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And so begins the month of stress.
I love Christmas. I love listening to my kids as they talk about Santa. I love the Christmas Eve service at church, the quiet sanctuary, the candles,
. But there's so much to do to get ready—so many presents to buy and wrap; so many cards to sign and send; so many decisions to make...
I feel sad today. The eye-rolling again, the swearing, the bursts of anger... Yet another reason why I'm not as excited about the holiday as I want to be.
"Get the fuck out of my house!"
I thought at first that he was screaming at a squirrel. He was in the basement; some rodent could be down there. He made so much noise; he could have been chasing something.
Hours later, I realized that he wasn't talking about an animal. He was talking about me. I was the one he wanted out of his house—a realization worse than any physical pain.
What am I supposed to think now? What am I supposed to do?
Can I forgive? I'll never forget.
Having a stack of library books piled haphazardly on my desk (or neatly, if I've organized them that day) makes me happy. There's something calming about knowing that when I finish one book, I have another one (or ten) ready to go—no panic, no rushed trip to the library or bookstore. All is right with my world when a book awaits me.
Conversely, when I don't have books on deck, I feel unsettled, especially if I finish a novel on a day the library isn't open. What do I read? What do I do? I never know.
I heard a strange sound a minute ago, but I'm too tired to get up and investigate.
What is it about empty houses that makes them seem so spooky? I'm talking about normal, lived-in suburban homes, nothing frightening about them—no deaths or murders, no oh-no-my-house-was-built-on-an-Indian-burial-ground paranoia, no paranormal activity picked up by TV ghost hunters. Yet even though my house is "normal," I admit that when I'm alone, certain things unnerve me—a creaky floorboard, a banging pipe, a cat jumping out from behind the couch...
I'm wearing shorts and my legs are covered with goose bumps and the TV in the living room is loud—so loud—but my husband claims he can't hear it when it's lower, even by a tiny bit, and so I sit here two rooms away, trying to write, trying to think, and the TV screams on and I shiver and I think about how much I need peace—how much I need quiet—in order to write, and wouldn't a cup of coffee be good right now, rich and black or maybe with just a tiny splash of milk?
I sit in this house among dishes that need to be washed and laundry that needs to be folded and floors that must be swept and shelves that must be dusted and boxes that need to be unpacked, and yet even among such clutter and mess, I feel accomplished today, as I had a good time with my three-year-old daughter, reading books and having lunch and talking about Dora and princesses and all things girly, and even the challenging things, like "fights" over potty time, didn't seem as tiring—or as nerve-racking—on this beautiful, peaceful day.
It's funny how quickly one person can draw close to another, especially when the two see each other only once or twice a week. I've been taking my kids to storytime at our local Barnes and Noble since my son was six months old, so for more than five years we've been making the twenty-minute trip to the store to see Mr. Mike, the storyteller. Last week, Mike announced that he's leaving his job to pursue a career as a professional tale-teller. Although we're happy for him, my kids and I feel like we're losing a real friend.
December feels like a poetry month to me. I go back and forth with the things I write. Last month was fiction—an unsuccessful attempt at NaNoWriMo—and the month before I worked on memoir, I think. Sometimes I can't remember everything I've worked on, but I
say with certainty that I wrote, I had written, I was writing. I never stop; I don't want to. My day doesn't feel complete until I've put some words down on paper—a sentence, a fragment, a seed of an idea that waits for me to bring it to bloom.
After lunch this afternoon, I'll be getting into the car and driving across town to the nearest Toys R Us store, where I'll brave the crowds of frantic parents shopping for gifts for their own little good girls and boys, and while I'm grateful that my husband and I already purchased several of our children's gifts online and I don't have as much to pick up at the store, I still dread the lines and the pushing and the frustrated sighs from behind me as I contemplate which Dora face looks the cutest and best.
Think of me.
It's occurred to me that the only books I buy nowadays are ones that I've already read. I get most everything I read from the library, and every so often I come across something that I find myself checking out over and over again. The most recent example is Ted Kooser's
The Poetry Home Repair Manual
. I adore this book. I read it earlier this year and found it extremely helpful, so when I saw it on the shelf last week, I checked it out. I'm enjoying it once again, so it's on my to-buy list now.
I spent the past half hour playing Hide-and-seek with my three-year-old daughter. I love this age. She tells me where to hide and where she's going to hide, and yet her screams of delight at finding me or being found are so joyful and sincere. It's the same thing over and over again, but her laughter and excitement are genuine. Maybe I could take a lesson from her. I follow the same routine most every day and often grumble about the monotony of it. I should look at everything in life through my daughter's happy eyes.
I feel like taking the day off to sleep and then perhaps get up, make coffee, and climb back into bed with a cup—milk, no sugar—and read the day away, losing myself in the pages of Susan Meissner's
The Girl in the Glass
, then turning to the nonfiction book about poetry writing that I've been reading and rereading for months, even thought it's generally against my rules to read books again, since after all, I've always subscribed to the school of thought that says there are too many books and not enough time—true and true.
My dad called about an hour ago to say that my mom is in the hospital. She has some swelling in her face, possibly from a tooth, although the doctors aren't sure yet of the cause and will hook her up to an antibiotic drip. She was having a CAT scan when my dad called. He'll go back and see her again today, and if she's hospitalized for more than a few days, I'm sure my sister, who lives about an hour away, will go, too.
I'm one thousand miles away. I wish I lived closer to home.
I don't want to write about the shooting that took place today at that Connecticut elementary school. My stomach is turning. I feel sick.
I want to focus on happy things—Christmas and time spent with family—but all that's going through my mind right now is the fact that all those people affected by today's horrible events won't be happy. They won't be enjoying the holiday. I want to do something, but I don't know what. All that I
do right now is hug my own kids tight and pray for comfort for all.
We took our son to a birthday party today at one of those play centers filled with giant bounce houses, and it made my heart lighter to see all the children climbing and laughing and having fun, especially after everything that happened yesterday in Connecticut, that horrible event I still can't wrap my mind around, and as I watched all of the children around me, I saw how full of life they were—how
—and I thanked God once again for my own children, how innocent they are, how precious, how blessed I am that they're mine.
My husband and kids are out in the living room, putting hundreds of lights—600, they said—on the Christmas tree, which is tall and wide and is currently emitting a glorious pine smell that reminds me of my childhood, of the woodpile in the basement, of my dad's logging truck and the logs he carried on his trailers each day, no matter the weather, no matter if the roads were covered with black ice and his truck was destined to jackknife downhill, no matter if he would turn a corner and the load would slide off, log by log.
My mind still can't comprehend all that happened last Friday in Connecticut, and I don't know if it ever will. But this weekend I realized that I needed to be reminded that there
good in this world, despite the fact that the media portray mostly the bad. There are people who will give everything they have to someone in need—their clothing, their money, and perhaps most importantly, their time; there are people who understand the value of kindness: of holding a door, of paying for someone's coffee, of being there to listen, of offering a hug...
I can't even begin to describe the joy I felt in my heart as I watched my son and his classmates sing in their kindergarten music concert this afternoon. The kids all radiated joy, as though they were lit from within, and it seemed such a stark but welcome contrast to last Friday's events. It felt good to watch the kids, to see their faces and hear their voices proclaiming the joy of the Christmas season. We
joy in our lives, and often the place to find it is by looking into the eyes of a child.
Everything is so go, go, go this time of year that I feel I have little time to breathe, much less write. I miss writing, the creative stuff I do away from the Internet, things that are too private or too rough or just too scarily uncharacteristic to share. But life takes over sometimes, I guess. The gifts must be bought and wrapped, some shipped; the cookies must be baked and the fudge cooked; the tree and the house must be decorated; the Christmas cards and pictures need to be sent. In the back of my mind, though, I write.
I've been having such a hard time getting anything done these past couple of days. I've been so tired, that bone-deep exhaustion that sets in the moment you have kids. I probably didn't believe it when other parents told me how little sleep I would get when my first child was born, but I can't deny their wisdom now. There's so much still to do before Christmas, yet all I want to do is nap; I move around in slow motion. I guess I should be grateful that tonight is homemade pizza night—easy to make, not much time.
It's just after 12:30 a.m., and I don't know why I'm still awake, still up and dressed, with no move yet made toward bed—no brushing of my teeth, no washing of my face—but I guess it's because my mind keeps running its loop of all the things I have to do, to accomplish, to finish before early Christmas morning, and my tired body has responded, fighting sleep, standing up to eyes that want to close, telling them, "No. No sleep. You don't have time. There's still too much to do—still so, so much to do."
I've hardly had a chance to sit down today. I'm tired and feeling far behind in all that I have to do before Santa—and company—arrive, but I also feel this strange sense of calm. It seems that with any task that seems overwhelming, I get to a point where suddenly I feel like everything's going to be okay; it's all going to work out. I felt the same way when I was working on my master's thesis—I was climbing up a mountain with no peak in sight—yet one day I just knew I would make it.
A bagel with cream cheese and coffee laced with cinnamon. The quiet house. Forty-five minutes to myself before all the hustle and bustle of life begins again, before the kids come downstairs, looking for breakfast; before my husband gets out of bed and searches with half-closed eyes for his favorite coffee mug; before the city-world outside transforms from the quiet of early morning to the honks and yells and roars of day... Before the rest of the world awakes, I sit here and dream and write and enjoy these peaceful, no-chaos moments of my very own.
'Twas the night before Christmas...
Unfortunately, although it was night, I didn't sleep. Instead I wrapped gifts and wrote messages from Santa and prepared a gift from Snowball, our family's Elf on the Shelf. I think I fell asleep for about ten minutes as I sat at the computer, typing a note from Snowball. Other than those few blessed moments, I was awake filling stockings and tiptoeing from room to room with armloads of gifts, trying to give our children a Christmas worth remembering. And now, looking back, I can say that all the work was worth it.
It's Christmas, and I'm sleepwalking through the day, but nothing makes me feel more awake than the excited laughter of my children as they tear wrapping paper from their gifts and exclaim about the things Santa has given them—how my daughter says, "Sweet Dreams Dora is exactly what I wanted," how my son pumps his fist into the air and shouts, "Yes!" as he unwraps his Air Hogs Battle Tracker—and when there are no more gifts beneath the tree, the kids' happy playing warms my heart; although my eyes want to drop closed, I stay awake and watch.
There's supposed to be a snowstorm tonight—a blizzard—one that's expected to dump several inches of the stuff my kids love and my husband hates to shovel. A few fat flakes are falling already this afternoon, and I admit that although I can do without snow after having grown up in Upper Michigan, where winter is such a long, cold season, I
enjoy standing at the picture window in the living room, sipping coffee as I watch the yard begin to turn white. There's something so pristine—so serene—about snow. Its quiet beauty is irresistible.
Two days after Christmas, and things still haven't returned to normal around here. It's nice, mostly. We laze around in our pajamas all day, grazing on candy and leftover ham, playing games with the kids, putting together toys... I admit that deep down, days like these
make me feel a little unsettled. I like my order and my routine. I like knowing what I'll be doing each day; playing it by ear is hard for me. Still, it's nice to have the whole family home, and even the chaos of kids playing and fighting is comforting somehow.
I took the kids to the library this morning and ended up coming home with an armful of books for myself. It's not like I have nothing to read here—the table next to the computer is covered with books, many of them library books—but it's just so hard for me to resist browsing the New Fiction shelf when I walk through those library doors. I grab everything that looks interesting, and before I know it, my library bag is dragging down my arm with the weight of all those words. Books are my weakness; I can never resist.
I've been thinking about setting some goals for next year. (
seems like such a daunting word.
is so much friendlier.) I'm sure I'll have my usual writing goals, with perhaps a few extra added in—like submit more poetry and create a concrete plan for the memoir project I'm working on with my dad. One goal that follows me from year to year is to get more exercise. I also want to make
my word for 2013 and reflect every day on the many things I have to be thankful for.
Almost the end of the year. It's hard to believe how quickly the years go by, especially since the days often seem to drag on. Author Gretchen Rubin wrote that "the days are long, but the years are short," and there's so much truth in that statement. I sometimes have days when there's just too much to do, and all I want is for it to be time for bed. Those days are so long. But the years? Yesterday, it seems, I was graduating from high school—and that was nearly twenty-three years ago now. Years go too fast.
The days when I would go out for New Year's Eve are long gone with no return in sight, but although I miss those nights of friends and drinks and the fun of being in a crowd of like-minded, celebrating people, I'm even more happy here at home with my husband, the kids tucked safely into bed and a DVD in the player, eating chips and dip—something we have only once or twice a year—enjoying sips from glasses filled with cold white wine, and watching the ball drop in Times Square, sadly sans Dick Clark this year.
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