Early December

 
I shot a wedding a few months back. It was lovely, as they always are. At the end of the night, I found myself standing next to the bride’s mother and we just stood there looking on, watching the bride with her father. The mother turned to me and said, “It was just yesterday. You know? It was just yesterday.” I knew instantly what she meant and she turned to look back at her child with a look I knew well — love and anguish, pride and heartbreak, rolled into its own kind of feeling. It’s motherhood, that feeling: A nostalgic mixture of grief and gratitude. A shock you know is coming but stuns you nonetheless. She looked back at me and shook her head. I shook my head in response, swallowing down the knot that had formed in my throat, and promptly concluded that it is quite literally the most absurd thing, to be somebody’s mother.

There’s a line from the book I’m reading for book club this month (excuse the profanity); “The best thing you can possibly with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of love.” Of course, this statement refers to the big, scary things about love — the courage we need to be vulnerable, the dirty waters of forgiveness and acceptance we must wade through, the great gaping risk of heartbreak, pain and loss that lies on the other side of the love coin and that, above all, we must face ourselves and our own mess in order to experience love, truly. This line so perfectly describes love not as a shiny, glittery thing that sits there like a flower to be  picked, but the gritty and dark dirt the flower grows in. Only the bravest ones know to align themselves with the dirt and not the flower — and only they reap the full beauty of the flower once it blooms to its greatest potential. Joel will often say, when he’s feeling particularly Tony Robbins-ish, “This is all just a spiritual training ground.” It’s annoying, when he says that, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. Yes, we tackle the motherfucking shit out of love by doing the work and facing the things. But to me, tackling the shit out of love lies, possibly even more so, in the tiny, simple things, where my attention likes to fall naturally.

I sat with a dear friend of mine in her kitchen a few months back. She wore a beanie, not because it was particularly cold, but because the chemotherapy she was undergoing had ravaged her body, her mind, and most visibly – her hair. She is my age. She has a tiny, precious boy to mother. The entire situation is as horrendous as you’d imagine it to be. Even despite the excruciating round of treatment she went through, she said – and this has always stuck with me – that what undid her was losing her belly button during the surgery. “They couldn’t save it”, she said. “My fucking belly button.” I understood instantly her suffering: That we can somehow cope with the big things. The chemo. Losing our breasts. Facing unfathomable predicaments. This, we have the ability to take on with great force, our blood shot with gusto, like warriors going to battle. The things which break us, in the end, are bound up in the littlest of things, the tiny things we feel entitled to on some primal level, like our own god damn belly buttons. She looked at me, my dear friend, and said: Life is just a series of small tragedies. Small tragedies. Not big ones. Not the big stuff. It’s in the small details, life. That’s where it lies.

And so I listen to people ahead of me in this game, and I fold their words into my life. Immediately, if possible. I make my life about noticing the smallest details and celebrating them. I centre my days around the simple things I’d otherwise miss in my act of rambling on through it. It’s a meditation of sorts, to simply be here for all of it, if doing nothing else but fully witnessing it, fully absorbing it, fully appreciating it.

There is this scene in This Is Us where Kevin is talking to Sylvester Stallone about his dad’s death. Kevin, dismissing the topic, says, “Yeah, well that was a long time ago now”. Sylvester looks at him for a moment and then says, “You know, it’s a funny thing, time. Your sister was telling me about how you guys watched Rocky as kids, with your dad, and it made me think about when my kids were little with messy hair and matching pyjamas. I swear to you I can see it all, so very clearly, I could just reach out and touch it.” He pauses before saying, “In my experience Kevin, there’s no such thing as a long time ago. There’s only the memories that mean something and the memories that don’t.”

Here are my memories for early December, the December my children were 6, 4 and 1, sitting like proof of the messy hair and matching pyjamas and tiny details and traditions we loved that I know one day will appear so clear to me that I could reach in and touch them. They are memories that will flash inside my mind when I watch my children get married one day, as I turn to tell a stranger beside me how it was just yesterday. “It was just yesterday, you know?” I’ll say, and I’ll look back to my child, and then shake my head, and the stranger will shake her head back.

December eve.

When the air is electrified with that thrill of childhood excitement I’ve come to cherish. New Christmas jammies wrapped and waiting on beds to open, toasted marshmallows and Christmas movies to candlelight.

This is probably the last year they’ll tolerate me putting them in matching jammies so I’m squeezing out the last drops of this juice while it lasts.

Baby chinos and tree decorating on December 1st.

Billy’s face is all of us.

Letters to Santa.

Where Billy double checks that our Elf is aware of written items on the requested present list in order to tell Santa should the letter become lost in transit on its way to the North Pole.

Cutting paper snowflakes.

A tradition my craft-loving girl loves.

Christmas lights.

We go to our local church with the kids’ beloved third grandmother we’ve adopted into our family and it’s a night I always mark as special.

Pavlova decorating.

Is it even Christmas in Australia without a pav?

Making dried orange garlands.

North Pole party prep.

This will be our third year hosting this special night for the kids (idea borrowed from the amazing Celebration Queen + General Kids’ Party Extraordinaire Kelle Hampton from Enjoying The Small Things). We have two sleeps to go and my children are hysterical.

Nighttime.

I look forward to this all day – the glow of our home in December, safe children tucked up in bed, the feeling of gratitude I have for my life hanging thick in the air.

Happy early December, friends. May you be tackling the shit out of love, too.

 

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