solstice

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December twinkles. Flickering candles and Christmas lights. The rain refuses to relent. We embrace it – “Finally!” – pleased for the fish, even as we tire of the mud tracked in the house, the smell of wet dog permeating, the friction that comes when everyone is trapped indoors. Curling up against your lover while rain beats down on the skylights is lovely. Dodging drops in the Co-op parking lot in the pre-holiday shopping madness is not.

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This year, December has had me on the road twice, gone a week here, there. The first trip took me from Humboldt to Sacramento to Santa Cruz to Monterey to Santa Cruz to San Francisco to home. The second trip, I left Humboldt for San Francisco to Santa Cruz to Santa Barbara to Santa Cruz with the plan to depart for Humboldt in the morning.

Both are work trips, both overlaid with friends and family, drinks and dinners. Two times I was invited to the lighting of Hanukkah candles. A friend took us out on his boat to see sea otters and whales. I even went caroling in the rain, a madcap revelry involving many children and culminating with a boisterous “Jingle Bells” in an all-but-empty Denny’s.

In between, moments of solitude present themselves. Occasionally I use them to my advantage – a walk, a book, a string of words beyond a status update, a few yoga poses, another attempt at meditation. But mostly, work aside, I’ve been lazy. There’s been a lot of Facebooking.

I’m not surprised. December, for all its merriment, reverberates with giving up. Sweet and sentimental holiday ideas are tossed aside due to a shortage of time. Surfing gets sideswiped by darkness and too-big swells. It’s a sure bet that I will lose neither weight nor bad habits during this month. The year draws to an end and I am no closer to the usual goals than I was back in January, when optimism prevailed. Alone, I get glum, wonder if this is as good as I’ll get and if so, what that means for the rest of my life.

Dreary, I know. Then again, the darkness of winter solstice serves as a fine excuse for more somber thoughts. It’s all these long drives, the disorientation of not being home. So much thinking happens. There’s much to love about the time traveling – learning new places, the steady beauty of the coast, the chance to connect with old friends, to visit my children who’ve flung themselves into the world beyond Humboldt. But there’s a trick to it, too. The same tricks, I suppose, that make any type of life happier – holding on to morning ritual, spending your time thoughtfully.

I am not without confidence. But I grew up believing anything short of perfection was failure and so was too busy being embarrassed at making mistakes to learn from them. Understanding that making mistakes is a necessary bridge between ignorance and skill escaped me. The beautiful people seemed born knowing how to do all the things – sing, play guitar, dance, get straight As, make people love them – while the rest of us stood by watching, biting our lips and unsure what to do with our hands.

When I discovered myself pregnant at 19, at 23, at 25, people shook their heads in disapproval. I was stupid, they said – what didn’t I understand about birth control? I wish younger me had realized that I understood more than they did, being intimately familiar with the inadequacy of various methods. Instead I thought I could prove my worth by being a perfect mother to the children I never considered mistakes. So misguided, the need to be validated by one’s critics.

And yet, so human – who else might build us up as well as the people who have torn us down? I find myself still sliding back into that place where the ghost of younger me resides, hurt and angry to be devalued. “You think I’m worthless? I’ll show you,” she says, all narrowed eyes, stomping feet, clenched fists. I want to make them all confess they were wrong, that I am worthwhile. I catch myself, take a breath, step back into the light. Remind myself that the people who deserve my attention, my thoughts, are the ones whose friendship has never wavered, whose support has been like the lights strung up every December: bright, cheerful and strong.

I owe my life to my friends, my husband, my children. When I imagine succeeding for them, the determination emerges just as strong as the more vengeful version, but unburdened by loathing. It’s a lighter, transcendent ambition.

When I took up surfing is when I first learned to make mistakes. Standing on the board on a wave was a sort of coming home to myself. I wanted to do it over and over forever. Which meant going out and falling down and looking like the kook that I was (am) and still going anyway because if I kept going and going and going I might someday be okay at this thing that gave me more joy than just about anything ever had.

Likewise, watching my children play baseball and softball, seeing them strike out or miss a catch and continue to step back up to the plate or run for the next pop fly. I never had that kind of bravery as a kid. I loved watching them. I love them.

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So, December, you glittering beast of a month. You’ve put my head in a weird place, again, but it’s okay. The shallowest part of my life is lovely, the deepest parts, amazing. To get from one to the other, from the beach to where the waves are breaking means traversing the impact zone – oh, surfing lends itself to the corniest metaphors! And yet, it works.

Tomorrow I’ll drive myself, Nick and Kaylee toward our Humboldt home, stressed, no doubt, by the predicted storm, lousy to drive in. But we’ll make it and be welcomed home by Bobby and Chelsea, house warmed by the fire, rain smattering against the skylights, the days incrementally growing longer once again.

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