This is the holiday season. I don’t need to tell you that. The songs on the radio are carols, everyone at work is counting down days and feasting on cookies, kids are looking for elves on shelves and parents are wondering why they ever started another tradition that involves one more thing do during the season that demands the most of parents of young ones.

I’ve wanted to write about the holidays. I’ve tried to say something meaningful about slowing down and finding the spirit. I was going to talk about decorating our tree.

We didn’t decorate our tree. My husband dragged it in one night while we slept. He strung the lights while I was working. My daughter hung ornaments with a friend of hers while they were trying to decide what movie to download. My contribution was to straighten out the tipsy angel, and sweep, daily, the tinsel, that seems to be growing, like sweet potato vines all over the first floor. I sweep, it slithers down and creeps along carpet while I sleep. I sweep again. The dog finds the whole process weird.

I shopped for the first time yesterday. An eleven year old and a fifteen year old, both of whom just got new smart phones a month ago. $600 smart phones we will be paying off while we are trying to figure out how to send them to community college because we don’t have any money.

If the holidays aren’t enough to make me crazy, I’m always on the verge of something.

I’m on the verge of everything.

I’m on the verge of killing my son, throwing him out onto the street with a bus pass and a back pack. I’m on the verge of falling at his feet and begging him to just watch one episode of the Middle with me. Like the good old days. He smiles, I think- what has he done now. He grimaces- I wonder- what have I done? I’m constantly cataloging our conversations, expressions, text messages and I’ve reached no conclusions other than he is my son, and he is a complete mystery to me, and I really, really hope he knows I love him more than my own breath.

About a month ago, I asked my boss where I was heading, in a general way. I’ve been at the same job a year, my title has nothing to do with the job I do every day. I’ve been hoping for a new one, or a title, and a little more money. Tomorrow, we are having lunch at a nice restaurant. I can’t imagine he would take me to a nice restaurant to give me good news.

I’m going to the gym every day, and I’m eating cake, and large bowls of pasta, and putting cream in my coffee. So I guess I can’t say I’m on the verge of getting in shape. But I do go to the gym every single day, and walk the dog, and take the stairs. I look up healthy recipes and I think about them. So maybe that qualifies.

Today, I drove my son to school to talk to the principal about an argument my son had with a fellow student. I picked up some Christmas presents for my nieces. I spoke to some students and reached out to one organization and two high schools about working together, me and them, to help more kids come to Quincy College. I went to Marketing for cookies and the Registrar’s office for sandwiches. Based on my conversation with my colleagues, I am the only person in the world that hasn’t finished shopping. I ate too many cookies and had a cup of soup.

Today I sprinted thru being on the verge of bribing an assistant principle, spending grocery money on really, really nice tee shirts, and getting a serious stomach ache. Thankfully, none of that happened.

I made it to my therapist’s appointment where we discussed the anxiety of the holidays, and since I was in a rush, we made it quick. She wrote me a prescription. I am not on the verge of a nervous breakdown or I’m too well medicated to notice.

I raced home. Katy had a friend over to practice for their flute holiday concert this evening. I made them dinner while they mangled “Oh Holy Night.” I had a glass of wine, and served them two huge bowls of spaghetti. While they ate, I gathered my clothes for the gym. I wiped counters. I kissed the dog and promised her we’d walk before the rain came.

We got to the concert. Katy and Madeleine played first. I’d warned Madeleine’s mom, “they weren’t very good.” I asked Madeleine’s dad to tape them on his Iphone.

The girls played “Joy to The World” and “We Three Kings”.

They played beautifully. I sat on my metal chair and looked at them, poised and still in front of the music stand. I have never heard such beautiful music in my life.

I didn’t want to write my boss an email. I didn’t want to go the mall, or walk the dog, or lift a weight, or climb the corporate, or any sort of ladder.

My girl brought me Christmas.

It is eight pm. Sophie is at my feet. She will take me outside to look at the lights. I won’t count my steps, I won’t check my heart rate. I will pick up her poop, and I will let her sniff that weird patch of grass on Wood Street for as long as she’d like.

I’m inside my life. I share it with horrid, funny, magical kids, a husband that remembers a tree in the middle of his shift, and picks out the best one, the college, where my supervisors, students and colleagues teach me something new every day. Sometimes, the lessons get a little redundant. I think I’m pretty clear on the importance of patience in world of academia, but I’ll know when I know.

The month of December seems to be a time where too many people live on the verge- of losing their minds, going bankrupt, trying to keep up with the neighbors, smacking their kids, or wishing they’d never fallen in love.

From this moment forth, I’ve stepped away from the verge, and I’m not going anywhere near it. If I shop, it will be without a list. If I buy gifts, it will be because I’d like to give something to someone I love.

I’m not even sure what verge means any more. Maybe it’s when I choose something, horrible or amazing, to swallow up my entire focus. While I wait- I eat too much, I snarl at kittens or kids, I check my email, I scroll thru Facebook to glare at people who do not seem to be on the verge, while reassuring myself that Facebook lies and almost everyone is on the verge of something. Even if they don’t know it.

I do know, by definition, to be “on the verge” implies resting one foot on one spot, a less than desirable spot, while the other foot hovers and waits for a better space to open up.

That’s seems pretty silly.

I’m home now.

I’m blessed.

I’m pretty sure Colin loves me, and if he doesn’t at the moment, he’ll remember soon enough. I love him. I love so many people, and I’m so lucky that in the middle of this life, I’ve made enough space to know them.

The rest will come.

Right now, everything I want and need is here. I’m not waiting on anything.

The rest will come.

Peace.

My life is busy right now. Three jobs, two kids belonging to a total of four teams with a side of flute lessons.

I don’t have time to meander thru Sunday’s paper, I toss out the coupons, and the business and real estate, and get right down to Dinner With Cupid. I make food, and then we eat lots and lots of leftovers. I exchange quick texts to really good friends that go back and forth and back and forth while we attempt to find a mutual time we can both make it for coffee. I’m hoping they are reading the same subtexts I am- “I really love you and look forward to when we can spend time in the same room and I can see your face when I ask if you think this dress makes me legs look short or I can reach over and hug you when you talk about spending three weeks searching for just the right senior center for your mom.”

So, I have no time. The other morning, my daughter had created a beautiful picture to go along with a book report. I typed the report for her, it was much quicker than proof reading the damn thing, and I glanced at the outline she showed me. When she was walking out the door, I called out- “Make sure you bring that report home. I need to see the your beautiful illustration.” I’m pretty sure it is a “beautiful illustration”, but I still haven’t seen the finished product. She did mention she got an A.

But inside this life of mine, there is one luxury that is a necessity. Every day that the temperature isn’t below 15 degrees fahrenheit, and there aren’t sheets of rain racing down in my general direction, or snowflakes floating and sticking to the sheets of black ice all over the road- I take the dogs for a walk.

I carry Sophie and Coco to the car. I stuff them inside. I grab a coat, my headphones, my IPhone, and a cup of coffee from hours before placed in a really tall plastic water glass so it won’t spill.

We drive to Cunningham Woods, about a mile and a half away from our house.

When we pull into my parking spot, always the same spot, if the dogs got turned around by a particularly amorous, intact, black lab they’d be able to find it, the car of course. None of us like the lab much. I slide open the side door to the mini van and they spill out of their seats the way that Katy and Colin did right after they first figured out how to get out of their car seats without any help.

I sit behind the steering wheel, iphone in my lap, speaker cords tangled in the steering wheel. I open up Spotify, the magical spot that holds all of my songs. I pick a play list, I look for a song. I find what I need on that particular day, I place the headphones over my ears, I untangle the cords from the wheel and the gear shift and my foot. I put my keys in my pocket. I think about locking the car. I don’t.

I hop out of the car, carrying nothing more than phone, wearing nothing but my coat with deep pockets,(and clothes of course. This isn’t going there). Inside my coat are my keys, and maybe a piece of gum I seized in the most recent “you can’t have gum in this house until you learn to put it in the trash when your’e done.”

We all start our journey. Sophie is the slowest. She sniffs. She peers out at other dogs from behind trees. Coco dances, hops, races, skids, he’s a pinball mini doberman pinscher on crack.

I follow along behind. I’m not really following them. I’m just moving along a path we’ve taken a million times before.

Some days, I’m listening to old hip hop- “Get down with OPP, yah you know me…”, TLC, Mary J Blige. Sometimes I’m checking out the latest rap song I heard when Colin had radio control. Often, I’m dipping to old songs I’ve heard a million times before. One day I listened to five different versions of “Romeo and Juliet” originally by Dire Straits, but did you know the Indigo Girls did a cover? Another afternoon, I checked out Richard Thompson’s “One Thousand Years of Popular Music,” the highlight of which was his cover of Britney Spear’s classic “Oops, I did it again.”

These walks take anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour and a half. I take as much time as I can, or as much time as I need. I tell people that I have no choice, the dogs need their walks.

And they do. But I really need my ramble, and a little bit of time singing along to silly pop music, gritty rock and roll, ballads, and anthems. I’m taking moments to visit the person I was when that music was probably a pretty crucial way I defined myself. I remember as early as junior high. First week of school, first time someone new sat next to me at the lunch table, one of my first questions, or one of their first questions, would be- “who do you listen to?”

These days, I get a chance listen to a little bit of everything. But you know, it’s only because the dogs really need their walk.

It’s the middle of December. This is the time of year, more than any other, when money weighs heavy on my family. We can’t afford to sign the kids up for ski lessons, we have eggs for dinner not because breakfast for dinner is a lovely novelty but because it’s a cheap meal. I throw out the mountains of flyers in the Sunday paper because looking at all the wonderful gifts we can’t afford is depressing. We aren’t poor, for God sakes my kids do not suffer because they can’t fly down a mountain on a few carefully crafted pieces of plexiglass. And we like eggs. But sometimes it feels that way. Our town is made up a lot of people who shop for sport and go to Aspen to snowboard.

The other morning, I woke up way too early. Too much on mind, not much I could do about it. The day was spent, and I’m kind so I’ll make this brief, struggling thru a yoga class before the sun was even up, driving twenty miles to a mall to try to replace a broken phone even though, and I heard this five times in the course of my time there, I wasn’t due for an upgrade. Next, I burned another twenty dollars of gas racing to work. I am employed at a local college where I also attend classes. A few emails, a brief review of what I needed to know for my finals next week, and then I raced back home to deal with dogs that needed walking, kids that needed feeding, and a mountain of half damp laundry in a dryer that hasn’t worked that well for years.

It was a long day. By the time the dishes had been cleared, and my notes reviewed, and the dogs sent to the back yard for too little exercise but a chance to shriek at anyone with the good fortune to pass by, I was weary.(Yoga at 5:45 is a lovely idea in theory, but I should really only indulge if I have time to nap in the afternoon.) Our tree was standing in the corner. It smelled good, but none of the lights worked, so the rest was going to have to wait for a trip to Ocean State Job Lot on the weekend.

I went next door to say hello to our neighbors. I walk their dog. They look after my daughter when I’m working late. In a month or two, or if we are lucky, three, they are moving across town. I’ve known this for weeks. I didn’t really know it until last night.

This is a family that is very different from our own. They are from another country. The mom is young and beautiful, I think she used to model. She sells fine jewelry on ebay. I am older and attractive if I work at it really hard and the lighting is good, but I never photograph well. I don’t wear earrings any more because I always loose one, and I’m not stylish enough to pull off asymmetrical jewelry.

Her daughters are a little bit older than my little girl. They have more than one pair of Uggs. They have impeccable manners and always call me Miss Julie. They take off their shoes when they come over and they like my popcorn. They laugh at my jokes but that might be because they are really polite. Watching them grow up has been one of my favorite things.

We are very, very different. Yet, in the course of being neighbors for ten years, I eat cereal out of a bowl that belongs to them. She sips coffee out of one of our mugs. She notices when I lose weight, I can tell when she hasn’t slept well. I went over to their house the other night at eleven pm to borrow a belt from her husband because my son needed to wear one to school in the morning. He got out of bed, found the belt, and told me to keep it.

I don’t know them that well, and I know them better than my friends. I know they like to sleep really late on the weekends, and that she loves her leopard slippers. Her daughters have danced around my living room and my son has cleaned their garage. I know them because they are in our lives and have been in our lives almost every day for a very long time. And even though I don’t always understand what my next door neighbor says, and I know she sometimes thinks I talk too fast, we have chosen each other as family.

At end of my long, long, day, I chose to visit the family next door. It’s the holiday season and I think they must miss their home, far, far away, and their family, on the other side of the world. After our brief visits, to talk about kids, to take their dog for a walk, to borrow a stick of butter, I always feel better just knowing they live right next door.

When I got home, I realized that all of the boxes in the kitchen weren’t parcels from online shopping. That in a month or two or three, they will be gone. They will live on the other side of town. We will see each other in the drug store, or at the school for a Christmas concert. But how much can we say when we aren’t standing in each others kitchen, at the end of the day, and really listening thru all of the barriers language leaves between people from different sides of the world?

All of the stuff that had weighed me down heavier than a thousand rocks fell away, and I started missing my family of friends while they got ready for bed next door. My son came down stairs and put my head on his shoulder, and promised me that we would always stay in touch with the Vo’s.

The tree is decorated now. And Katy is outside playing in the snow with her very best friend in the whole world. And I will ask her mom tonight, when I visit her kitchen, if her daughter can sleep over again.

This may be their last Christmas as neighbors, but it won’t be our last Christmas as friends. My son promised.