Yesterday was packing day for Sunshine. She headed out early this morning to meet up with a friend for skiing and a better New Year’s Eve celebration than we will have at home. Apparently movie and game nights are not so appealing to twenty-somethings. (When did I become my parents?)
Pandora was playing in the background – Amy Winehouse station. A familiar song came on and I asked Sunshine if it was a movie tune.
She replied, “Oh, yeah. It’s from The Great Gatsby. Have you seen the movie?”
I hadn’t, so she stopped getting ready and we lounged on the couch and watched it together, a quiet afternoon of respite from preparations for another separation, my heart aching to keep her close and hers straining to be free. A moment of togetherness.
I’m not new to Gatsby. I read it a while ago. I found the decadent, hedonistic lifestyle superficial and the story depressing. Maybe that was Fitzgerald’s intention. The movie affected me the same way, maybe more so. The difference was that now I had this song I once loved cycling through my head for the rest of the day, bringing me down, reminding me over and over of the dark, selfish side of humanity.
And my daughter was leaving from a trip home that felt more like a visit than a homecoming.
The tree sits proudly in the living room, boldly taking up a quarter of the available space. I was so grateful for the boys’ company that I let them choose it, and they chose the biggest one on the lot. With plenty of struggle and laughter, they helped their dad get it on the car, then squeezed it through the door of the house, and here it sits, a visitor enthroned in its stand, accepting its esteemed position in the middle of everything.
For days it sits like this, a needle-feathered forest visitor to the austere geometric world of our house. It’s so tall that I can’t reach the top to start stringing lights, and the previously willing helpers have all disappeared into their caves. I sit on the couch and ponder the sheer size, wondering how to tackle the job ahead of me. The rain is coming down in sheets outside, drenching the ladder that still sits by the house from the day my husband put up the lights. I’d probably hurt myself trying that anyway. I could use a chair, but the angle of the tree makes me wary of falling and taking the tree with me. Finally, my youngest son, blessed with height and long arms, deigns to help. We get the top string of lights up just as the timer beckons us for dinner. I will return later to finish the job by myself.
Again, I sit on the couch and ponder the tree, now adorned with white lights. Boxes of ornaments sit on the sidelines, waiting the arrival of my daughter from college. The tree stands in simple elegance, a stately sentry to the other half of the house.
We have been through many trees over the years. One year long ago we had a live tree. It now graces the bottom of our property, a tall testament to the passing of the years. When it snows, I position my youngest son beside it, documenting the growth of both of them with a photo.
In our family, Christmas tree selection occurs right after Thanksgiving, and decorating it has always been a family affair. This was easier when everyone was home. My eldest is now out of the state, though we did wait for him to arrive last year. He won’t be coming home this year. My daughter just arrived from college, and although we waited for her, we ended up waiting even longer. We couldn’t seem to find the time to decorate.
I seem to sit and ponder the tree a lot.
Finally, through frustrated tears, I announce that I will be decorating this tree, and anyone who wants to is welcome to help, but it is happening now. My middle son, a fresh young adult who recently announced that he wasn’t celebrating the holiday, hugs me and asks me to wait one more day. He is meeting up with friends and will be back the next day to decorate with me. I acquiesce.
The tree twinkles its white lights at me. What does it know of the passing of time? I stare at the three glass ornaments placed on it in frustration. They will sit there for two more days before the box is opened.
In my mind’s eye I see smiling children perched on chairs, leaning precariously toward the tree, ornaments in hand, posing for pictures. I see the carefully packed ornaments coming out one by one and us laughing at the first grade pictures and the glued together popsicle sticks. I see my middle son with an armload of nutcrackers. I picture us sitting cuddled under blankets, sipping hot chocolate from Christmas mugs, admiring our handiwork, music playing in the background. How many Christmases were spent like this?
Even the ornaments are packed with meaning. There is a sushi ornament for the year we discovered sushi and a small wooden ferry from our trip to the San Juan Islands. There are skiing ornaments and music ornaments and photo ornaments. Every year the tree becomes a 3-D album of our life together.
Last year’s plea was to not decorate the tree until they came home. This year I waited. And waited. And waited.
Next year I will pick the tree. It will be short. It will be thin. I will wait, but only for so long, and then I will lovingly pull out the lifetime of ornaments, decorate the tree and remember.
“Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current; no sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away.” ~Marcus Aurelius
Every once in a while I get the gut-wrenching feeling of suddenly becoming aware of the passage of time. This is followed by a sudden urge to hold it, to make it stop, to hold my kids closer and keep them at this stage and let the drawn-out moments etch themselves on my heart.
The years seem to spiral in, every occasion seemingly coming sooner than the previous year. Thanksgiving is rolling around again, then Christmas will be here. Once again I will say out loud, “Didn’t I just put these decorations away?”
I have so often been in the busyness of the moment that I have neglected to stop and savor it. The overworked, overtired days of being a young parent swiftly transitioned to the busy, scheduled days of school, after-school activities and PTO meetings. Middle school brought band and sports schedules for the kids, plus a return to college for me. When they were in high school there were more intense sports schedules and school dances and driving lessons and college prep. I started teaching. For all of this time, the background music has been that of work and obligation and daily chores.
We also sought to fill that time with memories – family vacations and camping trips, baking cookies and holiday traditions, exploring, taking walks together, and many small, inconsequential spread out moments. These are what we remember, but as I look back I wonder, was it enough?
The kids are trickling out of the house, heading off to make their own paths in life. I find myself standing here a little dumbfounded at this curious compression of time. Where has it all gone? Surely we haven’t been able to fill it all up. Years ago it seemed to stretch out indefinitely into the future, but now as I look back it seems to have passed with intense rapidity, moment after moment streaming by until I find myself right here, right now. But isn’t right now where we always are?
There are so many distractions in life – television, computer, cell phones, not to mention work and bills and family obligations. I fill my moments with things that inspire me like books and music and people, but also with time killers like Candy Crush Saga and inane text conversations and mindless television. Maybe it’s necessary to give the brain a break now and then and let the nothingness rush in. I don’t know. It seems wasteful somehow.
The other day I was walking on the beach with a dear friend. I didn’t take a camera, and my phone battery was dead. There was no stopping to take pictures, no interruption of phone calls. There were plenty of moments of stopping and breathing in the salt air, feeling the coolness wash over us, letting our feet sink into the grainy sand, and just admiring the way the ochre cliffs were set against the brilliant blue sky. We talked uninterrupted. We relished each moment we were there.
I feel the need to slow down this spiral, to be in the moment like this, to sense, to feel.
It’s easy to forget that moments of time are all we have. I want to appreciate them before they are gone.
When I was young, I dreamed of travel. I read novels with exotic settings. I had a poster of Santorini, Greece on my wall, andI was one day headed to Australia, India, and Nepal.
But life happens, and travel costs money. I married and had a family. It wasn’t just me anymore. We were Mr. and Mrs. A. We decided to be a single income family so one of us could be home to raise our four kids. We made sacrifices, and the first thing on the chopping block was international travel. Wanderlust doesn’t die easily, though. Our concession was to travel extensively throughout our region, often returning to much loved family vacation spots. Still, the desire to explore the globe never went away.
The kids have now grown and are heading out on their own adventures. Two of them are wanderers, in college in other states, eager to strap on a backpack or grab a rolling bag and head down the terminal with their passport for adventure. The other two are more content to stick close to home, and it’s a struggle to take them anywhere these days. I chalk it up to the rubberband effect of friendships. Only time will tell.
That leaves us standing in our once bustling house, looking at each other again for what seems like the first time in twenty-five years of marriage. The reverberating echoes of school and band and dance and soccer, of fighting and laughing and vying for attention slowly dissipate, leaving us able to hear each other once more.
Twenty-five years. This was a big one. We talked of celebrating our anniversary in style. I suggested Hawaii. Tropical beaches, rugged landscape, and all of that ocean were calling. There were hills to climb. Maybe we would go mountain biking or snorkeling or take up surfing. We are not loungers, content to sit on the beach soaking in the sun, sipping Mai-Tais, not that there’s anything wrong with that. We prefer exploring, hiking, seeing the wildlife and the differences in environment and culture.
My husband was okay with Hawaii. Just okay. I knew he would make the trip for me. He does a lot of things for me. I wanted this to be for us, so when he came home talking about Costa Rica, my ears perked up. The thing with not traveling, though, is that it makes you nervous to take that first step. Isn’t that true of anything? We searched the internet. We contacted tour agencies. We got an estimate. Wow! It looked like Costa Rica might be cost prohibitive. The kids might be on their way out of the house, but they had left a trail of financial needs that we were still helping with. We put it all out of our minds and celebrated in a nice resort on the coast less than two hours from our house.
Still… Costa Rica was calling, whispering our names, jiggling us, asking us to consider the possibilities. Maybe if we planned our own trip…
So although our anniversary had passed, we were again looking at hotels and things to do in Costa Rica. We came across a little B&B in a remote mountain location called Monteverde that was not anywhere near the top of my list of places to see. The B&B was cute, and got high ratings on Tripadvisor, but was only available for one night within the small time frame we were looking at. We looked at each other. Should we? Nervously, we gave that ball a push, and soon it was rolling. With one reservation taken care of, we only needed a flight, my passport, and the whole rest of our ten day trip filled in. I had always dreamed of being a travel agent, and I got to work immediately. Soon we had the whole vacation lined up with hotels and tours and transportation. Before we knew it, we were on our way.
I’ll leave the rest of the trip for some other time. Suffice it to say that Monteverde was our favorite part an amazing trip, even though we only spent one night here. It’s green, cool, peaceful, and very focused on conservation. We took a tour with a local guide, Marcos, who led us immediately to a quetzal and talked excitedly about the natural history of the cloud forest. We stayed at our cozy but upscale B&B and interacted with our lovely host, Carlos, as well as tourists from France and other parts of Europe. We came back from a night tour to a beautiful and delicious plate of plantains and ice cream and enjoyed breakfast in the morning on the open air patio. We made a connection to this place, and it was very hard to leave the next day.
There’s a whole world to explore. I hope to see so many things and places still, yet I long to get back to Monteverde. I want to wake up early and wander through the cloud forest. I want to sip delicious Costa Rican coffee on an outdoor patio while watching the birds. I want fresh pineapple with gallo pinto in the morning and passionfruit smoothies in the afternoon. Maybe I’ll even zip through the canopy.
Monteverde is calling me back.
If you’ll excuse me, I have a trip to plan.
If you would like a young, hip version of a foray into Costa Rica, head here to read my daughter’s blog. (Shameless promotion, I know.) 🙂
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