Auld Lang Syne

We’re coming to the end of another year. It seems like a ritual, but it never really feels like the end of anything, really. It feels like an observance that helps us mark something that we can’t really see, like a border. But it’s not really nothing either. When I think about the end of the year, it seems more like the articulated vestibule between train cars. We pass from one year into the next with a strange kind of effortlessness. You know you’re in between places, but that inbetween is a place of its own.

Photo by Chris Huggins

Photo by Chris Huggins

Passing easily from one year to the next is not a satisfactory feeling. I sort of wish it was they way it used to be on trains before the vestibules: the noisy air full of soot and cinders, the gap between the cars requiring a bit of a leap to clear, the knuckle coupling pulsing and knocking malevolently as the train lurches along. As dangerous as it is to get from one car to the other, you know that you’ve done something once you’re across. You can take some satisfaction in that.

I’m beginning to think that perhaps too much of the world is easy these days. So much of what we accomplish comes at the push of a button, at the end of an upload, or as the result of a tap or swipe. I realize how old and crotchety this will make me sound, and I suppose that’s about right. I am a middle-aged curmudgeon of sorts. So, instead of a Jeremiad about technology and the like, and instead of an annual family letter, I thought I’d present a snapshot of the Petersen 5 as they are right now as we’re passing from one car to the next. Hopefully, this can give me a baseline for next year’s passage.

Maxwell is no longer in the nursery program at our church. Next Sunday, he’ll join the big kids in the primary program as a Sunbeam. With this kid we’re looking for any marker of age and maturity, because, despite his humor and intellectual prowess (not joking here), he is a runaway CPU process, a crotch puncher, and entirely deaf to the voices of his parents. He drains my batteries faster than any other thing that has ever been in my life to this point, and I’m including comprehensive exams, grading essays, and radiation treatments. We’re completely aware that we should not wish away any part of the kid’s temperment or wish him older. Curiosity is so hard to manage in a three-year-old and so lacking in adults. He’s got it, and we want him to keep hold of it. Maxwell also throws himself into everything so deeply that we could all take note. This is how you get things done. We’ll see what year four is like for this tiny tornado.

Isaac is in the eye of the storm. At nine, he’s come through the harrowing times that his little brother is in, and he’s yet to move into the tempestuous tweens where his sister has been. Ike has his own battles as a middle child and struggles daily to remind us not to forget him. He is not inclined towards any of the sportsball programs, which is going to make him the odd boy out around these parts. He’s 100% nerd, with glasses and a skinny frame. He scrunches up his face when he thinks, and it’s apparent that he’s always thinking about something, usually Minecraft. He is so much like me at his age that I worry I don’t honor his uniqueness. We’re watching him closely, and we’re impressed with his humor and intellect and memory and his ability to feel deeply. I want to encourage him to charge up his batteries during this calm.

Zoë is no longer in the primary program at our church. She’s moved on to the young women’s program, which means as a family, we’re poised for her to leave Tween Town for good. This year she’ll turn thirteen, she’ll advance from the seventh grade to the eighth, and a whole host of other transformations will take place. She’s made it through half of middle school without much drama (knock on wood). She is got it together, really, and I worry a little about what the future will hold for her. We hope that she’ll keep us in the loop, but that’s hardly likely, and it would hardly be her fault. Endocrinology is such a wild card, and as her body changes, her mind will, too. When I look at her, in her jammies, drawing lovely pictures of Totoro, I think of the maelstrom waiting to emerge. I want to be prepared for this. I hope that all those years working for the YMCA will supply some kind of Kung Fu for parenting a teenager.

Alisa is very possibly in the most flux of all. She has had a cascade of changes in the last few months and will continue in that vein for a while. She left classroom teaching this summer to take a job as the coordinator for an elementary arts education program. She now mentors many of the art teachers in southern Utah. Her supervisor is retiring, so she’s planning to apply for her job. If she gets it; big change. If she doesn’t; big change. So, there’s no getting around that. She’s also finshing her master’s degree with a thesis addressing the effects talking about art has on how children create art. Like our own kids, Alisa’s in a transition at our church. For a long time she’s had a ministerial calling with the young women. This Sunday the torch was passed to others, and she’s relieved of that calling. It is almost certain that this coming year will be unrecognizable from this last one.

Todd I’m probably the most stable, though this has hardly been norm. The passing year was a wild and tempestuous one; the upcoming one seems more likely to be calm. Last year, I left life as a classroom teacher and took on a new role as a program director, which puts Alisa and I in parallel tracks. Because of the big changes in Alisa’s professional life, I’ve been doing a lot more to keep things going at home. I’m in a phase where I have been living and working in the same place for longer than at any other stretch of time in my life thus far. I have some truly great friends here, new and old. The town we live in is in a legitimately lovely corner of the world. I have to admit that stability gives me a little bit of anxiety because it hints at the calamity lurking out there. The longer it’s been since an emergency the closer you are to the next one. I’ve got to watch what I eat, try to lose weight, and exercise. Normal stuff for a man my age. I’m doing that and I haven’t felt this good in years. I’m on the second chapter of a new book that I should be writing faster than I am, but I feel like this year is the year for that to take off. I’m not going to fret over the upcoming year, but I’m going to keep the old Arabic proverb in mind: “Trust in Allah, but tie your camel.”

So, that’s what the transition time between 2014 and 2015 feels like for me. I tried to take its fingerprints. In a couple of days we’ll jump across the gap. We’ll see you there.