12/30/2014 09:23 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

One Stepmom's New Year's Resolution: Interludes in the Woods


It's easy to be miserable after the holidays. Maybe you created a perfect holiday with your family, and you're grieving now that family and friends are leaving.

Or maybe you meant to create a perfect holiday, but obstacles intervened: feuding family members, money, illness and work deadlines.

In my case, I'm often melancholy at this time of year because ours is a blended family of five children. My husband and I have been married almost 20 years now, so I should be used to the fractured fairy tale of our family life. Yet, a part of me always, always wishes that things could be simpler.

At the same time, I'm joyful when any of the children come home. Now that they're older, we get odd mixes -- this year, for instance, we just had the three boys, because the girls are living too far away -- and I'm always enormously sad when we all go back to our routines.

This holiday season, I'm combating my emotional flu by making the holiday less grand in the scheme of things. In other words, I didn't strive for perfection: we bought fewer gifts, chose a smaller tree, made a simpler dinner, saw friends without having a big holiday party.

In addition, I made it a point to walk somewhere every day where there were no cars or stores. And I took whoever was home with me.

It was English weather in New England, and by that I mean rain, rain and more rain. Oh, and lots of mud to go with it. But I didn't care. I made everyone put on their boots or jump over puddles if they insisted on wearing sneakers. And, if nobody went with me, I walked alone with the dog, enjoying the solitude.

Two days before Christmas, for instance, when our youngest son was visiting a friend and our oldest boys hadn't yet arrived, my husband and I hiked to the top of Old Town Hill in Newbury in the drizzle, and I was awed by the startling beauty of red berries popping out against the greenery and birches. The sparkle of raindrops on branches was better than any Christmas lights.

On Christmas Day, we opened gifts and then the three boys hiked with us through the Audubon Sanctuary in Ipswich, where we held out handfuls of seeds for the greedy chickadees and nuthatches and forgot all about the sweaters and CDS and electronics we'd unwrapped that morning. Birds are winged miracles, and to hold them in your palm is something not soon forgotten.

We're still walking, my husband and I, as we do the laundry and restock the fridge after the last of our friends and family members have departed. Today we went to Bradley Palmer State Park, where we marveled at fresh-cut trees felled by beavers for a magnificent dam, and the distant howls of a coyote pack as we snapped through ice crystals on the rutted paths.

The New Year beckons, and with it will come work, routines, normalcy. And, I hope, more moments like these interludes in the woods, where we can remember that we are just creatures, after all.

We don't have to be perfect. We only have to be.