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I didn’t mean to cry on my niece. I hoped I wouldn’t, but I when we pulled through the ticketing booth and Hall and Oates’s “Rich Girl” came on the car speakers, I got teary. A bad sign. I don’t know why I always cry when I hear that song but I do, and it’s usually when I’m feeling overwhelming love for someone.
I briefly lost it when I hugged her goodbye, and when we drove away from the Dallas airport drop-off area, where my best girl/woman was heading inside to board a flight back to LA, I really let rip.
There’s been so much goodbying in my family over the years that you’d think I’d be used to it by now, but I’m not. It’s not a skill you get better at, it’s a kind of bruise that deepens with every farewell. My heart goes right back to those early years when my sister went off to boarding school. Tears every time she left, elation when she returned (I made her presents on her visits back, most famously a pair of panties I fashioned from scraps of ribbons and fabrics in my mom’s sewing room. They were held together with staples because I was—and still am—too impatient to learn how to sew, and saw no problem with clamping bits of old ribbon together with scratchy, dangerous metal clips).
My family repeated these goodbyes again and again over the years as I went off to boarding school for my sophomore year of high school and began my own lonely pilgrimages to and from Saudi for visits, as both my sister and I went to college, as my folks left Saudi for Central Texas, as we all moved seemingly further and further away from each other. For the longest time our relationships were limited to unsatisfactory, intermittent phone calls and once-a-year visits where we crammed as much living into one or two weeks as possible, holding off the inevitable wrench of separation for as long as we could. I’ve spent so many hours crying on planes that every solo flight I take now feels melancholy.
Children leave, it’s what they do, and if you’re very, VERY lucky, they choose to come back and see you. They want to be with you, and give generously of their time and travel money to make it happen. Miracle.
Of course I’m hideously biased and don’t expect you to take my word for it, but my sister’s daughter, my niece, is an extraordinary woman. The way I feel about her and her brother is probably the closest I’ll ever get to experiencing parental pride, but it’s more than that, and I know my sister agrees, because we often find ourselves marveling together. It’s this total amazement that someone I had a small part in raising is so wise, cool, smart, steady, and resourceful—so unlike me in a million impossibly wonderful ways. It seems so miraculous, so out of my hands. Every time my girl visits I am frankly gobsmacked at the person she is becoming and it kills me to see her go again, because I know I will miss so much of her development when she’s off doing what she should be doing—living her life, several states away. I cry because I miss her, damnit, and I am greedy for her company.
She doesn’t know it, but it was something my niece said while she was visiting that I’ve been chewing on ever since, an off-hand comment about how we should write down some resolutions together. I told her flat out:
I hate resolutions.
She was surprised. She said she likes to make lists of things she wants to learn in the coming year. We talked about it for a bit while I puttered around my kitchen and then we moved on and never got around to resolving anything.
But after she left and I had time to mull, I realized how different her approach to resolutions are to mine, and why she might actually enjoy the act of dreaming up a list of things to accomplish in the year ahead. For her, the new year offers twelve fresh months of skills to learn, books to read, concepts to untangle. She’s young enough to feel like she is still forming and can have a hand in that formation. The problem with aging and getting more sure of ourselves is that we forget that we can—and should—keep exploring. We think we are finished, or worse, a more insidious unconscious sense of finality settles around us and stimies our growth, whereas my niece in her youth knows full well that she’s just getting started.
This is not someone who catalogs her year by varying degrees of failure and resolves to do better, a practice which so often just means “be someone else.” Hers is self-improvement born of curiosity and joy in the undiscovered, a way to be hopeful without hemming that hope in with a bunch of shitty, hard-to-meet conditions. If I take better care of myself and if I figure out how to make more money and if I can be more present whatever that means and if if if. It’s not only sad and self-defeating, it’s boring.
Henry Oliver, in his most recent essay, said, “The question self-help has to answer is: what should I do with my life? Once you have improved your productivity habits and changed your routines, you still need to know what it is you want to do with your life, how to spend your short and precious time.” It’s a wonderful essay you should definitely read, and his take on resolutions mirrors my niece’s. It’s a project more of becoming than of fixing. Too often, we focus on resolutions as a means to an end we don’t fully understand, so that even if we meet our goals, we still don’t really know who or where we are. Another year passes, and the dissatisfaction we have with ourselves sends us scrambling to reassemble another unimaginative list of to-dos.
In all fairness to my baby girl, she’s just as preoccupied with being and doing better as the rest of us, and it’s typical of me to imagine she is existing on some higher plain. She isn’t, she’s a mortal like the rest of us, but she does seem to be better at all this somehow. When I texted her today about her resolutions, she said her list was made up of, “the usual self-improvement things,” but she summed it up by saying, “I basically just wanna build healthy habits that will allow me to have a better relationship with myself and my time.”
Tell me, dear readers, is that where your mind was at when you were 22?
I don’t know that I’ll make a list this year, but my niece has got me thinking about trying to focus less on my obvious failings and more on how to regain the old creative me that kind of shriveled during my twenties and thirties. I’m thinking about how to build some of those same habits she’s investigating, so that I feel more resilient, engaged, rich. I want to spend my energy making a life, not just money or a career or a youthful face or any of the other superficial crap that seeps into the cracks of my better instincts.
I hope that all of us are able to reflect kindly and gently on the year behind us and to look ahead with the notion that we will work primarily on thriving, on helping others to thrive, in whatever large or small ways are available to us. However much we may waffle or fail, let us resolve to be loving and to act on that love. For ourselves. For each other. It shouldn’t be hard but it is. C’est la vie.
Meantime, I owe you a recipe and at this time of year, I find myself totally cooked out, talked out, and low on creativity. But I spent all year developing some really wonderful cocktail recipes for work, and since they were for small independent businesses with relatively low visibility, you likely haven’t seen or made these recipes yet. So, I offer you a small selection of my favorite boozy creations from the past year, and there’s a bunch more for you to explore on the various websites I’ll link to below. Make them for New Years Eve, make them when you bail on dry January, or save them for when you have your next gathering. I’ll be working on some good mocktail recipes this year too, so keep your eyes peeled.
Chin up my lovelies, and I’ll see you next year.
Dead Rabbit Punch
A complex crowd pleaser made with whiskey, calvados, citrus, and Genmaicha tea.
Common Ground Clover
A frothy strawberry-hibiscus cocktail that’s easy to make and incredibly tasty.
Hot Gin Toddy
Warm, citrusy, spiced, and honeyed, this goes down like a healthy tonic.