I think it’s done, the long process of putting away, and recovering from, the holidays.
If you are the mother of grown children, Christmas comes on a different schedule. It is slow, then fast, then slow. You decorate the house, the door, the banister, the tree, alone. You wrap, and tuck away your gifts, and you wait, wait and wait for the ‘children’ to come home and bring Christmas.
And suddenly there’s a mad rush of large bodies in your once almost empty house, enormous shoes in the mudroom, lights on in all the rooms, almost all of the time. A loaded refrigerator that still seems to need refilling a day or two after you’ve packed the car with grocery bags. Meals all day: breakfast (for you and The Dog) at 7:00am, and breakfast ongoing ’til round about noon, when they awake. Then lunch; no, you probably won’t have any, but they will need soup and sandwiches and fruit and cheeses. And then you begin the dinner, your carefully planned holiday menus, all their favorites – Rum Punch & Cheese Straws, Rigatoni al Forno, Christmas Pancakes, and Chocolate Lava Cakes – the recipes shopped for, written out, scheduled.
And you try to suck it all up, or suck it all in, their bodies near yours, their laughter over the dinner table, the unexpected and hilarious conversations in the living room, the companionable dog walks at odd hours with a changing cast of characters. It is so lovely, so very lovely.
But who can soak it all up, listening to every word they say, both to you and to each other, trying to stay awake, way past your bedtime, to share every moment, meanwhile processing laundry, walking The Dog and planning menus? And hard as you try, you know it is fleeting, the time vanishing as you set out to hold it, becoming memory even as you live it.
They linger an extra day or two after Christmas. With luck you’ll lure them back for part of New Years, or go traveling to join them wherever they live now.
And then it’s done. They go back to life, and you are left with the decorations, the odds and ends in the fridge, the aftermath, and the holiday fatigue.
You have to be very strict with yourself at this moment: “Back in harness,’ you say, as you face the tired tree, the monstrous day of un-decorating. Surely the tree-down day ranks among the worst days on the calendar.
All the work you did to add warmth and cheer, greens on the mantles, miniature ornaments on the tiny tree, table centerpieces. Suddenly you want it all gone. Now. It amazes me year after year, how my longing to fill the house with Christmas tradition turns overnight – curdles perhaps – into a fierce need to get rid of (careful, careful) almost everything. Pack it up, tuck it away, throw it out. Start afresh. Clean. Empty. Minimalism. Nihilism?
The New Year doesn’t start on New Years Day. Not for mothers anyway. I actually think the new year begins in September, at back-to-school time. But if you must have a new year in January, it begins when you have gotten rid of all the carryover from the old year, the detritus of the holidays. When you have recovered from holiday fatigue. When you rise in the morning to a house that is date anonymous, cleared of seasonal dress. (Perhaps you’re allowed narcissus in the sunny window as a promise of spring to come. Just that, nothing more.)
Outside your door, clean snow, a transformed world, cold air to match the bright and slightly hard-nosed new discipline in your heart. Clear sky through bare branches. Stark new world.