This time of year is my favorite and is usually very happy for me. But there are always those moments. Those "Auld Lang Syne" moments that I never seem to be prepared for. Some sadness switch gets flipped in my brain and I go from fa la la LAAAA! to heave crying. The holidays remind me of those who are no longer with me and it makes me miss them more. And every year, it seems there's someone else to cry for at Christmas.
It's just me? Never mind. Pay no attention to that lady in the white minivan, crying at the stoplight. She'll be fine as soon as she changes the radio station.
Yesterday I said goodbye to a family who is moving away. They're military, so we knew it was coming but it still stinks. My daughter cried all night, mourning the "loss" of her friend. I've been sad as well, but for other reasons. My sweet girl is already missing the sleepovers and their recess time at school. I'm thinking about what this new assignment will bring for the family: Whether they'll be happy, surrounded by good people, and if a deployment will be in their future. I worry. Because nothing bad is allowed to happen to them. Ever.
Plus, there's the fact that they're gone. And I'm basically a huge coward about making new friends. I'm awesome at making acquaintances. But actual friends? As a grown-up? It all feels like such a risk. It's not uncommon for me to know someone for years before we decide if we like each other enough to make the transition from chatting in Target to actually being real friends.
Kids, on the other hand, love to make new friends. It's maybe the best part of being a kid. My children can do it in about 12 seconds. They see someone and with a single question -- "Do you want to play?" -- it's done. They're too young to care about things like status or coolness or potentially awkward moments. They're certainly not preoccupied (as I am) with what this new person is thinking about them. Am I too loud? Are my clothes stupid? Am I being annoying right now? What if I like them but then they turn out to be crazy?
Kids don't worry about that stuff. They just want to play. They want to have fun and be silly and share things and be themselves and talk about the stuff that they're interested in. They stay open to all of it, and, as a result, it finds them. And the friendship of children is real and meaningful. They trust each other in a way that I might no longer be capable of. I think I'm too old and jaded and aware of the cruelty that middle school unleashes on one's psyche. Or the reality of new jobs in new cities, or getting orders to report for duty far away.
But it's more than friends moving away. Sometimes people change, and who you are at the beginning is not who you are at the end. Sometimes lives just diverge along different paths. Sometimes, I see that distance start to form, and I let it grow, knowing it's for the best.
Friendships end, but more often they ebb and flow, even those that last a lifetime. And not without some heartache along the way.
Which is why increasingly, the grown-up part of my heart sees a potential friend and it thinks: No. Don't get attached.
Did you hear that, life? I can't take any new people on right now. I am really, ridiculously busy. It takes me three weeks to return phone calls and that's to my mom. My Christmas card list is already so long that I'm sure I've funded the Post Office's budget shortfall while still forgetting too many people. I barely have time to spend with the friends I already have. I'm constantly feeling guilty that my kids aren't getting enough quality time. Can we talk about the last time my husband and I had a date (e.g., outside the house in grown up clothes and not to a grocery store)?
In summation, counselor, I can't make any new friends right now. Because of all those things. Also, it's scary and hard.
And then I find myself in the midst of one of my "Auld Lang Syne" holiday moments, weeping silently in my van, missing my grandparents and my stepmother, and thinking of my cousins without their mom for another Christmas, and the friends who've moved or changed and how much it all hurts... I wonder if it's worth it.
I have noodled that question all week. Is it even worth it?
While I was thinking about it, my neighbors' kids stopped by to play. And I waved at someone I knew from Little League as they drove through the neighborhood with reindeer antlers attached to their car. I got a text from my sister that made me snort. Some Christmas cards came in the mail. I listened to my kids yelling and romping.
With all of this happening, and my heart growing _____ sizes this season, there's nothing more to think about. It's so worth it, even though it's all scary and you may end up bawling in your van. I cry for my family who are gone because they were awesome and I miss them. I hope my grandkids still miss me 16 years after I'm gone and tell their kids all the stories and get choked up. I hope their kids look at them like mine do at me, shaking their heads because I'm such a big cry baby and hugging me, and then demanding another family story.
I hope my friends, the ones I have and the ones I've lost along the way, think it's worth it. Because I know it is. I've spent stretches of time feeling alone and loneliness is the worst. I started writing a blog in part because of the isolation I felt after my babies were born, something many of us feel but few of us talk about. I've had moments where the only thing that kept me going were the friends who got it. I've only made it through because of the people who showed up for me when I needed them. And nothing feels better than knowing that I was there for someone else when I was needed.
This is the time of year to remember and celebrate that. To remember that good will towards men (and women and kiddos and critters) is only possible if we're willing to risk getting attached. So I'll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne. And I'll keep crying at Christmas for the people I was lucky enough to love.
Julianna W. Miner has three kids, ages 5, 8 and 10. She teaches at a college she couldn't have gotten into because she made bad choices in high school. Her blog is Rants from Mommyland, where this post originally appeared.