“New Year’s Eve always terrifies me,” he wrote, of the end of 1973. “Life knows nothing of years. Now the horns have stopped and the firecrackers and the thunder… it’s all over in five minutes… all I hear is the rain on the palm leaves, and I think, I will never understand men, but I have lived it through.”
I don’t have proof, exactly, that he was scarred by sitting in a park for hours while fighting off his kid’s whining and the threat of dirt sneaking into her Tupperware-clad snacks as they waited for the fireworks to start.
But I wouldn’t be surprised. (His daughter was nine at the time.)
“I f—ing hate New Year’s Eve,” says a friend of mine, whose four kids have crushed the joy she used to get from New Year’s Eve like a pit bull sitting on an origami bird. “I hate crowds now. I hate chasing things like fireworks. I hate the idea of nowhere to park. What the f–k for?”
Not so, in her 20s. She recalls watching the fireworks over Sydney harbour and then dancing until after midnight at a bar with the awed tone of a star-crossed lover. “I thought it was the best f—ing thing ever,” she says.
Once upon a time there was no hardship or annoyance too great to dampen my love of New Year’s. I remember falling asleep in a bathtub in a hotel blissed out by how grown up I felt. Another year, standing on a frozen footpath in Niagara Falls in Canada in stiff leather shoes with two of my closest friends, my feet were so cold that my toes burned.
“This is the best night ever!” I thought to myself as we waited for hours in the middle of winter after gazing at the famous waterfall criss-crossed with coloured lights to find a cab back to our cinder-block hotel. The entire enterprise was shot through with adrenaline-pumping adventure.
So, is this it then, for parents? Are we destined for a lifetime of welcoming another year with as much joy as a high school teacher taking Year 7’s through the Rumba? And with no more to sustain us than yearly headlines like, “New Years Eve Ideas For Families That Don’t Suck”?
It isn’t just the dirt snacks.
Some friends, who are parents, report that New Year’s Eve in the before-times were even worse.
“It was always full of disappointment,” says one. “Being at bad parties, being the only single person and you’re like ‘Oh my god, am I going to have a single person stalk me?’ Or you have to have those awkward ‘Happy New Year’s’ kisses.”
It’s a disappointment so acute, one of the world’s most sensitive poets, W.H Auden, was once driven to say: “The only way to spend New Year’s Eve is either quietly with friends or in a brothel. Otherwise when the evening ends and people pair off, someone is bound to be left in tears.” The man understood agony. (He captured the anguish of existing after a loved one has died, in “Funeral Blues”, the poem recited in Four Weddings And A Funeral.)
But this year naturally brings about another option. There are no 9pm fireworks – the ones parents usually attend – because of COVID-19.
And in absolving us of the pressure to do big things with our kids on New Year’s, it’s pushing parents in one, possibly divine direction: to stay home and do as little as possible with them. To whip out the sacred UNO cards. And just be with them, something my kids have been craving from me all year as I’ve been more distracted than ever. I’m hoping it’ll teach my kids – and me – that just sitting down together and talking can not only be life-restoring but the richest way to ring in momentous occasions.
As my friend with four kids, who plans to do this tonight, said of having a few days rest this week: “I realised yesterday that I didn’t feel to-the-bone exhausted and stretched. I could have a normal conversation with one of my kids instead of getting pissed off at them. I could say, ‘This is why we’re asking you to do this’, in a normal voice. As opposed to barking at them for no reason.” And this, now, is what sounds like heaven to me.
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