Figure I'd send this out through the blog, though the cards themselves are still finding their way through the United States Postal Service. This is our 2013 Christmas letter, because yes, we're white:
There's this kid that lives somewhere in the neighborhood. Down the hill from us, I think, though I probably think that because I only see him ever in the park down there.
Early teens, lanky. Body of a runner, or maybe a basketball player. All puppy arms and ears.
I only ever see him by himself at the swings. Third swing from the left, back to the street and facing the tennis court. White earbuds. The only sound he makes is the fwee...hee-hahhh call-and-response of the swing's squeaking as he pumps it as high as it will go without throwing him.
I've seen him there at different hours of the day. Weekend afternoons, Tuesday nights after everyone's gone home. Once I went out for a run in the rain, long after dark, and he was there, kicking away.
Seeing him there, under the orange haze of the streetlights and with the rain coming down, it looked like the beginning of a horror movie, Playgrounds of the Possessed or some damn thing. It didn't occur to me until I was back home and warm and dry that maybe the kid didn't have it so great at home, maybe that's why he was out there swinging in the rain. Or maybe he was the right kind of eccentric, indifferent to the storm or even wanting it to fall on him while he listened to his music and cut graceful knife-fight arcs through the air. I hope his iPod survived it.
There's a thing about rhythm and repetition that pulls you out of your own head, if you let it go on long enough. You drop your cares on the floor and disappear into that dark, quiet spot at the center of you. People find it in meditation, in dance, in the methodical plod of running, in that space on the edge of sleep where your mind gets just a touch unlaced and your inner censor shuts the hell up for a few minutes before you go dark.
You return to the ground. You remember what's real by turning the hypotheticals loose. There's only the next beat.
Last year I introduced Jack to Star Wars. I'd even found and downloaded a de-specialized edition of the movie, the way it was before George Lucas screwed it all up. Eat your crackers, boy. We are doing this.
I try like hell not to inflict my childhood on my kids. I know it's not about me. But Star Wars is basic cultural competency stuff, and I expected that he'd like it.
What I didn't expect was that I'd get to be five years old again. But then he cheered. Then he needed me to hold him and reassure him that nobody was getting smooshed by the garbage smasher near the cell block (because let's face it, you need properly smashed garbage before you shoot it into space, and also a prison is where you'd put that, but only if you populate it with aquatic monsters). And then, when he literally jumped up and down and clapped and yelled AWE! SOME! when the Death Star exploded...
Well. There I was, in my jammies. There was no job to hate or money to worry about or ear hair to trim. For right around an hour, it was 1979 and the worst thing in the world was that Chewbacca didn't get a medal at the end because, I dunno, racism.
His selfless enthusiasm dragged me to the center, and there I found a weird kid with a big head in Mork suspenders. I'm learning such things are possible.
The other night Georgia and I were engaged in pre-bed snuggle time, which is our euphemism for five minutes of tickling and poop jokes. This round was mostly focused on her shoving her rear in my face again and again and shouting "Watch out for my butt!" (Jack would fart on my head later that same evening.) She stopped mid-whumph as if shocked to silence, froze for two seconds, and latched onto me as tightly as if I were one of those dads in Lifetime movies who go out for cigarettes and never come back.
I didn't dare move, of course. I just closed my eyes and we slipped into that dark place between the beats. Later she would reassure me that she is indeed my Pea Pod and forbid me to eat her hair. But for that interminable moment it was just fwee...hee-hahhh.
Kurt Vonnegut once wrote "I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is." But if you're in the moment, I don't know if you're capable of such a thought until it's gone and you're left with fresh nostalgia. Reflecting on the beat isn't dancing or running or pumping your legs higher and higher. It's getting tangled up in your stupid conscious brain, which I urge you to do as little of as possible.
Mine mostly grumbles about stuff, then dreams about other stuff and hopes there won't be too much work. Jennifer's tolerance of it is Herculean, as is her entirely metaphorical grace. For a woman who falls down and drops stuff as much as she does, Jennifer is a ballerina of a mother, every day enduring the pain of turning on her toes so that the show can continue.
She's the one who insisted on the custom superhero mask station and molding white chocolate stars for the birthday party. She invented the living room dance party. She videos the kids doing Tom Waits impressions. She toils. Gleefully, she toils. And she holds it all together. I wish she'd sleep more.
And that's pretty much where we are. Holding it together, trying to slough off the other crap and just listen for the next beat. It's hard to do, particularly this time of year when everything goes nutso until the new year, but still we look for it.
I hope you find yours. I hope you find the quiet, if only for a moment. That's where the deathless part of you abides.
Happy Holidays to all.
[Update: Two days ago I was running errands. It had been raining for hours. I drove by the park and there he was, soaked to the bone and kicking away. I was wrong, though. It's the second swing from the left.]