To Love January

Our Christmas tree slumped next to the trash can, waiting to be mulched, feels like a little victory. That used up evergreen screams, “It’s done, I made it!”

I’m a believer that when Christmas is over, it’s over. I want everything pulled down, put away and dragged to the curb by December 28th.  Any later and I get panicky and claustrophobic in the same way I feel when stuck in a too small shirt, arms trapped over head, in the dressing room at Nordstrom Rack.

My family’s holiday season is a three months long event gauntlet that includes six birthdays, Halloween, our anniversary, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.

I promised myself I would be more celebratory this year. I lightheartedly blew through the three October birthdays, one including a team sleepover and another a weekend trip to Miami. I even sailed through hosting Thanksgiving for twenty-seven.

But as the girls opened the first day on their advent calendars, the bah humbugs took hold. I do not have a history of tortured childhood Christmases. My mom had Christmas down. The beauty she created for us was nurturing and serene.

When the kids arrived, Christmas became the vehicle for the mean girl in my head. She speaks in oughts and shoulds, through a perfectly lip-glossed mouth. Her cheerfully condescending tone swirls doubt around my resolve for a simple celebration.

I stayed the course with my holiday convictions, but it wasn’t comfortable nor relaxing. The 26th felt like one long, lovely, liberating exhale. With the tree to the street and the mean girl silenced, I can finally plan for my favorite day of the year, January 1st.

To Love January  by Davi Walders

I clasp January to me giddy
with hope for its newborn
cry that clears away the worn
out year like so much tinsel

carted off to storage. I love
January’s uncluttered room, its
freshly laundered calendar innocent
and white beneath a pure blue sky

grazed by bone-clean trees. To love
January is an acquired taste,
like learning to let the tongue
curl around the slow, sweet burn

Of Tuaca’s golden fire.
I do not want to wait for April
to fall in love, July to run with
a salty sea, October to be crowned

in color. I want to drink it all
in now when everything is possible
and I and the world are infants again
babbling, listening for birdsong.

We Wake to Find Ourselves Undone


Our family’s tradition was to decorate the Christmas tree on my father’s birthday.  As a child, it was always one of my favorite nights.  With perfect recall, my dad would recite Robert Frost’s poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.  

My father no longer lives in a reality that marks time by the calendar.  Instead he struggles to find his way, moment to moment.  He loved Christmas.  I use the past tense because he is not able to remember his loves without my mother reminding him of himself.

It’s a gray, bleak morning in Austin as I ready myself to call my dad to wish him a happy birthday.  There is a sadness in how the dead leaves funnel at the backdoor.  I think of the last line in Jay Hopler’s poem, Meditation

We are oblivious. Then, one morning—there’s a
crack in the water glass—we wake to find ourselves undone.

Happy Birthday Dad and Merry Christmas.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Meditation on Ruin by Jay Hopler

It’s not the lost lover that brings us to ruin, or the barroom brawl,
or the con game gone bad, or the beating
Taken in the alleyway. But the lost car keys,
The broken shoelace,
The overcharge at the gas pump
Which we broach without comment — these are the things that
eat away at life, these constant vibrations
In the web of the unremarkable.

The death of a father — the death of the mother —
The sudden loss shocks the living flesh alive! But the broken
pair of glasses,
The tear in the trousers,
These begin an ache behind the eyes.
And it’s this ache to which we will ourselves
Oblivious. We are oblivious. Then, one morning—there’s a
crack in the water glass—we wake to find ourselves undone.

Meditation on Ruin by Jay Hopler from Green Squall. © Yale University Press, 2006.

End note:  The picture above, of me and my parents, has sat on each of my bureaus since I was sixteen years old.  July 1966 is written on the back in my grandmother Lila’s handwriting.

Middle School is but A Midsummer Night’s Dream


I wiggle in my too-low, public school stackable chair, elbow-to-elbow with the other eighth grade parents as we wait for the classroom modified production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was handed the crumpled-at-the-bottom-of-the-backpack invitation early the same morning by one of my girls, Twin A.  

My heart warmed – she wanted me to come. She quickly shut that notion down by explaining that she would receive extra credit if I attended.  I then looked over at Twin B and asked if she would like me to come to her class as well. She didn’t exactly say it this way but let me translate the look – no amount of extra credit is worth the potential embarrassment of having you near me at school.

Twin B’s play was performed the week prior.  So Twin A’s invitation marks my last middle school performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream until I have grandchildren.

I look around and wonder how we all got so old. In my twenty-two years of parenting four kids I have noticed that middle school parents look the oldest. As many of us arrive at a decade where we become invisible to much of the world, our middle schoolers see us as all too visible.  We become like a chronic cold sore on their lives. It’s a sad, tiring reality that eats away at our recent heroic status as an elementary school parent.

When you run into these same adults at high school back-to-school-nights you realize that they smile more and even though they look visibly older, their newly rediscovered lightness makes them seem younger. We give each other that knowing nod, like a salute, silently acknowledging we have survived middle school.

From the audience, all we see is a chaos of legs from behind the sheets hanging from the ceiling.  After a brief, breathless introduction from a gleefully exasperated teacher, the first kids emerge from behind the curtain.

They radiate a lovely awkwardness as they stand unnaturally in their halloween-like collage of costumes whose themes merge Little House on the Prairie with a toga party. Boys play girls and girls play boys. They switch roles mid-play so everyone has a chance to perform.  Titania, the fairy queen, is first played by a lithe blond and then, during her lovesick scene with Bottom-turned-ass, she is played by a tall gangly boy wearing wings and a tiara.

They are a bit uncomfortable with the language, some more talented than others, but I admire their memories and overall enthusiasm. The first boy cast as Lysander delivers all his lines using a rap cadence and moving his hands to the beat of his voice.  I can tell that he anchored his lines by using a physicality that makes me want to head bop along to the rhythm.

I’m softened by the random bursts of laughter and the odd wrist grabbing when the play called for the actors to hold hands. I watch the mom next to me tear up. We sometimes forget that they are still children, hovering in the fleeting sweet-spot before adolescence truly takes hold.

We know what’s ahead – events will fall in front of them, like dominoes, once pushed. I’m a person who has thoroughly enjoyed adulthood more than being a child, so I don’t mean to be gloomy, but many of the dominoes are not easy.

Being still with that awareness is one of the hardest parts of parenting.

Each of my children has been assigned A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the eighth grade. The play’s themes of identity, youth, attraction, mischief, and alliances are a natural fit.  Adolescence, like the forest for the actors, is a place where the lines blur between sleep and wakefulness and emotional turbulence and emerging sexual identity reign.

We, the parents, are like the staid adults of the play, trying our best to impose the status quo by making ultimatums in an effort to restore the peace. But like the dreams of the young actors, our efforts are an illusion. This new generation will find their own way in a future that we will never fully understand no matter how hard we try to stay current.

Youth will always takes its place in the world. We had our time in the forest. It is the way it should be.