All now is in preparation for our 2nd annual Christmas party. Last year we invited friends near and dear to gather clad in Ugly Sweaters to add to the mirth.

This year the theme is “Fiscal Cliff Be Damned – Let’s Make Merry.”

It’s a fine excuse to whisk away the cobwebs, straighten up the nick-knacks, spiff up the pillows, shine the glass and basically not think about anything — I hope. My plan: “If I break this up room-by-room one each night this week, the place will be in fine shape by the weekend and food prep will rule party day.” The sweep-up keeps my body busy and my mind focused on trivial details before I attempt to sleep.

So I start with the master bedroom – shifting this and that, clearing the raft of clothes piled from the last laundry load, making order of the child-made craft collection we’ve accumulated through the years, adding a beloved photograph to the memory wall, tackling the bookshelf where some disorganized elf has come to play (uh, that’d me me), finally making my way to the reading corner and its comfy chair. Under the ottoman sat a mass of stuff I did not recognize: daughter Marjorie had evidently hefted some items in one night after school or confirmation, I know not which. There I found her Action Bible, some worksheets from a month ago, that library book we had looked for high and low and finally had paid for in desperation so she could attend the school dance. A few other books rounded out the lot, except for one more item — the treasured school photo compilation sheet from her Kindergarten year – 2004-05. I pause. The memento reminds me of what my invented busy-ness was set up to avoid.

Smiling back at me were her 24 classmates and six adults – the principal, two teachers, two aides and the school nurse. I know them all. Bright, fun, curious, serious, squirrely – The Mrs. L&D class had it all. There’s Abby who froze with stage fright during the nursery rhyme play; here’s Austin who farted on my leg while reading aloud one day; Rebecca shared Fruit Loops that one time; Alexia’s art was sublime; Gabby lived up to her name; garrulous Matt was just the same; Madison’s pig tails were her calling card while Reece looked like a boy honor guard. I love and cherish the memories all. Last girl on the keepsake photo montage was our little Mo – tiny in shape, big on personality, showing her 6-year-old shy grin. She’s the girl who continues to steal my heart, test my patience and dash me with her confidence. Eight years later we look at one another eye-to-eye.

fallen petalI think of her classmates growing up too, making their own way in life, gaining friends, learning more day after day, and all that is ahead for them. All week I’ve had the children of Newton, CT in my thoughts – the sadness there is beyond my comprehension. But seeing our daughter’s class brings the suffering closer. A leap of imagination and her class is theirs. My empathy for the people who loved those dear ones deepens. Oh! The children of Newton belong to me, too.

XXXIV

Sleep now, O sleep now,

O you unquiet heart!

A voice crying “Sleep now”

Is heard in my heart.

The voice of the winter

Is heard at the door.

O sleep, for the winter

Is crying “Sleep no more.”

My kiss will give peace now

And quiet to your heart—

Sleep on in peace now,

O you unquiet heart!

— James Joyce (Chamber Music)

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