Christmas Day in the ER: Embracing the Unexpected in Motherhood

Christmas Day in the ER: Embracing the Unexpected in Motherhood

It’s every mom’s nightmare: taking her child to the ER on Christmas Day.

And yet, there we were. My five-year-old son lay pouting on his hospital bed, staring vacantly at the truck videos Daddy had pulled up on YouTube. For once, not even the low rumble of a diesel engine could make him smile. Every few minutes, his face scrunched up, and his eyes welled with tears.

“I don’t want stitches.”

I stroked his arm. “I know, Bud-Bud.”

“This isn’t what I wanted to do today,” he sobbed. “I want to play with my trucks.”

 “I know.”

Up until that afternoon, Christmas had gone remarkably according to plan. The kids had gushed over their stockings and then munched with delight on their once-a-year Lucky Charms. Miraculously, we’d made it to church by 8:30 for my preservice music practice. Lunch at home had been a leisurely affair, followed by a little gift exchange—just the four of us, enjoying a quiet, peaceful morning before heading over to Grandma and Pappy’s house. It was exactly the sort of Christmas I had hoped for, this year.

And then, my son hit his head on the train table.

And my plans for an idyllic Christmas went out the window.

- - - - -

Seven days later, as I write this post, my son is zooming his trucks across the floor, the stitches on his forehead peeking out from behind his hair. Three stitches. He’s getting them out, tomorrow. (Shhh, don’t tell him…) But already, that fateful Christmas day feels like a distant dream.

Life goes on, doesn’t it? Yesterday’s catastrophes are next year’s family legends.

And that has me thinking…

Traditionally, January is a time for setting new goals. Forging healthier habits. Renewing gym memberships. Resolving to be much better versions of ourselves than we were last year. Whether we consider ourselves “planners” or not, most of us have at least some idea of how we want the next year to go.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a mom, it’s that things rarely work out the way I think they will. As I lay out my personal goals for 2023, my son’s stitches are a concrete reminder of just how fragile my plans are. How quickly they can change. How little control I really have.

Spoiler Alert: Life doesn’t go as planned.

And yet, as moms, we have to plan. (Our households would fall apart pretty quickly if we didn’t!) Our plans keep us grounded. They remind us of our purpose and give us a sense of direction each day. At their best, they bring us joy.

But whatever our plans for 2023, we need to hold them loosely. As moms, we need to be ready to change course at a moment’s notice.

Sickness happens. Teething happens. Sleep regressions are a real thing. So are inconsolable babies. Mastitis comes out of nowhere. Your toddler stops napping when you least expect it—and suddenly, there goes the “me time” you were counting on.

A child gets hurt—and you’re in the ER on Christmas Day.

Plans are good. But plans change.

If my happiness depends on healthy kids, sleeping babies, and injury-free holidays, I’m going to be one miserable momma.

If I’m constantly clinging to wrecked plans, my arms will not be free to embrace the reality that’s right in front of me.

A reality that may just be better than anything I could have planned.

Jennifer Gilmartin

Jennifer is a freelance writer and musician living in Pennsylvania. Once an aspiring Latin teacher, she is now a stay-at-home mama of two children, and is blessed with a husband who can fix just about anything she breaks. Jennifer leads Jr. High Sunday School with her mom and loves attending musicals, giving homemade gifts, and sharing tea with good friends on the back porch.

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