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All the time there is

I know the calendar has been flipped to a new year and the messages we hear this month tend to be forward, upward, and onward. Make this your best year ever kind of thing. I'm just not there yet.

And I need to look back to the month of December and the Christmas holiday to make sense of this.

That's your fair warning that this story goes back before it goes forward.

Christmas is a lot of effort and it all stacks up. It's a season of extra commitments, extra shopping, extra driving, extra cooking, extra everything.

I'm no scrooge. I love the idea of Christmas celebrations - all the goodwill, cheer and cozy. But December is a month of high energy and high activity, like a funnel in which we're all spiralling towards December 24th. Spiralling towards slightly crazy.

December didn't always feel crazy to me. Once upon a time, when I was Queen of my universe, I was a part of a slow-living mindset and movement around December. It was relatively easy, when I was high Queen and my young princessess and prince were little, to set boundaries around our activities and commitments. The children were smaller, our social circles were smaller. The season was spent in a low-key, make your own gifts type fashion.

Not every year was like this. There were some years in which I had overcommitted myself and in the following years I made corrections, but the trajectory and vibe of those years was towards a slower season.

I'm not saying it was idyllic.

The Christmas season has usually been accompanied for me by an ache for an unnameable and unknowable loss or absence (like a nostalgia) and for an unattainable perfection and union: in beauty, connection, and relationships. I am more aware of a darkness in the world, and in recent years, a darkness in myself.

I don't talk about this very much in my face-to-face conversations with people (I write about it a bit here), but it is an undercurrent of the season for me.

Ultimately, I think this undercurrent is a longing for God in my life - the unnameable, unknowable, perfection in all things. The light to the darkness.

I have heeded this spiritual undercurrent by paying more attention in recent years to Advent and Christmastide.

That ache has always been there. But now that my prince and princesses have grown the season is busier. I feel like a queen without a capital Q, my reign over the kingdom has shrunk. I don't have the control or the influence I once did in what family life looks like in terms of schedules, interests, and out-of-the-home commitments.

And yet I know that in the same way I look back to Christmas seasons' past and long with nostalgia for the days where a trip to the library and a farm visit were the chief outside-the-house activities of our week, I will look back on these years and long for the days where our home was filled with teenager energy, creativity, and video-gaming. These, like the ones before, are the good years.

When things feel out of control to me, out of my hands, I remember that it is my choice to support the growing independence and individuality of my children.

I choose to support their strong need for social engagements and the expressions of their individual selves (outside the collective of our family identity). And I choose to be a part of a hustle and bustle that comes by belonging to community and groups of people whose agenda and schedule is not set by me.

This is the subtext of my life right now. The subtext of my writing.

The letting go of how I want to do things while being necessarily involved in more activities, more busyness than I want to, in order to support my kids at this stage.

This is hard for me. It is necessary. It is growing in me a holy dependence on a source of strength and love outside myself.

I emotionally fall down at this job so very often. I don't feel like there is enough of me to do it well. I set boundaries and I do my best to honor them. I'm pretty good at self-care. I've read "all the things", the messages and media of how we must simplify, prioritize, focus, whatever. I've written that kind of stuff. But life remains what it is, a day-in and day-out routine of holy work for which I often think, "How on earth am I qualified to do this? Where will I find the strength?"

Sometimes I fight this work. The work being done in me and the work set before me.

This is also the subtext of my life right now.

It's a useless fight but I get angry and frustrated at all the things I can't control, I get angry at myself, so I rail and swear, or sigh and weep. And on better days I put my shoulder to the work that needs to be done with a joyful and deeply grateful heart, because my work, essentially, is to build and nurture the people I care about most deeply. This is a gift.

I keep showing up, sometimes feeling motivated by love and goodwill and other times feeling motivated by a deep sense of responsibility and commitment. Perhaps they are the same.

Many days I feel like a freakin' Katy Perry song, in relationship with myself.

Cause you're hot then you're cold
You're yes then you're no
You're in then you're out
You're up then you're down
You're wrong when it's right
It's black and it's white
We fight, we break up
We kiss, we make up

The Christmas season was a twinkly-lights version of this:

The letting go of how I want to do things while being necessarily involved in more activities, more busyness than I want to, in order to support my kids at this stage.

All I wanted after Christmas, before the New Year started in earnest, was to do whatever I wanted.

I wanted to experience an expansiveness to my days and my mindset that I struggle to achieve in my "regular" days. Days filled with tasks related to homemaking and money management, and getting these kids ready to graduate and off to their co-op classes.

I had shored up myself mentally through the rush of December, through the hustle and bustle (some of which I enjoy, some of which I don't), with the idea that I was going to gift myself with a post-Christmas break.

Here's what I wrote the morning after coming home from our Christmas trip to Nova Scotia:

"I love this liminal space between Christmas celebrations and my start on the New Year (sometime around Epiphany). It is a mixed bag of productivity and reflection, cleaning the house and reading books, vigorous walks and soaking in the tub, re-stocking the fridge and eating simple meals.

Someday I'd like to write about this space, this time, a most necessary non-rushed end to the holidays, a soft transition period."

Here's what actually transpired:

I had to buy a new fridge to replace the one that's been broken for the last 2 months. Two months. November and December were a cycle of five failed repair attempts, frozen vegetables and thawing food, going to the grocery store nearly every day for the perishables.

The inefficiency, the loss, the extra cost. Ugh. But we didn't want to buy a new fridge till we really knew the old one couldn't be salvaged, and the repair people kept saying "this should fix it". But it never did and we finally cut our losses, ate the repair bill (we were only charged once for all five visits), stopped mourning all the wasted time and food and bought a new fridge.

I bought the new fridge between Christmas and New Years, and although Boxing Day sales are a thing in Canada, there were none to be had for what we needed. But buying something this time of the year entailed hours on the phone waiting to speak to customer service representatives of several appliance stores during probably the highest call volume time of the year. It was like stepping into a consumer gladiators arena.

It took a week for our new fridge to be delivered. Another week of food freezing in our coolers on the back deck and daily runs to the grocery store. (In December we bought an upright freezer, a planned expense, and this helped since we could keep all the frozen food in there.)

There was more shopping to do. I just wanted all the shopping to be over, I don't like shopping and December was full with shopping, but the girls needed things for a party (another party!) and the kids needed skates, so shopping we went.

By the time New Years celebrations rolled around I was tired of special days. Special days require special effort and I was just tired of special effort. I desperately wanted to cocoon and burrow into my own space. So I passed on the New Years Eve party at my friends' house (speaking of building community). And Damien and I shared the driving so that at least the kids could go and sleep over for the night. (I got the morning pick-up shift.)

For the first week of the New Year, until I stopped visiting Facebook and got really judicious with Instagram, I felt inundated with the messages of New Year intentions and New Year Goal setting. Make this your best year ever! (Oh, go away.) I got the feeling that if I didn't get on the wagon I'd be left in the dust.

Fine. Leave me in the dust. At least it's quiet here.

I had done my own year-end reflections in December, around my birthday. It took me a month to publish those thoughts, contributing in part to the glut of those type of posts at beginning of the New Year, but my heart and mind were not in the New Years frame of mind when the New Year actually rolled around.

I was not ready for the new-ness of the New Year. I was not ready for the changes you are "supposed" to make, even the small ones I needed to make, like getting a new journal.

My house was a mess from travel and transition and broken things. And the work that had been put off or set aside during Christmas celebrations, things I am responsible for outside our home and commitments I have to other people, came rushing at me. And more special days were on the calendar, a friend's baby shower and a belated birthday party that Brienne had negotiated for way back in November.

That soft transition I had hoped for was both a false promise and an unrealistic expectation.

So I'm doing Chinese New Year. Not like I did when the kids were little and I cooked that feast and spent the month reading books about China (oh, the days). I'm starting my New Year at the end of January, instead of the beginning. I'm using the whole month of January to move myself from a post-Christmas space into "it's a new year!" frame of mind. I'm giving myself this time.

I keep a quote in my files, and occasionally I remember it.

We have all the time there is.

I have it written down that Eleanor Roosevelt wrote this in You Learn by Living, but I can't confirm that, so don't "quote" me. Ha!

The New Year as a time to start fresh, get life in order, whatever else you hoped to achieve, is an arbitrary date. As are many dates that we think are fixed and immutable, the time by which a child should read, or graduate. The length of time allowed for grief or deep joy.

There are deadlines in our lives for sure. But the New Year, as the clean and soft transitional start I was hoping for is not one of them.

I'm choosing to go forward into the New Year slowly, and in the areas I have control over, I'm going at my own pace.

I have all the time there is.

The photos in this post are from three glorious ski outings from the last couple weeks. A quick x-country ski in the city, a climbing-the-mountain day at Mt. Tremblant, and night skiing last week at Bromont.

16 January 17

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