As we get older, some things fade, while others take on greater significance. It’s a line that sounds like a Call the Midwife voiceover, but now that the new year is upon us, it also seems true to me. For the first time this year, I’m noticing a shift in emphasis, from Christmas Day itself—a pain point of logistics and expectation management—to the period immediately after. In particular, an opportunity I’ve never felt like until now: the demolition of the tree.
I bought our tree from Bed Bath & Beyond three years ago. It was $39.99 and was packed with the kind of lights that, magically and twinkling extremely brightly, had me blurting out “bad wiring” and “house fire” every time I walked by. On Sunday evening, while my children were busy with their new presents, I slowly started removing the ornaments. I untangled the tinsel. I have removed the list star. While I was doing that, I caught myself in one of those unnerving moments when you can feel time as an almost material quality. For a moment I looked back at the scene as though through a telescope. How long would the magic of Christmas last? How quickly would this stage of childhood evaporate? How final felt the dismantling of a large object in my living room, the physical manifestation of another year that passed.
Part of this nostalgia was due to the decorations. We rely heavily on the homemade: the shaky kindergarten angel, already an echo of a distant past, along with the toilet roll penguin and the glitter art. Six days after Christmas, my children turned seven—as a friend in Paris noted, the beginning of the Age of Reason. Six seemed to be spinning on the last fumes of toddlerhood. Seven is an entirely different proposition.
With the care of someone handling the crown jewels, I put the decorations in Tupperware and covered them with tissue. “Why do you look like this?” said a child angrily. God forbid anyone should have a moment of internal privacy in this house.
“It’s my thinking face,” I snapped. We go on.
Getting into a cab in the pouring rain, in the middle of Broadway with a bus behind us, is a stressful affair without my kids working at quarter-speed. “Hurry up, you guys are so slow,” I say as they make their way into the car and stop in traffic.
“That’s so mean!” says my daughter, when we finally get inside. “You tipped my bucket.”
are you aware of this? The bucket philosophy of emotional well-being in childhood? It’s one thing. In schools in the US, or at least in our corner of New York, emotions are buckets. Or wait. The child is the bucket and you, the adult, are responsible for filling or tipping it. That could be wrong.
“Explain to me that bucket thing again?” I say. She looks at me scornfully, as if I could study this for the rest of my life and still never understand. When kids do well in school, they get “bucket tickets” like the gold stars of yesteryear, but with a prize at the end and an extra level of excitement because buckets can also be emptied.
“You called me slow and that’s mean and it’s done my bucket,” she says. But I don’t wear this one. “It would only be mean if you couldn’t go faster,” I say. “You mean you literally can’t go faster if I ask you?”
Yes. That’s exactly what she says.
What a gift on a gloomy Wednesday, Novak Djokovic is not only banned from the Australian Open but also banned after an 18-hour flight from Dubai and then detained overnight at Melbourne airport. Never mind that his treatment was the result of a hesitant U-turn by the Australian government. It looked, to the whole world, like a piece of top-class trolling and correspondents on Australian TV could hardly contain their delight. A day earlier, the Serbian world number one and vaccine skeptic had smugly tweeted: “Today I’m going Down Under with a waiver clearance” – that is, special dispensation to enter Australia and play in the Open, despite not being able to. -vaccinated, and is causing enough anger among Australians for Scott Morrison to jump. At 11 a.m., the country’s border forces canceled Djokovic’s visa and, after keeping him at the airport, moved him to another location. Or as his mother, who spoke at a press conference in Belgrade and skilfully demonstrated where her son gets his charm from, summed up the week’s events: Australia kept him “captive” in “a small immigration hotel”.
New York’s new mayor Eric Adams has been flaunting since his inauguration five days ago, culminating in the mid-week moment when he slides down a fire station in Queens. (One tries to imagine Bill de Blasio doing this and concludes that it would be worse than that scene from the first Bridget Jones.) Adams, hard on the heels of the pole slide, displays a tied finger at a press conference, which, when asked about he says is an injury sustained after shaking a police officer’s hand too vigorously.
Adams, an eccentric who was caught before Christmas for leaving his car in the middle of the street only to get out of his house hours later and coolly drive onto the sidewalk to avoid the traffic chaos he had caused, suddenly seems like a delightful prospect for the next four years, with a pinch of that old Ed Koch showmanship. He sure knows how to spin a line. Over the next few weeks, be ready for Adams to throw his back and bow his head at the 9/11 memorial, get laryngitis from over-citing the pledge of allegiance, and wear an RSI wrist guard after he died. enthusiastically saluted the flag.
The weather in New York is bananas. It was 15C for New Years last weekend; mid-week it dropped to -5. Today there is snow. I drive through it to a garage to return a rental car. Renting a car in the city can cost more than staying at a hotel, with a bill full of add-ons that make less sense than a cable bill. Through incompetence, impatience, and an inability to decipher the fine print, I manage to gift the rental company half a tank of gas. This happens every time. It’s really filling my bucket.