Celebrating The New Year? It's Complicated
Joyful New Year's Eve celebrations gave way to more adult (read, alcoholic) celebrations, and then a night in the ICU with our 6 month old.
Mine is a love-hate-accept relationship with the New Year. As a child, I spent New Year's Eve with my family and our closest cousins. We lived in Los Angeles, they lived in Santa Barbara. Every year we would trade off – one year at their house, the next year at ours. It was unbelievably fun.
We got to stay up until midnight and beyond. We baked, ate, played, toasted (with 7 up, then as we got older, a bit of the bubbly), got out the pots and pans and banged them together, even taking our noisemaking outside to make sure the entire neighborhood was celebrating the dawn of a new year.
It wasn't until I was in college that I realized most of the world rang in the New Year without kids. My parents and my aunt and uncle had foregone the traditional adult parties to spend the night with us kids.
I remember my first New Year's Eve away from my family. I was at the home of a childhood friend, but it was a college-age party. It was awful. I wasn't ringing in the New Year right.
After college, I moved to New York, where New Year's took on a glamorous air. I never stood in Times Square, but we got dressed up and drank decent champagne and played at being really grown up. Yet, I missed those New Year's celebrations of my youth.
After I got married, we moved to East Greenwich and started our own family. New Year's remained this holiday of longing for me. We had a daughter, and then a son. We did different things on Dec. 31, getting a sitter a couple of times, having guests other times.
Then, in July 1997, James, our third child, was born.
He came with a host of "issues" – Down syndrome, no esophagus, prematurity, chief among them – and had to stay in the hospital for the first five-and-a-half months of his life.
He came home on Dec. 22, 1997. That was one sweet Christmas.
But we underestimated James's fragility and were perhaps not vigilant enough when it came to keeping him away from germs. Or maybe he would have gotten sick no matter what we did.
Regardless, James came down with what looked like a cold and, by Dec. 31, he wasn't doing well at all. We had monitors for him at home and a nurse on hand. She said he needed to go to the hospital. No, I thought, we don't need to go back there!
But we did need to go. In the emergency room, they said James needed to go to the intensive care unit. No! again I protested in my mind. And again I was overruled by events. I remember watching the monitor that counted James's breaths. If the number exceeded 60 breathes a minute, he would need to be put on a ventilator to breath for him.
This was unacceptable. He had just spent weeks in that same ICU trying to get off that ventilator following surgery to give him an esophagus. I could not grasp that he would have to go back on it.
For a third time, my wish could not be granted. James's breaths-per-minute kept climbing, despite my whispers to him to slow down, please, slow down!
Back on the ventilator. Back in the ICU. Happy New Year. It seemed at the time a very cruel joke. In the coming years, James was hospitalized many more times, but without a doubt this New Year Eve's episode remains the worst in my memory.
New Year's 1998 dawned gray.
The following year, we invited old friends from Connecticut to spend the New Year with us. I'd been depressed for days but didn't understand why. Midnight came and we were all safe at home, even James. Be happy! But I couldn't quite give over to happiness.
The next few New Year's remained difficult for me. I wanted to celebrate but it didn't feel right.
More years passed and time worked its inexorable magic. Slowly, I began to be able to enjoy New Year's again – not with the joy of childhood, but with an acceptance of the welcome routine that is the turning of the year.
These days, we don't have a pattern of celebrating. Each year seems to be a little different. Some things remain, though. I always stay up until midnight. And I still grab pots and pans from the cupboard and take whoever will come with me into the night to bang and clang in the New Year.