Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Year, Old Year

Until further notice celebrate everything
Yesterday found the Williams Henke family settling down into a typical evening. Eat dinner, wash dishes, chat with the kids, retire to our respective spaces to unwind before bed. No staying up until midnight, no New Year’s champagne or kisses. I've spent most of my life on the outside of American holiday traditions, so I don’t usually pay them much mind. Though vehemently opposed to religious holidays when I was religious (yeah, you read that correctly. Funny thing about religion, any other than your very own can twist your knickers), these days I could take or leave most of them. I don’t always have the umph required to celebrate the arbitrarily assigned holidays, but friends change things. Good friends are always a reason to celebrate. A holiday is just an excuse to spend time with the ones you love.

A sweet three minute holiday greeting in video form from our friends across the pond got me into the spirit of this new year/old year business last night. There they were, champagne in hand, sitting on the hearth with a warm fire behind them, telling us how much they have enjoyed getting to know us over the last several months, saying a little something for each of the nine of us by name, looking forward to the new year with us in their lives, and making me melt into a puddle of tears. Afterward we chatted online and counted down to the new year with them, six hours in advance of our own. We celebrated by snacking on some of the British biscuits they’d sent us a couple weeks before. Today we gathered and recorded our own greeting in response. A bit longer, as there were more of us to cover, though it was like pulling teeth to get the kids to say anything at all. Little beasts. Denny, clever man that he is, added cricket noises over the kids’ silent shrugging. Perfect.

It’s all got me reflecting on the year past and feeling right hopeful about the year to come. Here’s where I get teary-eyed.

Two years ago today I gratefully took a seat at my dining table with family and friends (one of which was Denny—who’d have thunk he’d be moving in almost eight months later?), fresh bread and hot tea, and a cozy fire in the stove. I’d spent most of the previous month in bed with a back injury and, just for fun, a kidney infection. I was happy to be recovering, to have friends over again, to bake bread again. I was feeling vivid and alive with my new freedom and my new friends. It felt like a splendid way to bring in the new year and I considered making a tradition of it. It didn’t happen this year, in part because some of the kids have a touch of a cold, but no matter. In the past several days we’ve spent all kinds of time connecting with our dearest friends, the people that make our lives worthwhile. Some on the phone, some in person, some online. So what if it didn’t all happen today?

If that were all, I’d feel right rich and content, but there’s more. This year I’ve matured and developed deeper character while exploring what it means to be me, to be free. I love who I am today. I feel like I have my very own identity for the first time in my life. And I love all the changes and challenges and people that helped shape me; Denny, my children, my parents, my friends, my readers, my reviewers.

Thanks to Denny, last year I was inspired to dig within and scrounge up the gumption to complete and publish my first book, the first of many. I did it for him, I did it for the children, I did it for myself. What I didn’t anticipate was the floodgate of responses. I’ve been completely humbled by the kindness and warmth with which my words have been received. Because of the autobiographical nature of my book people feel they are directly connecting with me when they read it and many have reached out; some to encourage, some out of curiosity, some even for help. I have wonderful friendships at the turn of this new year that I didn’t have at the turn of the last, simply because of the writing and publishing experience. It was unexpected and is very rewarding. There’s no feeling quite like it.

Last year I explored new aspects of motherhood at the side of Denny, who has been embracing and exploring fatherhood. I’ve heard “you’re such a good mom” more times and more sincerely than I’ve heard the whole time I’ve been a mom. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed having a partner who cares about the children as much as I do, and cares about me while we’re doing this parenting thing. As a family we are learning to navigate the teenage years, transitioning these young people into adulthood with as much grace as possible, while giving the younger ones a good foundation and happy childhood. Perfectly? Heck no. But we communicate, we love, we strive for understanding. I’ve thought a lot about my past and my mistakes, but I wouldn’t undo a moment of it because wow, these kids are astounding.

Our home school has cranked up a few notches in quality. The older children are writing up a storm in the form of reports as well as creative projects. Instead of a narrow history of the earth starting six thousand years ago and involving a worldwide flood, the children are learning about the history of the universe, evolution, our place among the stars and the animals. Social studies happen regularly as we discuss events current and past. The children are inundated with some form of science study nearly every day and all seem hungry for it. Algebra has found its way to the table. We are also learning gobs about Britain, thanks to our friends over there who love to share their knowledge and experiences. We’re very much looking forward to traveling to the UK as soon as we can afford it, probably within a few years. (Donations accepted!)

Together we have worked and sacrificed to pay off debt and, aside from a moderate mortgage and a small dental bill, we’ve done it. Not only that, but we’ve managed to get my and the children’s health up to snuff with dental visits and vaccinations. (Without a dime of support from my ex. Just sayin’.) We’ve improved our home with some orginzation, lots of shelves, a bit of paint, and sundry other things. Our property saw the addition of a duck pond, two cedar arbors and some trellises, hugelkulture garden beds, and many perennial herbs and flowers. In a bittersweet vein, we parted with our goats to free up time and energy to pursue other things. But we still make and sell soap.

We’ve had a lot of laughs, shed a few tears because we’re really just big softies, and enjoyed the year thoroughly. Thanks to all who have been a part of it. I can’t begin to imagine what next year will bring to my door, but I greet it with open arms.

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