This year will end with my love and I tromping through the snow in our nice clothes, buried underneath layers of down and wrapped in wool and angora, blanketed with boots and gloves and cold noses. We will make our way to the home of a few friends, where there will be champagne and raunchy discussions and lots of laughing. It's a formidable way to say farewell to a year.
Several miles away, my son will be celebrating with his father, having to work less hard than I'd like to keep his eyes open until midnight. He was hoping they'd play Monopoly into the New Year, maybe some Minecraft and movies. I learned tonight that his own festivities will also include meeting his dad's girlfriend for the first time, and one of her sons, which is much more of a hello to a shifting future than a wave goodby to what was.
Things are changing. We are changing.
Last night, nearly touching the ceiling in his new slightly wobblier than I am comfortable with loft bed, E, who has slept with all the lights in his room on -- nightlights, bathroom lights, closet light, overhead light -- for months and months, asked my permission to try sleeping with the lights out.
I sang him songs while propped up on a bean bag and Cubs Pillow Pet underneath the loft -- another change, since I've been unashamedly snuggling with him for prayers and lullabies for nine+ years, knowing it would all come to an end soon enough -- and flipped off the light, leaving my son to sleep silently into the last day of 2013.
This morning, sitting criss-cross-apple sauce at the kitchen counter, E interviewed the Not Boyfriend for a school project. The Not Boyfriend made hashbrowns and sipped coffee while he answered, short responses punctuated by a tiny smile at the edge of his mug.
"What were you like in third grade?" E asked seriously, pencil paused in mid-air for the answer.
"Hmmm," the Not Boyfriend said slowly. "Come back to that one."
"What ways are you the same as you were in third grade?"
"I still like Star Wars. And Legos. And there are parts of me that still feel like a kid."
E smiled to hear that, like some permission had been given to hold on to those parts of himself he knows well.
"What ways are you different?"
The Not Boyfriend breathed in loudly, then out, contemplating.
"Well, I grew up. I got more serious. But I still like to play," or something like this. I was busy watching the exchange between the two of them, trying to capture it with my camera and my brain, and I missed some of the words.
"What advice do you have?" E-as-reporter studied the Not Boyfriend, then the blank space on his paper, then tried to fit his broken pencil back together in his writing hand. The Not Boyfriend didn't hesitate on this one.
"Take school seriously," he said a little sterner than I expected, "even when you don't want to."
E nodded as he wrote. There was sage advice in there from someone who takes his role in this kid's life very seriously, but there was also a bit of ribbing.
"What's your favorite color -- of the ones you can see," E smirked to ask. The Not Boyfriend is red-green color blind, a topic of much discussion and joking.
"DANNNNNNNNNNGGGG," the Not Boyfriend laughed. "Of my three choices?"
"Is it white? Clear?" That went on for a few moments until the response of "bluish" was logged accordingly.
When the interview was done, we talked about that Monopoly game and E refused to let me take a decent last-picture-of-the-year of him in the sumptuous light that made its way through our kitchen blinds and landed on his happy face and all in his somewhat-combed Jodi Foster hair. And then he took a few selfies that are perfectly him, to mark this time.
I did the mom thing, asking them both to recall the best parts of 2013.
We talked about the blessing of Baby J, my brother's second son, being born, and about our trip to New Orleans, where we all loved the beignets and haunted walking tour best. I said our camping trip had to be counted. And that in this year, E had made his second appearance doing a stand-up act in the school talent show, and won the church talent show with those same silly jokes. I reminded him that he read Rick Riordan books like crazy this year and he refined it, saying, "I FINISHED all of them, you mean." He's only a few hundred pages away from completing the Harry Potter series, stacking up the many, many books he made his way through since last New Year's. We reminisced about little moments and birthday celebrations.
But before all of that, before any of the looking back happened, before any of us knew what would really unfold tonight, E answered first, without letting any other space or words interrupt.
"Moving in with the Not Boyfriend," he said, sure and smiling. "That has been the best part of this year."
Where we are walking, the Not Boyfriend and E and I and the little family we are forging, hasn't all been even ground. There have been tears and bickering and arguments over where to hang pictures and if the toaster oven should sit out on the counter and things don't matter. There have been sobby admissions about grieving shifting identity and not fitting in and not yet feeling at home, relaxed, ourselves. It has not been as smooth as I hoped, not been easy at all. But all of that has been the adults, the Not Boyfriend and I making our way, slowly, unsteadily. E, he's been holding on, staying the course, confident and just fine.
He trusts. And I am learning from that. And just as it was with being done breastfeeding and be ready to potty train and reading and now sleeping without the security of all those blaring lights, he goes on being my greatest teacher in taking steps when we are ready, in taking time to be ready, in releasing worry once we are.
For now, we all walk in the dark. But we are walking toward a New Year, and the coming light that promises to reveal moments and people and opportunities we could have never expected, we could not have seen coming unless we trust the time, the timing and each other.
What will 2014 reveal? I don't know. We shall see. Clasped gloved hands, footprints in snow, we shall see.