Sunday, December 20, 2009

Chasing the New Year’s Eve Dream

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Which is worse? Valentine’s Day or New Year’s Eve? Both holidays involve culturally mandated fun. Both are loaded with unrealistic expectations. Both measure the success of one’s social life and tend to make you feel like a loser if you’ve got no plans.

In my earlier single days, I would have been quicker to say Valentine’s Day was my least favorite. There’s all that pressure to be coupled or, if you are seeing someone, all that pressure to validate the relationship with the perfect box of chocolates. Still, it’s easy enough to eschew the pink-hearted mushiness if you choose. Chances are there’s a group of like-minded friends you can join for ice cream or martinis and share the “We Hate Valentine’s Day” sentiment. One of my friends used to throw an anti-Valentine’s-Day party every year (ironically, one or both of us typically ended up hooking up with someone afterwards).

New Year’s Eve is trickier. It takes more than a dinner date or a cynical cocktail with friends to feel like you’ve met the cultural obligation of The Biggest Party Night of the Year. You’re not required to have a partner; you’re required to have a wild bunch of fabulous friends to help make it a night to remember. It’s supposed to be the most incredible, over-the-top fun you’ve had all year. The New Year’s Eve myth is harder to deconstruct, because it’s not as obvious as the couple-centric Hallmarky Valentine’s Day myth. Cynical as I am, I spent a good part of my 20’s chasing that New Year’s Eve dream.

I suppose it all started in the mid-1970’s for me, attending the Hickory-Farms-cheesiest New Year’s Eve party ever at my mom’s friend the Avon Lady’s place. I was only 7 or so, and I thought her house was the height of elegance because it was filled with fancy Avon knick-knacks and had those white fake fur things draped over the pea-green sofas. I remember settling into the comfy shag carpeting and gazing enviously at her bright blue eyeshadow, imagining she was a queen. The concept of New Year’s Eve was new to me, but I was instantly captivated by the romanticism of it all. You stay up until midnight and a whole new year begins, right there in front of you! And there’s fondue!

Unfortunately, my mom was keeping a close eye on our snack consumption. At our usual bedtime, we were sent to her friend’s daughter’s room with the rest of the kids. We all thought it was incredibly unfair. At first, we kept sending my littlest sister out to the party to sneak chips back to us, but the adults got wise to that pretty quickly. As the Avon Lady’s daughter played her Captain & Tennille and Donny & Marie records for us, I grew more bored and frustrated by the minute. The grown-ups sounded like they were having so much fun out there.

Every disappointing New Year’s Eve I’ve had since then has been some version of that first one – stuck in a dull room while the real fun appears to be happening elsewhere, inaccessible. I’ve attended several parties where I was the only female guest in a roomful of my hapless buddies and their bitter “Women Don’t Like Nice Guys” friends. Then there was the time my boyfriend and I were feeling too vaguely sick and weary to go see Poi Dog Pondering like we’d planned, so we ended up watching SNL reruns on his crappy old couch instead. We watched the VCR clock turn over to 12:00, but he thought kissing at midnight was too lame or “establishment” or something and flat out refused me.

Even those times when I did manage to scrape up some conventionally fun plans, it kind of left me cold. One year, for example, I spent hours waiting for my friends to call and tell me where to meet them. They finally got around to remembering me at 11:30 and it was shortly after midnight by the time I made it to the club.

The place was packed, smoky, and sweaty, but I found my friends easily enough. These were people I’d been going out with that whole year, and every time was such hilarious fun. But not this time. I had one guy nagging me to talk about my Problems so he could Help me with them. Two more guys were drooling all over themselves thinking my friend and I were a lesbian couple. Meanwhile, another friend staggered off to make out with some random dude. He tagged along with us to a diner after closing time, and you could tell she was already kind of sick of him.

Come to think of it, this wasn’t much different from any of our other nights out. I don’t know why I remember all those other nights so fondly but regard this one as being kind of lame. Expectations, I suppose. If this had been a spontaneous night out in March or August, it might have seemed more exciting. Maybe it was the “Amateur Night” factor, being out on the streets with all those neophyte partiers from the suburbs bumbling around trying to hail cabs and walking six-abreast down the narrow sidewalks. Whatever the reason, I still hadn’t found the elusive euphoria of New Year’s Eve. Not in parties, or clubs, or quiet nights with a boyfriend.

Until 1998 – my first New Year’s Eve in Seattle.

Mr. Black had been living here for a few months, and I was in town finalizing my plans to join him. I’d just signed the lease on a new apartment that morning. I’d be heading back to Philly in a few days to pack up my old place, get my cat, and join my love in Seattle once and for all. The whole thing felt so blissfully surreal. It was every moment in every romantic comedy that we’ve trained ourselves not to believe.

We’d been so wrapped up in our rain-soaked apartment hunting, New Year’s Eve was more of an afterthought. We went to the gritty U-District Safeway and bought a bottle of cheap champagne, poured it into a thermos, and walked down the Burke-Gilman trail to Gas Works Park.

That night was cold and remarkably un-rainy for a change. Boats adorned in Christmas lights sailed along the ship canal toward Lake Union. The closer we got to the park, the more people joined us on the path, heading down to Gas Works for a great view of the Space Needle fireworks. But it wasn’t crowded or obnoxious; just casually merry with a friendly neighborhood feel. We found a good spot to cuddle up, enjoy a perfect skyline view, and share our thermos champagne. Mr. Black’s not much of an “establishment” guy either, but he had no problems kissing me at midnight.

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Now that’s what New Year’s Eve is all about. What could capture the true spirit of welcoming a new year more than that – standing on the brink of the biggest change in your life, next to the person you’re taking the plunge with, on the edge a lake full of festively-lit boats and fireworks. I haven’t even tried to top that one. How could I? That was the one time in my life when ringing in a new year really meant something.

This year, we’ll be flying home from Pennsylvania on New Year’s Day. I expect our New Year’s Eve activities will involve little more than packing up the suitcases, watching a DVD, and sharing what’s left of my dad’s Sam Adams holiday beer sampler. And as long as my guy still kisses me at midnight, that’s good enough for me.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Big Three

It’s funny how a visit to the hospital still brings on the pregnancy déjà vu. I had a moment in the parking garage on Monday, checking to make sure I’d left enough room next to the other car to get my big belly through the door. Oops.

No big belly here. My “baby” turns three today, in fact, and I was only at the hospital for my “Hey, You’re 40!” routine mammogram. Nice to know that even though the baby factory is closed, there are still plenty of opportunities to slip on a hospital gown and get probed. Standing there at an awkward angle while the tech carefully spread out each breast on the cold surface like a homemade pie crust, it really wasn’t much different from all those ultrasounds and blood tests of yesteryear.

Except, of course, it was completely devoid of that deliciously giddy prospect of a new baby, which takes the edge off of just about any unpleasant medical procedure. Even now, walking around that hospital is like flipping through a photo album of precious memories. (Aw, there’s the waiting room where I downed that bottle of noxious orange stuff for the gestational diabetes test! And there’s the hallway where I had all those contractions while waiting to be admitted!)

Did I mention my baby girl is THREE today? Three. Older than her big brother was when she was born. I wrote about her baby days for her birthday last year, and I’m so glad I did. Reading back over it now, there are so many details I’d already almost forgotten.

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Where did that baby disappear to? This past year she’s grown so beautifully into her child-self, from the full head of hair to the full-fledged love of Bill Nye the Science Guy. She speaks in complete, thoughtful sentences now, always with a pressing story to tell. She attempts jokes and responds to them with a finely honed fake laugh. She can sit next to us at Taco del Mar and chomp down a black bean burrito with no help at all. There are plenty of tears and tantrums, of course, but for the most part she is sunshine itself. Everything about her shines – her mischief, her imagination, her absolute joy in her favorite things.

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I thought I would be missing babies by now. And I do, sort of. I’m always happy to see one bobbing along in his Moby wrap or flapping her arms joyously at something shiny. But at the same time, I can definitely feel my own baby window closing. In a good way. I can look at another baby without the compelling biological impulse to swoop it up and care for it. When I hold someone else’s baby, it doesn’t instantly zap me back to my own postpartum days anymore. It just feels like . . . holding a baby.

What I really miss is my babies. Or, rather, I miss the time I spent with them. I miss when it was enough to bundle them up in ducky pajamas and just sit around listening to each other breathe. I miss heading out for long, dreamy walks with a baby snoozing contentedly in her wrap. I miss when the “firsts” were innocent and easy. Baby’s first laugh. Baby’s first ride on the playground swing.

Mostly, I think I miss that intangible bliss of the transition to parenthood itself. Yes it was one of the hardest things we’ve ever done, and I wouldn’t want to go back to the sleepless nights. But the stretch of it all . . . realizing we were capable of raising a newborn at all (and then another one!), and finding those little corners of pure happiness amid the chaos . . . I’ve never experienced anything quite like that. I used to tell people it felt like getting pushed off a cliff at the very moment you discover you’ve had wings all along.

The Christmas season is already so evocative, with its twinkling lights, carols, and whatnot; ready-made for nostalgic warm fuzzies. And each year I realize a little more just how truly amazing and special that first Christmas season was, welcoming our new baby. Our daughter. Little sister. The final member of a nuclear family which, for a long time, had been largely hypothetical.

The previous years had been a rapid current of transitions – the move to Seattle, new jobs, the new house, the marriage, the miscarriages, the birth of our first child. And now, with this final tremendous change, with the nights getting longer and our loved ones gathering to celebrate the holiday, we were finally ready to settle here for a while. Things would still keep changing constantly, of course. But at least we’d established a setting and a cast of characters. And with that, a new chapter was ready to begin.

And here we are. Three years of driving a station wagon with two car seats in the back and saying things like “Don’t ‘But Mommy’ me!” without irony. Three years of gathering them both into my lap for stories and silliness. Three years of being a team with these incredibly smart, funny, constantly evolving little people. They never cease to amaze me, and these have been some of the happiest years of my life.

Happy birthday, Little Girl.

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Very ACLU Christmas

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Here's a holiday favorite from last year that I've edited and re-posted over on Open Salon. Enjoy:

A Very ACLU Christmas

Thanks for reading! I should have something new posted here in a few days.
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