I teased my daughter Brooke in late November when we were continuing my month-long birthday celebrations; I told her I didn’t want the magic to end in December. “It doesn’t have to. We won’t let it.” December is a month when each day gets shorter and darker until December 21st, when we experience the winter solstice. Boom. Everything changes. The days now become lighter, longer. I’ve always believed that the first day of Spring should be every day of the year, and it makes me joyful that we are headed in the right direction. This is one of the promises a new year brings.
In the dark, short days of December, we decorate, we use bright colors—high contrasts of red and green. We light the lights. We sing and reach out to friends who are flung in far corners of the globe and let them know we’re thinking of them in tender, loving ways. We share our joy of family and send pictures of our evolving lives. Before we are fully aware of the traditions we all participate in, every December, we begin to receive packages in the mail and we miraculously receive cards out of the blue from families we dearly love. We get out our treasured ornaments from storage and ritualistically select a fragrant tree. We string the lights and place fragile and priceless objects we treasure in fresh, new ways, as we listen to favorite Christmas music. We dream of a white Christmas, if only in our hearts.
Before I jump to the joy of the end of the month of December, let me indulge in nostalgia ad continuity. One of my favorite ceremonies in December is the lighting of the Park Avenue Christmas trees. In eager anticipation, in the same timeframe as the Rockefeller Center Tree lighting ritual, trees are placed on the center island on Park Avenue that are lit at a candle lite ceremony that several neighborhood churches participate in across the street from Peter’s and my apartment at Park Avenue between 90th and 91st street at the Brick Church. With the streets blocked off from cars, families and friends gather with dogs wagging their happy tails, and little ones on their daddy’s shoulders, multiple choirs sing their hearts out—“Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “Joy to the World,” and the old faithful, “Oh Come All Ye Faithful, Joyful and Triumphant,” “Silent Night—All is calm, all is bright.” The Mayor of New York says a few words of cheer and, at a magical moment, on cue, he says, “Let There Be Light.” And the darkness is now a sparkling spectacle of this wonderful holiday season. When the children were young, we joined the street festivities, sharing sheet music and good cheer with neighbors and friends. All this excitement happened on the first Sunday of December. For this one magical moment, our apartment six floors up was the prime real estate in the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
We had a long-standing tradition of having an intimate tree lighting family party that evolved to be all candlelit with a vigorous crackling fire creating an enchanted evening. We threw open the windows and sang along as the children in their velvet and plaid party finest clothes ran from room to room, squealing with glee. Somehow the true spirit of Christmas always filled the atmosphere with an out-pouring of love and goodness. The sense of giving and receiving, with the hope and promise of continuity and continuation, builds each year with deeper understanding of just how much we truly care for each other.
An invitation is not an obligation. Friends make the effort to come celebrate with us because they want to be with us, not because there is a family command performance. This pressure is more destructive now than ever; when families put demands on their grown children that make calm, relaxing visits and reunions impossible. Just as having an expectation of a white Christmas is unrealistic (unless you go to a ski resort), having your whole family together for a party or on Christmas day is not realistic or even desirable.
It’s a good time of year to take a deep breath and have a fresh look at our expectations and our feelings. We are all given a brief time when we call the shots, and then, sooner than a blink, we’re meant to let go, and let our children fly on their own wings. Peter and I developed the concept of “faux.” In the spirit of love and gratitude for all the generous gifts and blessings we’re been given, we let our grown children make their own plans, and, when they were free, we’d have a “faux” holiday, allowing all the other moving parts to move more smoothly with less stress and pressure. By being relaxed, and letting go of unrealistic expectations, we generally were able to work things out. And, when we weren’t, it wasn’t because we didn’t try.
There are 365 days of the year. They’re all meaningful and provide endless possibilities and opportunities for joy. Life is a continuous flow of changing circumstances, and as children grow up and spread their wings they take on a new family member and have to widen their net of caring relationships. The happier and more secure they are as they embrace their independence, the more credit to you for giving them that sense of security and that deep foundation of love that has no bounds.
Nothing could have put me in a more joyful frame of mind for the holidays than to go to Sally Jones wedding. Sally is the oldest of five children of good friends Claire and Lee. Rather than the wedding being in New Canaan, where her parents live, they were married in Scottsdale, Arizona where her fiancée David Brown’s parents live, and where two of their siblings are currently living—one working and one studying in Arizona.
Having been a part of the Jones family for many, many years, being able to see Sally, Marcy and Page turn into ravishing beauties, and watch Go Go and Shafer grow up to find their passions, makes the wedding that much more meaningful. At all the fun and welcoming wedding parties, I got to visit with Dave’s wonderful parents and to meet his brother. When two happy people meet and their mutual attraction and devotion multiplies the intensity of their radiant happiness, we are all lifted up.
I felt so close to Peter and his love for me, and his love of the Jones family, with flashes of memories of our times together when the children were running around in their velvet and plaid at the tree lighting ceremonies. How happy he is that I went, and celebrated with family and friends Sally and David. Sally paid the greatest compliment when she told me she wants to live in love with David the way Peter and I lived our happiness-for-two, married 40 years and four months, and our love continues to grow in deeply mysterious, beautifully touching ways.
At a diner in New York City a few blocks from Cooper’s school, over breakfast a week before Christmas when I went in to hear her sing in a recital, Brooke surprised me, telling me she and Cooper are coming on the train with me to Stonington. So happily surprised by joy, I had two delicious sleepovers with Cooper. The first night we both awoke at 4:30 to the noise that broke the spell of the silence of a snowfall. There were snowplows, one after another. We dashed to the window and before we knew it, we were tiptoeing down the back staircase to put on boots and ski jackets and go play in the snow. The garden lights helped create an astonishingly fun time. After Cooper had some oatmeal she went sledding with friends, meeting me for hot chocolate at Indulge, our fun meeting place in the village. The snow turned to slush. We’d captured our moment. This was “our” white Christmas. We had our “faux,” and it was perfect.
I went to New York City to spend Christmas Eve with Brooke, Tony and Cooper. On Christmas day, they were headed to New Jersey to spend the day with Tony’s family and I took a morning train to Washington to celebrate Christmas over dinner with Alexandra, Peter and their children Nicholas, Anna and Lily. I’m so appreciative for all the precious times that I’m with my grandchildren; they are always such a treat to be with and remind me so much of raising Alexandra and Brooke with Peter.
I’ve never received more reader mail than from last month’s website letter to my reader. Thank you for reaching out to me to let me know my words touched you in some significant way. From near and far, your words were similar in appreciating my positive attitude. Thank you. Hearing from you influences my writing, and in my yearning to continue to be useful, I’m inspired to write a book that is helpful to you and your loved ones.
As I wish us all a happy, healthy New Year, I know there will be lots of surprises and challenges. Just know that all your warm thoughts and loving gestures are deeply appreciated and supportive as I move forward on this wondrous adventure we call life. I’m so happy we are on this thrilling journey together; including my beloved Peter Brown. Let’s make 2017 the best year ever! Happiest New Year ever.