predisposition to worry. Okay, more than a bit. Let’s just say, Alex comes by it honestly.
So, what are we to do? Instead of just giving up and giving in to our natural tendencies, I realized that I could work on the nurture part of this dilemma for Alex and I. When we have an event to attend, I need to be more aware of how I approach it. I can pause before I get worked up in anticipatory anxiety. And if I can do that better, maybe Alex can also feel better about upcoming events. Perhaps I should focus on the reason for the celebration instead of the issues that might arise. If I can keep the happiness of the occasion in the front of my mind, maybe the logistics and my concerns will take a lesser position on the anxiety spectrum.
Celebrations are supposed to be inherently happy. Marking an important or special occasion may not ever be completely stress-free for me, but I’ve decided to try and concentrate on the joy for myself and for Alex. By the way, we both enjoyed his graduation – after we got through the anxiety hurdles. Hopefully next time we can move toward the fun with fewer obstacles, especially the ones we create for ourselves.