Happy New Year!
Those three little words, they carry such weight. My sister Rachel and I used to quote a Special of the Week, featuring Jennifer Jason Leigh as an anorexic whose family is force-feeding her on New Year’s, who says quietly, eerily: “Happy New Year, to my Happy, Happy Family…” It always made us laugh in a moment that might otherwise have felt, well, not so very happy.
“Lighten up Francis!” was another great reminder line we used, from “Stripes.” The holidays can be rough. I don’t know why, now that I’m the parent and not the child, I feel like it should all be perfect, like because I’m now in charge I should or could magically make it so.
Oops. My bad. Turns out you can build a fire, make hot chocolate with marshmallows and whipped cream, but you can’t make the little punks sit quietly, reading and smiling in their Christmas onesies, instead of wrestling in their underwear, cursing and rapping loudly along to shockingly rude Kanye West lyrics.
I swear every year I’m going to build one of those booths Lucy had in Charlie Brown, offering 5-cent therapy, and I’ll set up on a popular street corner offering up some sort of serum I’ve concocted to inject into people so that they can relax and enjoy during this time of heightened pressure to do just that.
The New Year should be a happy thing. It is an opportunity to slough off your old skin like a snake in the desert, to leave parts of you behind that you don’t want anymore, that aren’t serving you. It is a clean slate, a new calendar. I am looking at myself and my family and feeling like we are so capable of doing things better, getting along better, fighting less, cursing less … and then I have to stop. I have to slap myself upside the head and say, “WHY? WHY ARE YOU ALWAYS SO CRITICAL?”
2015 was pretty %$#^&*# good if you just stop and look it, if you weren’t so busy fretting and worrying and hurtling forward toward the next thing, the better thing. There were so many moments — so many more than you were even able to capture in that %$#^&*# iPhone of yours — that were so awesome and beautiful and amazing.
Did you stop to mark on the wall where your oldest son reached up to at the beginning of the year and where he was at the end? The kid must have grown six inches! His voice deepened and he grew a mustache, did you notice exactly when those things happened? Did you stop to hug him? What about the little one? Did you see how he grew, how his long lean body danced around happily, or were you too busy worrying that he wasn’t in enough activities?
Man. The year goes by fast, and the kids are now beating me at Scrabble and reading “Catcher in the Rye.” Before you know it, they’ll be off at college, creating their own New Year’s resolutions lists of what to do and what not to do for the coming year, and the “shoulds” won’t matter then. I have to remember myself and teach them, before our time together is far more limited, before they take their smelly socks elsewhere, that having a “happy new year” is a very lot about perspective.
Seeing and appreciating the little moments, looking together at the beautiful vistas as they pass outside our car window on family road trips, looking around appreciatively at each other on the evenings where we all gather round, even if we’re just each staring at our own screens — these are the things that make for a good year, times that will soon be gone, housed only in that “remember when” nostalgia bank where all their cute little toddler times live.
Sometimes it is a challenge to see the positives. And then you have to remember those little bromides: “Lighten up, Frances!” or, as my friend Claudia quotes from a friend of hers with a smile and a victory V: “Accept!” Life is what it is, it is happening right in front of you, with people and places and things, all ripe for enjoying.
So do it: have a Happy %$#^&*# New Year!