I was cracking eggs for the casserole yesterday morning at just after 6 a.m. when the sudden realization stopped my hand in mid-air: I’d forgotten to plan Easter Dinner.
I really do try with these things. I cleaned my house from top to bottom the day before—I even bleached the curtains to make sure they were dust-free— in addition to putting together baskets, getting cupcake ingredients for neighbors, and making sure the kids knew the Easter story by heart on the off chance the grandparents decided to quiz them on it (and they did).
The moment I realized I’d failed to plan one of our family’s most important meals of the year was a long one. I was slow to process it, and I thought there must be some mistake, just a temporary slip of the mind. Then, my thoughts raced to find a solution, but although there were beans and rice in the cupboard, plus lots of chocolate in various egg shapes and sizes, we had no ingredients for a special home-cooked meal. We talked about a larger family gathering, but it was on, off, on again, off again, on again again, and off again again.
Later, I asked myself why: why do holidays tend to trigger me into a neurotic state where I convince myself that my kids’ childhoods depend on whether or not I have fresh rosemary for the cooked carrots? Why do I run around wildly with a dust rag and spray bottle, wiping down everything I own and more the day before we celebrate anything? Why do I meticulously make a plan for the day weeks before, when it’s probably going to be just the five of us anyway? Two of us aren’t even making long-term memories yet. Is it for them—my children? For my husband? For Instagram?
Because it’s certainly not for me.
I think what it is might be a belief that I’d never examined before, so that it hardened into some kind of mental stage set, always there but never acknowledged: the idea that I had to earn the good things I’d been given.
Most of my life, I had a strong desire for a loving partner and for children. And now they’re here with me, living in this little house on a cute street with a big backyard to play in. They are the most important people in my life, and holidays are when I show them my love and appreciation. These days give me the chance to prove my gratitude to the wider universe, to the forces that brought us together, to God.
This isn’t what happens, of course. I run myself ragged making sure everyone’s needs are anticipated, met, and exceeded, and I end up closing out the day tired and grumpy, and usually cleaning up the mess. So why do it?
Most of us have grappled with the fact that sometimes bad things happen. Life is fragile: freak accidents strike with no warning and senseless violence flares from time to time. One moment you’re complaining about the chilly March weather and a twinge in your low back, and the next, the WHO is declaring a global pandemic. It happens. But good things also pop in, just as random and undeserved. Compatible people find each other. Babies are conceived, grown, and born, sweet-smelling and chubby and perfect. Good people move in next door. There isn’t any test to pass or schedules to get just right in order to earn these strokes of luck; they just are.
Love is one of the ways I got really lucky in life. And earning love is about as rational an idea as earning oxygen, or sunshine, or gravity: when its real, it just is. I can show my appreciation for the people in my life, but it won’t move the needle on the amount they truly love me, or vise versa. My children are here—magically, randomly—and they are precious to me, whether or not their random assortment of toys collect dust under the couch.
For dinner, we ate leftovers from that breakfast casserole I made in the morning. We didn’t even sit down together; instead, I sat there like a prison warden, coercing the older two into taking bites (“I know you don’t like it, but you have to eat something under than candy today, now open your mouth,”) while Ryan dressed the baby for bed. A perfect, traditional Easter dinner it was not. But I was there, beside my little boy, feeding him pieces of egg and potato, enraptured by the perfect row of tiny teeth that didn’t exist four years ago, and marveling in gratitude at the simplicity and complexity of his digestive system.