The house was cold this morning when I rose. I’d been awake since three or so—sleep has never been a close companion of mine, especially in these last few years. I spend those dark hours sifting through thoughts and memories. Planning the day ahead and rehashing things I should have said or done differently the day before. Excessive wishing occurs. I suppose these hours spawn much of my writing and should be credited with the seeds of paintings, recipes, and essays alike…but they’ve also left me with entirely too many hours to flay the flesh from my own bones at times.
The stairs creaked as I made my way down by the light of the small Christmas tree in the entryway. The larger one in the living room, along with the lights on the mantle and across the top of the bar gave most of the first floor a soft warm glow despite the rather arctic hard flooring beneath my bare feet. I nudged the thermostat up, poured a cup of coffee (thank goodness for pots you can set the night before—almost like having a wife of my own--hot coffee ready at 6am is a marvelous thing), and stood looking out the kitchen window, the world icy and frosted white beyond the glass. The boys have reveled in the snow these last few days…I must admit I do not share their delight--winter makes me long for blankets and hot toddies.
I listen to NPR (national public radio) as I get ready every morning. I find it much more informative and less irritating than television with its persistent commercialism and tendency to qualify the “latest trend in socks” and “recipes for your holiday brunch” as “news.” NPR brings the Middle East into my kitchen, wars and tragedies as well as triumphs and joy—things which help me keep perspective. I fear there is a vast population out there absorbed only in the three square miles that surround them…
Throughout the programming, they often mention famous birthdays. Tidbits of interesting lives. Remarkable moments. Today, it turns out, is Stan Lee’s birthday. As the announcer read through several facts about the man, there was near reverence in his voice. It was obvious that Marvel and all of the magic contained therein had touched his own life personally. Spiderman Halloween costumes and Iron Man underroos, a full-color childhood of imaginary champions. As I traced the curve of my lashes with eyeliner, I found myself wondering at a life so….huge. Lee literally altered the world. He poured enchantment into the mundane, created heros with vulnerability as well as strength…made us all believe good would really win in the end and that no matter how desperate the situation, it was still possible to be rescued. (and this aside from contributing to an industry that encompasses movies and books and careers for thousands) Stan Lee matters. Running my fingers through auburn curls, I clipped the silver hoops into my ears and thought about my day ahead….
Would it matter?
Seven hours at the office, home to cook dinner, maybe a stop on the way for some new year supplies….nothing remarkable. At all. Nothing life changing for anyone. Don’t get me wrong, I know the boys will appreciate being fed and should I not stop for cheese and peppers, there would be no dip for the mancave sleepover planned for New Year’s eve….but do I matter? My tiny carved out niche in the world, three boys, an old house; a husband and one neurotic dog. I don’t change the world. Far from it. My presence wouldn't register two lines in the local paper, much less a birthday announcement on the radio given with admiration and awe.
It’s strange, this world. When I think of the larger pieces of the pie—the names known by all that fabricate and shape the direction of this never ending story we all live within….I cannot help but wonder at the power of the rest of us. Leading quiet lives in quiet homes, giving birth and laughing and weeping and quietly dying. Perhaps it’s just the new year, facing the end of last, resolutions and realizations and such. Perhaps I’m just tired today. Perhaps I need to be more intentional.
Crossing off the last item on yet another legal pad list, the black scratch across sunny yellow paper inordinately pleasing, I have shuffled another step closer to Christmas. I am indeed a most advanced addict of lists and all things enumerated. Don't forget and remember to and prioritize dammit! *chuckle* I am unsure of what birthed this undeniable need for organization within my soul--was it nature or nurture or just a knee-jerk survival mechanism kicking in after enduring traumatizing years with roommates and a first husband that lost their rent, their keys, and their jobs on a disturbingly regular basis. Whatever the case, I do so cherish my lists and the peace of mind that comes with them.
But once more, there is a yet....
So as is common in our dinnertime routine, I swirled the merlot in my glass, crossed my legs and leaned back in the one of the tall, deeply cushioned chairs that surround the dining room table. Watching the boys finish off piles of roasted green beans with almonds and feta, grilled chicken, and slabs of buttered bread, I asked, "So Brennan, what was the most fun you had all day?" He took a sip of milk, tilted his head while he thought, and then enthusiastically, "Oh, when I got to stay in and play on the computer with Kyle for recess!" I laughed, that boy and his computers! "And you?" I asked his brother. Sawyer finished his bread, considering. "In gym I caught seven balls during scatterball!" I grinned right back at him. My oldest redheaded son may not be the biggest of the three, but he's like a monkey when flying through the air and a cat at landing on his feet. The music played on, a piano holiday mix that I love, and Brennan looked at me, a question in his eyes.
"What's the most fun you had today mom?"
I chuckled, standing to pick up the empty platter and dishes, "Well, honey, I got nearly everything done on my list." He wrinkled his nose at me. "And that's fun?" He was clearly dubious. "Well.....um....." He stood to take his plate to the kitchen, shaking his head. "You should do more fun stuff mom." I gazed after him, unsure how to reply.
The boys had run off, returning to their pre-dinner activities. My husband was working late, so I put a different disc on to play, poured another glass of wine, and finished clearing the table. My kitchen is small--more so than you can imagine, trust me, and there is a lovely porcelain sink but no dishwasher to be seen. I stood, filling the basin with warm soapy water, watching the last of the light flee before the cloak of night beyond the skeletal trees. My reflection in the window glass slowly solidified as the sky darkened outside. And then it was just me and myself in the small room, hands submerged, the clink of dishes and the whisper of running water joining my thoughts for company.
Is fun the same thing as satisfaction? A delicious meal, the laundry done, floors vacuumed and pantry full...satisfaction, definitely. Contentment and gratification and peace of mind--absolutely. But fun? I dare say that I consider it part of my "job" as a home-maker to keep the house well-stocked in every way, but I rather dread shopping of any kind. There is no real "fun" to be had playing bumper carts with sale-crazed women and waiting in lines that seem more appropriate at an amusement park; and then there is the hefting it into the car and lugging it all home alone, a million trips back and forth.....but I do love that my husband doesn't have to run to the market when he's home, and that there is always another box of tissues and enough bread for a sandwich. I take pride in this, but I don't really consider it 'fun.'
I do delight in cooking, although once again it is perhaps more in the shining eyes and "Mmmmmm's" around the table that I find enjoyment. I revel in food and am thrilled that this has been contagious within our family--for his twelfth birthday, my youngest has requested my smoked salmon. Not pizza or burgers, but luscious pink flesh brined overnight and then slowly smoked with mesquite chips in a Japanese bamboo steamer....I do find joy in this. But is it fun?
And then there are the pleasures of the flesh. *slow smile* Warm skin and desire and the flicker of candlelight. The texture of soft hair, the scent of attraction....the taste of passion. While I think I will certainly place this under "fun," should I have "more" of it, I fear I might not accomplish much upon that list....
The dishes dripping quietly, the music faded away. My wine and I curled into the end of the leather couch, marveling at the golden glow of fairy lights and sparkle that is our Christmas tree. The nutcrackers tucked amidst the greenery on the mantle, the candles burning atop the old stereo cabinet that holds the television, its doors now closed. There is such fulfillment here, in the hush and pause after the list is done. But fun?
Do you suppose "fun" is a part of childhood? No, that cannot be true as I have friends that have sporting good fun on a regular basis. In the glimmer of the evening, I am left with just me. I think I will ponder this more. Face the possibility that I have let the responsibility and organization of adulthood consume too much of me....that I have forgotten to include 'fun' on my list.
I believe this Christmas, I shall re-write a list. Or two.
Leaden skies draped my world in dewy garland today. Even now, the rain is still sliding down the windows as the street lights flicker on beyond, their halos misty in the night. Christmas twinkles along the edges of my sight, the fairy lights draped across the bar, the holly piled high atop the china hutch, the buffet littered with half drunk bottles of wine and a dozen glasses among the poinsettias and candles. Our holiday bash crept up so quickly, my month of novel writing just ended and I had but a week to deck the house and bake the nibbles to delight; a week of ladders and lights and hanging the Moravian star. Ribbons that swirl and stars that spin in the pine-scented drafts...oh, how I love Christmas!
The house is so quiet. The first day without a scribbled list on legal pad yellow paper, each item crossed off with satisfaction and the last with utter exhaustion. The first day without a deadline except dinner--and bacon wrapped pork chops with lemon and sage make for patient mouths, willing to wait however long it takes. I curled up with a cup of cinnamon tea this afternoon and watched the slate coloured sky, recollecting moments of hilarity and joy during the party, as well as several of frustration and fatigue in that week leading up to it. Entertaining is a creature born of effort and organization; it dares you to reach higher, try harder, and do it while ever smiling.
I've been known to joke that I only entertain after dark as candle light is the most flattering, hiding the flaws and imperfections in this ancient house--thus every room is lit with their flickering glow. I passionately adore the character of the old and weathered but as I hung the wreath to cover the crack in the wall, tied the lights to hide the chipped mantle, dangled the ornaments from the dining room chandelier to draw the eye away from the unfinished mount, I was reminded of....myself.
The eyeliner to distract from the shadows that hover beneath, lipstick to cover the weariness, a smile to counteract the anger that can be read in the clench of my jaw. Baubles to glitter at my ears, my hair twisted and tucked into shape. Sometimes I feel I wrap and decorate myself much as I do a gift, only I am unsure if it is to prolong the surprise of the wonder inside....or to conceal the defects and disappointments. Each of us fights our own battle to accept ourselves, this I know. Under a barrage of advertising that encourages lifelong dissatisfaction and a hunger for bigger, better, lovelier and sparkly...thinner, smarter, faster...perpetual reckless improvement.
This holiday, our entertaining now done for the most part, I'm looking forward to quiet nights and peppermint spiked cocoa. Long afternoons in my painted clothing perhaps working on a new canvas, my hair damp from the shower, my cheeks pale in the light. I'm hoping to be more honest with myself...more realistic with my energy and time. More genuine with my emotions. Let us fight the rabid dog of commercialism and comparisons. Let us enjoy each other while resisting the unattainable myth of perfection.
Here's to unwrapping our souls...may we cherish what we discover.