Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Christmas Letter I Didn't Send

To My Dear Family and Friends,

Although Christmas has come and gone, and some of you may still receive a holiday card from me in the mail, it will not be accompanied by the usual letter in which I try to pull together the meaningful events of the year with some sort of reflective tone and hopeful stance toward the coming year. Should any of you happen to visit my blog, here you will find that offering.

I'm struck tonight how I rarely rue the passing of a year anymore. As I've gotten older, each year has brought more and more moments of being present, trying harder and more intentionally to reach my actual goals and dreams, and less times when I sit and miss the Glory Days of my youth, which in my case were pretty much more guts and less glory. Each year also brings me more stinging realizations about my hard edges, and how much more I wish I was doing in general to actualize myself. I guess in the end, the last twelve months are what they are, and there's no going back now.

Initially, by way of catching up on the last many weeks since my last post, I'll sum up by saying this: I've been sick recently. Pretty much constantly. I've had all of Noah's first three colds, plus one to grow on, and really, it's been more days under the weather than healthy, so it basically feels like I haven't taken a smooth breath through my nose since October. And I'm still blowing my nose a few times a day. So for any of you who have wondered, you haven't missed much, except for of course all the amazing developments in Noah's life that keep me happy, if not also slightly strung out. He is communicating with one- and two-word sentences, is using 40+ baby signs, and can be heard at any time of day or night saying "meow" or "hee-haw" or one of the other wonderful animal sounds that he loves to make. He is sleeping in his own bed now instead of snuggling in with my husband and me. He is climbing on anything he can find that will give him just a bit of added height - sometimes this means standing up ever so carefully on a flattened cardboard box, a lot of work for very little payoff. He is moving and slimming down, but still has enough chub in his lower body to make even a miser smile. He weighed in at 31 pounds at his last well-baby visit with our family doctor, and is wearing 4T shirts. He turns 18 months old in January. I add the past 12 months into the previous year and can say without hesitating that these have been the best two years of my entire life.

Aside from parenting Noah, there have been many other wonderful things this year that make me feel very thankful as I think back over them:

  • Late last winter my husband and I went completely debt-free except for our mortgage, with the help of Dave Ramsey. I have mentioned him on my blog before, and he is worth mentioning again. By following his financial planning steps and utilizing his guidance and motivational techniques, we kissed off over $25,000 worth of debt (credit cards, motorcycle loan, student loan, etc.) in two years. We now own no credit cards and are living within our means for the first time in either of our adult lives.
  • After that milestone, we purchased a new computer with cash and upgraded from dial-up to high-speed internet. What a difference it is to purchase something that we could actually pay for and own outright! I gave my ten-year-old laptop to a techy computer friend as salvage.
  • In May it became apparent that Noah would in fact soon walk instead of dragging himself around on the floor forever, so the blissful months of him being able to come to work with me were coming to an end. After much weighing of options, I decided to leave my job of eight years as a domestic violence Community Educator. For me, coming home to be with Noah was the clear and obvious thing to do, but it meant leaving the workplace at which I had grown up and into the professional and ethical person I try to be today. Just like that, on June 26th, it was over.
  • June also brought my stepson Colby's graduation from 8th Grade, and he headed into a second summer of washing dishes in the family restaurant.
  • This year Matthew and I have continued our efforts to take better care of our bodies and the earth. We joined our local CSA - community supported agriculture - farm and enjoyed organic vegetables all summer and fall. We invested in low-energy bulbs throughout our house. We switched our electricity supply over to water and wind. We have a lot more to do, but these concrete things have helped balance the distress we feel every time we visit the gas pump, or have fuel oil delivered to our home. I still sometimes miss my old hair products, laden with ammonium laurel sulphate, but when I look at a bottle in the drug store, I am still able to hold off on buying it.
  • I was not idle for long, in terms of work. Still wanting to make a contribution to a movement that I care so much about, I decided to make a go of consulting, and in the summer mapped out some projects with a few clients. I also decided to continue on a volunteer basis with some of the statewide domestic violence-related task forces and committees that have been a part of my employment in past years. Although income was certainly a hoped-for outcome, my primary goal was finding a way to keep my balance while offering the best I can to Noah. And so far, with the support of Matthew and the flexibility in his work to be with Noah if I am out at a training or meeting, it's actually working.
  • July brought Noah's first birthday, which we celebrated in concert with his brother Colby, who turned 16 the same month. We took a day to enjoy a family cookout and swim in the lake, the perfect Maine party.
  • In August, Noah started walking. Also that month, I turned 38. Enough said about that. It's almost entirely great to be this age, although when I think about having another baby, which Matthew and I hope to do, I intellectually shudder a bit at how compressed time seems when it comes to additional years of diapering and nursing.
  • In the fall Matthew and I began planning for Christmas. This has never happened in our relationship before. The first year I celebrated the holiday with him, I was at his house with his son on Christmas Eve and he was out shopping. We were wrapping gifts at 9:00 p.m. that night. I swore to myself I would never do that again! This year we gave homemade applesauce, organic lavendar sachets, mixed CDs, and cards made of construction paper. We were also intentional about the gifts that we bought, and it made the slide to the Christmas season about a hundred times less anxiety-producing.

And that brings us to where we are now, in December. Post-Christmas, I feel good. I also feel relieved. No matter the preparation, the holidays bring surprise - many unplanned joyous moments, right through to times of flat-out terror. Just like the rest of the year, right? Sometimes being a mother feels like it's life or death, all the time. Here's one example of what prolonged hypervigilance can do for you - at one family gathering we were at, I was looking around the room and down the hall for Noah, and finally said outloud "Where's the baby?" One of the other folks there pointed back at me and said "He's there." He was lying in my lap breastfeeding. Talk about checking out - I'd gone to the Grand Canyon in my mind. Another more wonderful memorable moment from the past week - Matthew and I spontaneously gave Noah his first haircut in the bath on Christmas Eve. I thought I would be sad to see his baby curls go, but somehow he looks even sweeter to me than he did before. Finally, the terror I spoke of earlier, when at my in-laws' house their tiny chihuahua snarled and bit Noah in the face when he walked near the dog's food bowl, thankfully only leaving a dark bruise on his lip. It was heart-stopping when my husband scooped Noah up and his face was hidden in Matthew's shoulder and I hadn't yet seen the damage. Life or death, all the time. And throughout it all, the moments are peppered with Noah's newest catchphrases - "Oh no!" he sings out in his little voice when something goes awry. "No," he says while he closes his eyes and sways his head like Stevie Wonder when his Daddy asks him for a kiss. "Mama!" I hear him say in staccato from another room when he needs to know I am there. God Bless us, every one.

In closing and on a happily lighter note, this New Year's I want to take a few sentences to thank the New England Patriots, who will hopefully create history tonight by going undefeated, in a final regular season game against the New York Giants. This has been a season worth watching, and a team that continues to be worth rooting for. My household, with its moments of harmony, exhaustion, sarcastic insults, and quiet comings together, has united weekly to watch this team make it happen, and they have brought a lot of excitement into our lives as fans. For anyone else who is pulling for them to make it all the way - Go Pats!

Happy New Year to you all, with my best wishes for all good things to come your way.

Love, Kate