September, not January, has always been full of promise for me. The smell of the air changes with the arrival of burnt fallen leaves and remnants of late summer sun mingle with the beginning of a new school year.
As a student, a new year meant sharpened pencils, locker organizers, a school planner filled in with colorful pen, and a closet of new clothes for the upcoming year. Now, as an adult and a teacher, a new year still means sharpened pencils, combined with fresh lesson plans, home/closet organizers, and even with a smart phone and an iPad, it still means a colorful, old-school handwritten calendar. And of course, a closet full of clothes for the new school year. (You will understand that one when you read my fashion tips for the working mom.)
I’ve always abided by the student/teacher schedule as my annual time to focus on what really matters. A new beginning for me never meant January. The holidays always represented pure fun. Christmas was about family, food and the wonderment of childhood. New Year’s Eve was an excuse to dress up for a mediocre party—not a time for reinvention.
This year, however, felt different. Perhaps it’s because I, like many of you, are struggling with being a working mom. Even though the holidays are my second favorite time of year (summer always being the front runner), this year I felt rushed, stressed, disconnected and basically uninspired. I focused on all things negative that had transpired this year: I didn’t write, I didn’t run, I didn’t listen to The Hubs when he talked, and I didn’t remind myself that despite the setbacks I had, my life is more beautiful than I ever imagined it could be.
This realization only hit me last weekend at a dinner party. Friends of ours, “Marilyn and James,” had just moved into their new home after baby number three. They are the epitome of what my mother would call “genuinely good people.” They are not financially affluent, but they are rich in love, they are generous, and they are a reminder that no matter how stressful life is, there is joy to be found and to give is truly to receive.
A party full of chaos
Marilyn and James hosted seven couples and their children to celebrate the holidays and the purchase of a larger home. The crowd was varied and rambunctious. Children, ages 8 months to 11 years, were permitted to eat, chase and play around the entire house. Sofa cushions were overturned, food was consumed at tables, on the floor and wherever a parent saw fit to shove a mini hot dog in a kid’s mouth. One kid was so sick and full of sniffles, I wanted to strangle the parents for bringing his contagious, 18-month-old butt to a party that lasted till 10 p.m. The adults were drinking (at least I was), and the kids were pretty much running amuck.
Although I love these two people, I remained in awe of their ability to let this go on.
What really matters: Simple gifts
Then came the end of the evening. As the guests (finally) wound down, Marilyn and James announced they had a “surprise for everyone.” Underneath the Frasier fir tree that stood decorated and smelling of pine in their formal living room, were a dozen beautifully wrapped gifts. They proceeded to give one to each family and each child, along with a blurb about us—who we were and what we meant to them. Not only did each kid get a specific gift to suit their taste, every family was presented with an 8-by-10 photo of themselves (Marilyn had asked us to supply her with one prior to the party), that she had recreated on canvas.
I couldn’t even make a joke; I was thankful to be included.
I also was chagrinned. Everyone at this party, sick kid and all, was a pleasure to spend time with. Half the time, I was thinking my kids were going to get sick, and I was depressed about going back to work after a holiday. I didn’t even stop to think that I had good friends, two children and an amazing husband to celebrate this holiday with, and God willing, 60 more holidays to come.
Who cares if I didn’t run for a week? They love me. Who cares if Joey is still not fully potty trained? He is awesome. So what if I had some setbacks last year? This was life. As long as I have this, I can deal with anything. This was not a resolution, but an internal promise to take one day at a time and to just stop and pay attention to what really matters. Breathe. Love. Listen. Hug. Live.
One day at a time.