Little Drummer Boy. Or, My Control Issues.

We’ve got just a few days till another Christmas. But for over a month we’ve all been forced to listen to Christmas tunes that stream constantly on the radio stations in town.  I figure that I’ve heard the standard ones about 35 times each.  Some of them I just tune out.  The lyrics are so banal that I’d rather make a mental grocery list as I drive than think about just who it is that Mariah Carey really wants for Christmas. Of course another song everybody knows is Little Drummer Boy.  This season, I heard a new version of it by a gospel choir, set to a really danceable tune and rhythm.  I guess the new tune got me actually listening to the words afresh.  There’s a funny line in it that stood out to me as a mother.  Narrating the song, a fictitious drummer boy at the nativity scene asks Mary, “Shall I play for him? And then, “Mary nodded.”
This year I’ve been smiling to myself whenever I hear that line.  Katherine Kenicott Davis, the woman who penned the song in the 1940’s, pictured Mary, (who we assume in this song has given birth a day or two ago, if not hours ago) being so docile and holy that she tells a country kid with a drum, “Sure, come on over and bang on that percussion in front of my newborn baby all you want!” 
She really was anointed because I would not have said yes.  No.  I know what I would have told that little drummer boy, “Oh wow, you brought a drum into my hospital room.  That’s interesting.  You and your marching band of one can go stand over there…quietly. Thank you so much.
“Shall I play for him?  Mary nodded.”  When my first child was born I remember the hospital nurses all reminding me as we placed our baby in the infant car seat, ready to head home, “Have visitors wash their hands. Don’t let people touch the baby’s face or kiss him.”  Or generally breathe within 10 feet of him, is what every new mother adds in her mind.   I guarded that baby fiercely.  I even suggested that a visitor with a tiny tickle in her throat wear a mask near my baby. My friend wasn’t amused.  And certainly nobody was allowed to play a percussion instrument in my newborn baby’s close proximity. 
If Davis’ rendering of Mary in the song was anything close to the real Mary’s disposition than I’ve got some growing to do in my teeny tiny control issues.
I don’t think of myself as a controlling person.  I let my kids eat Doritos in our car seats for goodness sake.  I can sometimes go to bed with dirty dishes in the sink.  I don’t make too big a fuss about my husband’s constant mound of clothes on our bedroom floor.  But I do know in my heart that I often, (if not always) want life’s special moments to go exactly my way.  Like Christmas, for instance. My daughter had a Christmas dance recital the other night. I wanted too much for the whole evening to be so absolutely precious that I virtually crushed everyone with my controlling zeal.  “Children, stand over there now for a photo.”…  “Children! I said over there!  I said photo! Over there! now!!!!
“Iris, hold still. You will hold still and let me tie this darling ribbon in your hair. Right. Now.” 
My family whimpered and cowed under my crazy-making.  My desire to make memories mixed with a fear that I’m not measuring up to some (ever fluctuating) standard creates in me a mean spirit.  I find everyone around me at fault for my own lack of satisfaction.  I can’t rest.  I can’t relax.  I can’t be present. It’s not the place where creativity blooms.  And it’s not how I want to live.  I struggle to let go and let spaces, moments or emotions be messy.  But in my deepest, most innocent childlike place I really do know that mess is a part of the creative, beautiful life.  You can’t open presents without a mess of wrapping paper all around.  And I want the joy of the whole process.  I just have to keep practicing.  I have to nod yes when the child asks, May I play for him?  After all, what’s a few minutes of a-rhythmic noise in the big picture? 
So, have at it kid.  Let your heart be glad, and bang on that drum.

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