A few weeks ago, the Christmas tree sparkled with twinkling lights and glitter in our living rooms.
Today, the Christmas tree has, literally, been kicked to the curb. Dogs sniff and pee on it, wondering how long this additional outhouse on the sidewalk will last. Pretty packages adorned with silky ribbons once gathered around the evergreen. Now it’s surrounded by grayish piles of snow, crusted salt and crumpled candy wrappers.
But like life, there’s a time and place for everything. The Christmas tree is a good example that nothing lasts forever, nor should it.
Most people hate taking down the Christmas tree. It’s never as exciting as putting it up. But for me, putting away the Christmas decorations, sweeping out the dried needles and cookie crumbs, is cathartic. Just like the new year, it feels like a new beginning. We hit the refresh button and start over.
Could we also do this in our lives and not just our living rooms? I think of sweeping out what’s no longer working, whether personally or professionally. Snarky “friends” who make constant jabs--in jest, of course-- need to go. The pants, gathering dust in the closet, tags still attached, that you’re never going to wear? Gone. Extra pounds from too much Pinot Grigio and pumpkin pie? Gone. Worrying about what we can’t control. Gone. Okay, that one is harder to get rid of, but it’s worth trying. Worrying about what other people think is another one that goes in the easier-said-than-done, but necessary trash pile.
Because when we get rid of what’s not working, we make room for what does work. We create breathing room in our houses and lives.
I look at our tree waiting for the next trash pick-up, and I feel a little sorry for it. But sorrow is the wrong emotion. It did its job. What I need to feel--and do feel--is gratitude for what it gave us. And what it’s giving us now: room to grow.
Walking down the brick sidewalk, my black boots crunching over dried, yellow leaves, I spot a young mother and her toddler walking toward me. The dark-haired little girl, wearing a quilted, navy blue jacket and pink tutu, grasps her mother’s hand, slightly swinging as they stroll by. I catch the mother’s eye, nodding hello. The little girl is singing a familiar tune that catches me off guard, taking me back 15 years.
“The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round...”
I don’t know why the song resonates so much, but I want to start singing. The thing is, when my children were growing up singing that song, I didn’t even like it. It drove me nuts.
“And the horn on the bus goes beep, beep, beep.”
“And the wipers on the bus go swish, swish, swish.”
God, will this song ever end? That’s what I probably thought while Peyton sat on my lap during circle time, patting her pudgy hands to the beat of the bus song.
Now, I turn my head and watch the mother and daughter walk out of sight, the little singsongy voice growing fainter as it “beep, beep, beeps” down the sidewalk.
Maybe it’s a hormonal shift or the shift in seasons, but I suddenly want to cry. And so I do. Hard. Luckily, I make it to the car before the waterworks start pouring in earnest. Does that mother know how lucky she is? Does she know how quickly this moment will pass? Does she appreciate the simplicity of walking hand in hand on a crisp fall day?
Did I appreciate it at the time?
I often feel the weight of nostalgia--or is it melancholy?-- when the seasons change. But this year, even more so. The sight of this mother and child singing seems like a wake-up call, a reminder. Pay attention. Appreciate the moment when you’re in it. It doesn’t last long.
Older parents often tell younger parents this. I’ve written past essays on the topic: "Taking Off" and "Children and the Corn." But I’m really feeling it now, with Peyton in the throes of applying to colleges. Eighteen years ago, she was still in my belly, beefing up for a December debut. Now she’s gearing up for another journey.
Yes, the wheels on the bus go round and round, faster than ever. And while we can’t always control the speed--or bumps along the way--we keep on moving.
The email comes in with an attachment for me to fill out and send back. Simple enough.
But the request to “fill out the form” fills me with dread. Seriously, I moan to myself, I have to fill out another form?
So what do I do? What I always do: I hit the “Mark Unread” button, and proceed to the next email.
Forms send me into a frenzied tailspin. Think Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.” That’s pretty much how I feel when faced with filling out forms. I’m sure there’s a name for my affliction. I like to say I have form-a-phobia. Others might say I’m disorganized or, perhaps, just lazy. Guilty as charged.
Anyone with children in school knows a fear of filling out forms is not a good formula for successful parenting. My senior almost missed the first day of school last week because her medical forms had not been sent. You’d think after 14 years of having a child in school I’d have this gig down. I guess I thought Bobby had taken care of it. Even though we’re divorced we still work together as a team when it comes to the kids. He has always been the organized one, the “form” guy, the sign-the-girls-up-for-soccer guy. I’m better at the triple-trips-a-day to CVS, Starbucks, and Safeway. We all play our roles, and scheduling is not one I’ve perfected.
But somehow it all works out. The girls have managed to stay enrolled in school--albeit with some “gentle” reminders from the accounting department and school nurses. Of course, this year, Peyton’s final one in high school, we hit a snag: her last first day of school almost didn’t happen. When the woman from the school’s health center looked up from her laptop, I could tell what she was thinking. How lame are you that you didn’t take care of this?
And here’s where I have to admit that not only did I neglect to fill out her medical forms, I neglected to schedule the girls’ annual check-ups altogether. That’s right. No check ups. Somehow this summer, I simply forgot to take them to the doctor for their annual physical.
Walking with a friend, rehashing the story later that day, she asked, “You mean you never called to make an appointment?” She chuckled, but didn’t cut me any slack. “What were you thinking?”
I wasn’t thinking, apparently. Okay, somewhere in the back of my mind, I figured I’d take them in for check-ups the first few weeks of school, handing in the forms a wee bit late. That’s what I’ve done before, and it has worked. Perhaps the schools have been enabling my tendency to put off things until the last minute. But not this time.
“Oh my gosh,” I said to the woman peering from behind the laptop. “I just called her pediatrician and we can get a physical this week.”
She paused, shooting me a disdainful look. “No, I’m sorry. She needs the forms today.”
I quickly called the doctor’s office, begging the nurse to please, please, please squeeze us in.
We take our girls to a pediatrician who doesn’t take insurance. That’s both the good and bad part of this story. It means a parent can scramble for an appointment at the last minute and see the doctor. That day. It also means there will be a whopping bill along with the visit. And, yes, more forms to fill.
So I will be paying the price for my form-a-phobia. And maybe, just maybe, I will have learned a lesson. I believe there’s hope for me. As they say, admitting you have a problem is the first step toward recovery. Too bad it took nursery, elementary, middle and high school to get here.