It’s the quiet before the storm here, a few days alone before the family arrive for the holidays. I am still not used to the rhythm of the holidays sans children. I put the ornaments on the tree myself, reveling in the memories of each one.
I still only use the same small batch of ornaments that we’ve collected over the years. I wonder sometimes if the secret santa who gave us a set of cheap tin angels in 1992 ever thought that they would still be on our tree 25 years later, not to mention every ornament that I made in grade school, on our tree alongside the ones that my children made. Though it would be so easy to buy new stylish decor, I never feel the impetus to do so.
Which reminds me of a conversation that I had at a holiday party last weekend. I met someone new and mentioned that I’d moved to Orange just as soon as my kids finished school in Irvine.
“Weren’t they sad about your selling the family home?,” she asked.
It was a stranger, one I wasn’t ready to fill in on the backstory of my patchwork life. I am not sure how she would have made sense of our moving eight times in those last three years while the kids were finishing high school. While I can so easily tell the stories of the rat house, the whale house, and that time that seven sailors were sleeping in the living room, I didn’t this time. I simply said that we were all ready for a fresh start…
I had a similar feeling a month ago when a colleague asked how I was spending Thanksgiving. I told them I was skipping the holiday and traveling to Philadelphia to visit my daughter. I could see that they don’t really understand why I would opt out of the TDay to wander a strange city on my own and pop in to visit Em on her campus.
But it was a lovely trip. The weather so cold and so bright. When she wasn’t busy studying we went to the Mutter and the Barnes and the map room of the downtown library. She showed me her favorite study spot in the campus library and her favorite trees. We had coffee at Hobbs and water ice at her pizza place and noodles at her noodle place. We found a swingset by the Friends’ Meetinghouse and swang and swang. I felt the pull in my stomach as I pumped my legs up into the air I swung back and forth and felt so young and so old all at the same time. Remembering myself as a young girl who wanted to swing so high, always reaching out my toes into the big blue. And remembering the hours (upon hours) that I pushed Em in the playground swings, relishing her squeals as she flew higher and higher and further away from me.
When I wasn’t with Em I walked and wandered Philly. I stood in line for Independence Hall and went on the tour along with the schoolchildren and families, all of us rubbing our hands together and stomping our feet to keep warm while the wind whipped at us as we queued.
It was all worth the wait when we finally got inside and the tourguide told us about the signing of the declaration, reciting those famous words in a practiced voice:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…
I looked out the tall windows into the courtyard where we had just waited, to see dozens still in line. The wind was outside was gusting, and yellow leaves were swirling and dancing in the golden light of the winter afternoon.