Saturday, December 31, 2011

Auld Lang Syne.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We'll take a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.  

- Robert Burns

I understand why New Year’s Eve is about staying up late, drinking alcohol and kissing. Being a sweeper is a lot of pressure and in holiday time, six days is like six minutes. 

Something very different is needed for a successful climax in the final round of the holiday season.

Thanksgiving kicks it off, a food, family and festivity inspired frenzy that culminates a month later when bank accounts are weak, family dynamics are both warm and wired, and exhaustion guarantees that no creatures will be stirring. By the time the man in red drops down the chimney and every ham, goose and turkey has been cooked, everyone needs a long winter’s nap.

Which is why I haven’t made it to many ball drops. But I have remembered them all.

As a child we watched the ball drop thousands of miles away, racing into the dead of an Arctic night with sparklers as rifles rang as the ghostly white Aurora Borealis danced above. There was the high school friend’s unsanctioned party. There was the New Year’s Eve that I spent on a red eye from Phoenix to Toronto after a Def Leppard concert with my younger brother and the 24-hours in Buffalo at the tail end of college.

There was the New Year’s Eve when we ordered in sushi, watched “Dude, Where’s My Car?” and drank wine with abandon only to throw in the towel at 15 to midnight. There was the time we listened to the radio in the dark as Journey squeezed a little more life out of their career. There were the years he worked, telling me over the phone that he wished he was at home kissing me instead of ducking for cover as revelers fired into the air, letting bullets fall where they may. And then there was the one I don’t remember, the angry one that followed, and the lonely one after that.

365 days ago, I sat right here watching wishes of all the best float across the screen. And the poem that Robert Burns wrote so long ago stung.

Like everyone else, I made a vow. To work less and live more. To make our house a home again. To slow down and enjoy the moments in my children’s lives that will happen only once. To write more. To never forget who and what came before and to look ahead to who and what may lie ahead.

And when the ball drops tonight and we are surrounded by the merriment of friends as Auld Lang Syne floats through the air, I’ll vow to do it all over again.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Hung by the Chimney With Care.

They were never big enough.

Christmas at my house has never been the “less is more.” As a child, it was the house where Santa read an itemized list with product codes, page numbers and color selections from the Sears Christmas Wish Book and nibbled on dry shortbread before leaving his mark. He didn’t just fill the stockings and leave a few gifts under the tree. He left the entire damn sleigh in the living room.

And with that Christmas was forever engraved in shiny paper and ribbons, oranges and gold foil chocolate coins in the toe.

It wasn’t that we eschewed the genuine meaning of Christmas, but when you live where polar bears knock on your front door and the closest store in 1,000 kilometers is a trading post, Santa isn’t just someone who lives a few miles down the road. He has celebrity status.

And so it was a match made in gift-wrapped heaven that my husband didn’t just embrace ribbon-and-glitter-festooned gluttony. He wallowed in it.

Now before you sling coal, we’ve never thrown reason and financial caution to the wind. The last time we used a credit card was before our daughter arrived, and we nurse our vehicles to old age. I don’t have a closet filled with shoes and I’d rather exit a store than enter. But for one morning every year, we abandoned restraint and stockings bulged as wallets wept.

He was always the first one to wake, the smell of peppermint coffee and sticky buns floating down the hallway at 3 a.m. as he waited impatiently as the minutes ticked slowly by. Little by little he lit the house, gifts aglow in twinkling lights and stockings silhouetted against a dancing fire. And when he couldn’t stand it anymore, he coaxed us from bed whispering “Santa was here!”

But it is something more, as the Grinch knows all too well, that fills our stockings each Christmas morning.

It is the excitement of the unknown and the light in their eyes as they spy the crumbs left behind by the man in red. It is the warmth of a morning wrapped in darkness and love. It is the calm that comes when, for one morning, we all leave the frenzy behind and simply enjoy each other, bare feet and sleepy eyed.

But when he was gone Christmas was something less, not something more. And four stockings hung by our chimney with care, despite the fact that he was no longer there.

Four Christmases later, I will wake once again to the memory of peppermint coffee and little voices will rouse me with cries of “Santa was here!” Eyes will light up as bare feet dash off to see what surprises await. And in the early morning light, we will be wrapped in love, simple contentment and remember whens.

And for the first time three stockings will burst at the seams. Not four.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Alphabet Soup.

“Mom, I know the ‘b’ word. It’s spelled b, i, t, c, h.”

Speeding across black asphalt in the pitch black desert, I am suddenly back on our street knocking three doors down and letting my new neighbors know exactly what this b-i-t-c-h thinks about their foul-mouthed offspring. Because when they moved in four months ago, my son did not know the “b” word. Or the “sh” word. Or the “f” word. Or the “c” word. And he didn’t say crap or darn or damn. Or “son of a …” Or “what the …”

Four months ago our family tooted, but didn’t fart. People were silly, not stupid. We didn’t hate – unless we were talking about Daddy’s departure because, really, hate doesn’t even come close – but we “not liked” things a whole lot. We shushed where others shut up, and butt for exceptions here and there we were bottoms up. There are ta-ta’s where others have boobies and cubes where others choose fruits and nuts.

But, nooooooo. Because not only is the dictionary of all things rude and raucous three doors down, he is in my son’s classroom. At the same group table. Which is why I sent an email to his teacher that went like this:

Ms. Teacher of My Precious Son, 

I was hoping you might help me with something. My son has made a wonderful start to the school year, and I am very pleased with the progress he has already made in two short months. He loves his class, tells me every day about the new things he has learned and, as always, tells me all about the friends he has made and how much fun he has. I’ve also noticed that his vocabulary has expanded in leaps and bounds but not, always, in the way I would like. We’ve talked at great length about what words are appropriate and that just because others use them doesn’t mean he should. 

Unfortunately, it seems that all of these new and often four-letters-long words are coming from the same classmate and I would like to ask that you separate the boys (they sit at the same table) and watch the language that is being used during recess. I know that boys will be boys, and that this is inevitable. But I am not ready to hear my seven-year-old drop f-bombs. 

I really appreciate your help and understanding with this.


Irate Mother Who Has Already Been Through Enough @#&!

“Sweetheart, I’m very proud of you for knowing that is an inappropriate word. And, I want you to know that you can always ask me questions and I will never get mad. However, if I hear you use any of those words – EVER – the Wii and the DSi are gone. Not for a little while like before. Like FOREVER.”

“I know. What does OMG mean?” 

“It means Oh My Gosh.”

“What about SOS?”

“I think it is Send Out Signal.”

“I know what SOL means. Scream out loud!”


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Rainbow Connection.

“There’s a thunderstorm inside me. But sometimes it’s only raining.”

Outside, the rain has been falling all day. Dark and gloomy, we’ve stayed happily inside and done what families do on lazy, rainy, chilly Sundays.

But inside our home it has been falling for years. The raindrops are fewer and farther between, falling less like shards of glass and more like snowflakes that vanish at the first touch of warmth. But tonight, like so many nights since autumn fell, her eyes have grown cold and stormy as night draws close.

Of all the gifts we gave her, it is her eyes that I cherish most.

The color of hazelnuts ripening, they sparkle and grow warm with laughter. They glint sharply with the fiery nature that is both inspiring and infuriating. And like quicksand, you sink slowly and helplessly into them when they are dark with sadness. Like windows to her soul they reveal the damage left after the storm, the raw edges that have healed and those wounds still open and weeping.

Listening to the sound of the rain hitting the pane, I watch her little hands angrily rub away the tears that have broken free. She tells me about the color of her heart when sadness shuts it down and the color when it is not shut down. She tells me about the blackness inside, and the rain that falls, and of all the sadness that won’t go away. She tells me that it isn’t fair that her Daddy died, and that it isn’t fair that it is for me alone to keep them safe, and she wonders who will take care of me and keep me safe.

Tonight the thunderstorm has broken free.

“Sweetheart, I know about the thunderstorm and the rain. It’s inside me, too. And every time the storm gets really bad and it feels like it will never stop raining, I try really hard to remember one thing.”

“What’s that?”

Brushing back the gently curling hair that is my gift to her, I fight a smile as she reaches to do the same for me.

“That there’s always a rainbow after the rain. Even when we can’t see it, it’s there. And someday it won’t rain as much, and the thunderstorm will go away. And when that happens, that’s when you’ll see your rainbow.”

“What if it doesn’t have lots of colors in it?”

“It’s your rainbow – it can have as many colors as you want.”