That was my bedtime on the final night of 2012. Maybe I should be ashamed of this fact. Maybe I should think twice about sharing my loserdom with every person who has access to a search engine. But I’m not and I haven’t.
The fact is, I was tired.
Being tired didn’t come as any surprise, though sleeping right through the midnight fireworks at the not-far-distant local baseball stadium and the dogs’ consequent worried toenail click-clacking on the hard wood floors of the bedroom did. I had, after all, just spent a week and a half with my kids.
I know how this sounds. But holidays are different. You (or, more accurately, I) head off to a family Christmas in St. Louis wired on the adrenaline of making Santa’s pre-Christmas visit to our house happen—the better not to pile the sleigh, er, Acura, high with gifts that will only have to be carried back to Asheville—the rounds of homemade granola in mason jars handed out to teachers and specialists and after-school counselors too numerous to be counted, and the extra joy of wrapping gifts for assorted nieces and nephews and mothers-in-law and cousins late at night after the kids are in bed. (I used to think this was fun; somehow, I don’t anymore, maybe because, unlike last year, I don’t have a season’s worth of Southlands stocked up on the DVR to get me through it.) You/I spend two five-hour days in the car changing the DVD with great frequency to great arguing about what to watch next, handing out snacks, coaxing cranky children out of their carseats and into a bathroom at gas stops, and grabbing the new iPad from the lap of the boy complaining of an impending bout of vomiting. And you/I arrive in St. Louis with a full itinerary of activities designed to get the kids out of the house every single day.
This last part may sound counterintuitive, seeing as the whole point of bringing the kids to family vacations is to take advantage of all the built-in teenage babysitters others might call older cousins. But I’ve learned over past Christmases that teenage babysitters like to be babysitters for maybe an hour out of the day even if they are blood relatives and that leaves a lot of time for small children to pester the adults who would really rather put their feet up and drink eggnog than go play in Grandma’s basement.
So we went to the movies and the Science Center and the Zoo and the City Museum (just ask Jake about the ten-story slide) and friends’ houses that are way cooler than ours because we get to play in them only twice a year. And then we came home to a celebration for Jake’s birthday or a Christmas Eve party or Christmas dinner (can I really eat any more?). And we did all these things with a three-and-a-half-year-old who whined so much that she learned to say, “I’m just tired,” after being cued so many times by me (“Are you tired? Is that why you’re acting like this?”) that I almost had to take responsibility for my decision not to bother with naps.
In short, by the time we settled back into our house on the 30th and hunkered down with some Legos and Calico Critters, we were all “just tired.” Of each other.
By the 31st I’d yelled at my kids so many times it would have been best for everyone if I’d gone to bed at 10:21 a.m. and stayed there until school started today. I’d like to dwell on how guilty I feel about all the yelling, wax philosophical about how we all have our limits no matter how compassionate we try to be, point out that Lily is really whiny these days and also totally overuses the fake crying thing and this is truly annoying and anyone, even the Dalai Lama, would have yelled at her at least once. But I’m not going to.
Because the point of my post is to consider why I didn’t really consider New Years Eve. I don’t mean by slipping on a little dress that is way too weather-inappropriate to wear traipsing around the streets of downtown begging for a little warm corner of an overcrowded restaurant, never mind a blessed chair to rest toes pinched into high heels that I thought I gave up when I gave up working in a law firm. Or by gathering with a bunch of friends to while away the hours until we can turn on footage of people in Times Square either freezing or being too drunk to realize they’re freezing and then count down to midnight with them before awkwardly saying, “Well, okay, I’m heading home now. Happy new year.”
I mean I didn’t consider New Years in any way. January 1st felt like the start of just another month. No navel gazing. No resolutions. No pondering what I received from the past year and what I hope to accomplish this one. Not even a drip of melancholy, a sniffle at the notion that my kids are one year closer to growing up and leaving me behind.
This felt perfectly right. For a number of reasons I can see clearly now.
1) Resolutions are just a way to hate yourself. First of all, you know you’re likely to fail at them, unless you make one so inconsequential that it doesn’t deserve the moniker of New Years resolution. Also, resolving to do something is a way of chastising yourself for not doing it before. Just coming up with a resolution or two requires you to go rummaging around in the past year searching for where you fell short, like that time you yelled at your daughter even though she was just tired. At best, making a resolution not to do that any longer makes you feel better at the notion that you might not do it any longer even though you know you probably will. At worst, it just makes you feel bad for having done it in the first place.
2) Auld Lang Syne never makes you happy. Sure, it’s partly the song, the vague idea that it means we’re saying good-bye that makes you feel sad even if you take a moment to chuckle at Billy Crystal’s deconstruction of the lyrics in When Harry Met Sally before recalling what it felt like when you saw that movie and still believed love was really like a romantic comedy and then feeling really old and then thinking about how old Billy Crystal is now and forgiving him for aging more readily than you can forgive yourself. But most people’s instinct, when looking back, is to think of sad things so we can spend that special moment for which we’ve stayed up late drinking being sad all over again. Or we think of happy moments and then feel sad because they’re over and we’ll never, ever be that happy again. This phenomenon does not occur, you’ll notice, when thinking back to last week or last month. It’s reserved for the Whole Year Review. Which has randomly been designated to occur on December 31.
3) This year isn’t going to be all good. Or all bad. Or all anything. There are 365 days in 2013. There is no way that you won’t have one or two awesome ones and at least a few that totally suck. There will be freezing cold days, balmy days, sunny and rainy days, days when you feel great and days when you have walking pneumonia and are thankful to the guy at Whole Foods who recommended the Old Indian Cherry Bark Syrup because you are feeling better already. In other words, it’s kind of absurd, when you stop to think about it, to characterize any 365-day chunk of time as anything. And yet, that’s what we do every time we tell ourselves what 2013 is going to be.
4) It’s just a bookkeeping device. This is what the accountant mother of one of my friends told me on New Years Day when I was sixteen years old and kind of depressed as a rule anyhow and feeling the passage of time in the unironic way only a sixteen-year-old who has no idea that barely any time has passed since she was born can. I don’t find this piece of advice particularly comforting, but I thought you might. Also, thirty years later, I finally get her point: December 31 doesn’t really mean anything. Days are days, and we put numbers on them so we can keep track of PTO meetings and hair appointments and the Tough Mudder race in our iPhone calendars. Dates are useful in that sense, but not so useful as a reason to suddenly become a better person. They can order our lives, not change them. And becoming a better person—whatever that means—you can do that any old day. In fact, if you take a step forward on a day when someone isn’t telling you you’re supposed to it will probably be more meaningful for you.
5) If I don’t publish my novel in 2013, I’ll publish it in 2014. Or 2015. Whatev. I can only write as fast as I can write. And while I’d love to say This Will Be the Year, maybe it won’t. 2012 wasn’t. Or 2011. Not 2010 either. But those years had some pretty good things going for them, and this year will too. Putting a deadline on a dream just makes the grasping at it less pleasurable. The point of being a writer, for me, is to be a writer. And, yes, it would be pretty friggin’ fantastic if I could be a writer all the time, just have that be what I do. But the reason I want to be a writer all the time is that I enjoy writing. So why not just enjoy it? Today, tomorrow, 366 days from now. The important part is that I believe it will happen.
And I believe that your dreams will happen too. Maybe not this year, but when they’re supposed to and when you’re ready for them. Maybe you won’t even know what your dreams are until they happen.