I didn’t send Christmas cards this year. I haven’t sent them in a few years. We took family pictures when we first arrived in Mississippi, and I still have 200 of them sitting in a fat photo envelope. We were all nearly three years younger then. The kids were shorter, my hair was longer and far less gray, we were all a few pounds lighter (some more than a few pounds…). But shortly after those pictures were taken, my hard drive crashed and with it, my spreadsheet of addresses. (Yes, I now back everything up in the Cloud.) I’m rebuilding my list, but after having moved twice, the amount of Christmas cards — and thus, the amount of return addresses — we receive has dwindled substantially.
So, this year, friends, I give you my bloggy Christmas letter. A brief rundown of our 2013, a warm welcome to 2014.
It was another year of big changes for the Willis Tribe. Having come to the realization that we were not meant to be long-term Mississippians, recognizing that our parents were getting older and that we wanted and needed to be closer, and missing our friends and extended family, we set our sights on a return to the Midwest. Like the Clampetts, we packed up our belongings, our four kids, our two dogs, and our guinea pig, and headed to Ohio. We found a beautiful home — in need of lots of work, but with a lake view that helps us forget all the aforementioned work — and settled in. The dogs lost a great deal of stress hair, and the guinea pig and I both beefed up a bit. Everyone else took the change, more or less, in stride. If we can say one collective thing about our kids, it’s this — they’re resilient.
Those kids — two high schoolers and two middle schoolers — morphed from Starkville Yellow Jackets into Perrysburg Yellow Jackets. Same colors, same mascot, vastly different experience. We now have a lacrosse player who doubles as a Target employee, a bowler and budding thespian, a ukulele-playing singer and Power to the Pen member, and a perfect-pitched violin and saxophone-loving sixth grader. Most have excelled in school, one chose differently. The one who chose differently is spending Christmas break completing all the assignments that were “forgotten” throughout the previous five months. Bad choices equal big life lessons. Our mantra for the bad-choice-maker this year has been, “The next decision can — and will — be a better one.”
We’re all adjusting, making new friends, trying new restaurants, navigating grocery stores. We still don’t have a family doctor, but we’ve landed an orthodontist. That, right now, seems to be the most important medical professional for our family. We’ve cashed in our playground-falls and sledding-accident ER frequent flyer miles. Now we’re down with the business of getting our teeth straightened.
We spent 2013 laughing, crying, lamenting, celebrating, and trying to spend less money than we made. We failed and succeeded and recognized that every moment is a chance to do a little bit better, to be a little bit more. We cleaned the pool, mowed the lawn, and scrubbed the toilets. We vacationed in the Florida Keys and came home with sunburned noses and feet. We spent a couple of days in black tie and substantially more than that in pajamas and yoga pants (well, some of us did). We worked hard and played hard and took each other to the mat in Monopoly.
We expect that 2014 will hold much of the same.
This year, we’ll have three kids in high school and one in middle school. Our firstborn will officially become an adult. (Eighteen!) We’ll help our oldest make his college decision, we’ll welcome our youngest to his last pre-teen year. Our second-born will learn to drive. Our daughter will probably ask to date, and I’ll lose much-needed beauty sleep over that particular decision. I’ll turn 44 this year — or as Chris likes to call it, my mid-40s. Semantics. I’m simply going to be 44, nothing more, nothing less.
We’re saving all our nickels and dimes for a family trip to Europe in 2015. When one of us wants to make a frivolous purchase, the remaining five yell, “HASHTAG EURO15!!” Then we deposit that money in the bank and move forward. Some might say a trip to Europe on the cusp of our oldest starting college is a bad financial decision. I say I’d rather invest in that family experience than in anything else. We’ll figure college out. Life turns on a dime, and I don’t want to miss the chance to eat gelato in Italy with the five loves of my life.
This year, book number two will be introduced to the world. I’ll fret and cry and celebrate and have gastrointestinal distress over the entire event. I long for people to enjoy my words, and I know that not everyone will. And, of course, that’s just as it should be. It’s all okay. I’m okay, you’re okay — even when we do disagree.
I don’t intend to give anything up (food and drink deprivation makes me an Angry Elf) or make any official New Year’s resolutions. But I do plan to eat better and move more. I plan to bathe the dogs with increased frequency and run the vacuum with a little more vigor and regularity. I plan to read and write and love and laugh and kiss my husband goodnight. I plan to hug my kids — even the ones who tower above me and resist. I plan to be present, to be pleasant, to argue less and seek to understand more.
We welcomed this New Year in one of our favorite places (Brown County, Indiana) with some of our favorite friends (Holla, Carsons!). They arrived in our lives by way of Starkville — a beautiful gift from a city we struggled to call home. They are a reminder of the unexpected surprises life has in store for us, the people who arrive on our doorsteps when we need them most, the continual assurance that life is so much bigger and better when we open ourselves up to the unknown.
It’s snowing in Ohio today. It’s white and blustery and bitterly cold. It’s difficult to tell where our yard ends and where the lake begins. It is gorgeous and sacred and quiet. And it feels, always, like a rebirth, this New Year. Another chance to find out who we are, to discover how best to serve the world, to wrap our arms around those we love and to let go of those who need to fly, to give more than we take.
Welcome, 2014 — I love that you’ve arrived with a blustery winter bang. (We’re alike that way, you know — Chris says “Hurricane Katrina” never was a gentle breeze.) I look forward to all the love and loss and madness and joy and celebration you’ve got up your sleeve. Another year, another chance to live and love more fully. What a glorious gift, wrapped today in frozen winter whites.