I’m stunned at every birthday. It all just races by.
For last year’s birthday we planned to take them up north for a long weekend away, including a stay at an indoor water park that they love, but we scheduled it several weeks out from their birthday and by the time the date arrived we were already in lockdown and had to cancel. They haven’t forgotten and still ask when we’ll finally be able to fulfil that promise, so for their birthday this year we really wanted to be able to do something special. I told them weeks earlier that we could take them skiing for the first time if they wanted to, and they were thrilled. Vivienne in particular has felt a certain injustice every time I leave to ski with only Jonah. But as the week approached the weather was warm and the snow was melting and sloppy and things began to look uncertain. We scrambled to find something different at the last minute, thinking that horseback riding might be an excellent alternative. The Saturday morning before their birthday though, we decided to stick with the plan to ski, 45 degrees or not.
Last night I was helping Vivienne make dinner. She loves to cook lately, and she’ll proudly go over to the meal planner on the fridge and write, “I cook” on a given night and then tell us all of the ingredients she needs. Last night it was sauteed mushrooms and white rice (always), a salad with spinach, hearts of palm, and avocado, a fruit salad, and buttered bread. I turned on a go-to playlist while I helped her, and when Rilo Kiley came on I immediately thought of an article about Jenny Lewis that I read a couple of years ago. There was this passage that I loved, not only because it was so well constructed but also because the punch line was wickedly funny and perfectly timed. As soon as I thought of it again I found myself wanting someone to laugh and relate with. I texted the friend of more than 20 years who I sent it to and laughed with the first time I read it. She’s way out in Seattle and I don’t even know when I saw her last. The memory made me miss her. Suddenly I missed laughing with people about something we all understood. I sent a text to my go-to group thread of local friends asking first if anyone listened to Jenny Lewis or Rilo Kiley, to see if the reference would land. No one responded. I remember when liking the same music was one of the major grounds for friendship. Now I don’t think I could name what kind of music any of the friends on my group text thread listen to. Isn’t that strange?
Today was the first day back to work and school following the break, and absolutely no one felt ready. Actually, I thought that I was at peace with it and Kristin thought that it would be awful, but then today came and went and Kristin was celebrating the fact that she got through the day and it wasn’t terrible, and I on the other hand found myself really craving the freedom to sit in front of a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle for hours (the one that I started several days ago and have yet to finish). The kids moaned about school but actually seemed fine when the time came (Jonah actually seemed very enthusiastic about a new student teacher in his class when he learned that they share a love for the Harry Potter books).
Around 2:30 this afternoon Jonah asked me to build a fire because he wanted to work on LEGOs in front of it, and Jude and Vivi curled up with their audiobooks and I could tell that we were all wishing we had a little more unstructured time left.
I’ve been feeling more grinchy than usual this season and I’m not really sure why; I love Christmas. Last year I remember feeling very on top of all of my prep: I had ample gift ideas for everyone, some of my shopping was done and my Christmas cards were ready to mail by Thanksgiving weekend. This year I feel very behind the curve despite having put up our tree on November 27th. I’ve felt guilty and overwhelmed by the things I have yet to do, and a part of me feels like there’s no good excuse. It’s not as if we’ve been busy going anywhere or doing anything. Kristin wisely pointed out that I also have absolutely no alone time, and that puts a serious crimp in my ability to think and plan and feel inspired. I put the lights up on the roofline in early November because it was warm out, but somehow it still feels like I’m moving through something viscous.
Thinking about everything I have yet to do has felt overwhelming rather than exciting. Vivienne has been dying to bake cookies and as we approached this weekend (when I’d promised to do it) it just felt like a messy chore on my to-do list rather than a fun seasonal tradition. Then I felt guilty and awful for feeling that way and the spiral deepened.
He’s been counting down the days for ages, all three of them have, maybe because a birthday feels so different than the every-day-is-the-sameness that COVID life brings. A week or two ago he said, “I’ll try to sleep in on my birthday so that you have time to set up.” Set up? Birthdays aren’t usually something that I go overboard about, even though emotionally they mean a great deal. Maybe it’s because I always find myself greiving a little, wishing they’d stay small for so much longer.
I take their pictures because I don’t want to forget all of the ways that they are that will soon become were. It happens so slowly that we hardly notice it, until I look at a photograph from a year ago and find myself shocked by what babies they were. So slowly and yet so very quickly. Time bends and warps in parenthood. I don’t know how he can possibly be eight.
When we got our stimulus check earlier in the year we casually said that maybe we’d use it to refresh the kitchen a little bit. Our kitchen has always been totally functional for us, lots of storage, a peninsula where the kids eat every meal, and one of my favorite features: a large open space between the peninsula and the coffee bar (aka the cabinets and counter on the far wall) that is often used as a dance floor.
But the finishes were never our style. The counters were laminate in two entirely different colors: cream for most of the countertops, dark green marble effect on two others (with a big seam between them where water from the sink splashed and caused them to warp).
2020 has clearly been the spookiest year even without embellishment, but the thought of Halloween not happening this year because of COVID was pretty crushing for me. Halloween was my favorite holiday growing up, and it could be argued that I’ve carried more traditions down for that holiday than for any others. For awhile it seemed like trick-or-treating might not happen, but I began costumes in earnest in September because I needed to hang onto something.
I think that this is week four of school but I’m not entirely sure. Everything is tough to juggle right now. Today I was in the middle of a work meeting when a friend came to pick Vivi up for an outdoor play date and I realized I had no idea where she was. I excused myself so that I could yell her name from the front yard like a crazy person and eventually realized that Kristin told her she could go to the playground. Kristin then had to leave her work meeting to go to the playground to find her. A few minutes later I heard Jonah’s therapist say (as Jonah carried the laptop through the house), “Do you think you could find somewhere quiet for us to talk?” so I excused myself from my meeting again to suggest a new location. When I returned to the meeting a colleague asked me, “so where’s Jude?” and I had to admit that I had no idea. They’re raising themselves, honestly.
So for my own sanity, because reflecting on good things is grounding, I’m returning to Five Things Right Now.
When we were on vacation in Clark Lake my sister taught me how to take beautiful long-exposure sparkler photos. Somehow I’d never quite figured it out despite the hundreds of sparklers we’ve waved through the night air. On that trip we also learned our school district’s official options for students and began to weigh the pros and cons of each. No matter which option we chose we would have a minimum of nine weeks of fully virtual school in our future, possibly more. Before the week was out I had a spark of inspiration for another long-exposure photo I wanted to take: I imagined myself sitting at the table in the mudroom where I work, this time with laptops and school supplies strewn about, with the kids moving about me as they might on any given day, blurs of motion and activity while I try (often in vain) to focus.