January is dangerous. If I can float over the top of it, it’s ok. I’m a swimmer, sleek, rolling as I glide. The danger is getting pulled under. The danger is Look, Mama! and What, Mama? and Mama, look! The danger is suffocating in lost socks, in the hours that seem lost to hunting and helping with boots, snowpants, coats, hats (not that hat!), mittens, scarves. And Did we leave the snow boots at school again? And Where are your mittens? and Uh oh, do you need to pee now? The danger of January is that the day seems over by 4:30. The danger is starting to rant, starting to realize that I’m turning every conversation into a rant.
In January, even reading Laurie Moore is dangerous. She is so clever, so full of love for words, of smart observation and untouchable images, I start to hate myself. Let me say that again: She is so good I start to hate myself. In January. Some sane part of me, the little green part that weathers January whole, reads along entertained and thinks Yeah, but all her characters just sound like Lorrie Moore. Just. I read and admire and it keeps me from writing. This month it does.
In January, my mean college boyfriend appears to me in dreams. In the dreams, he has published brilliant books or is some type of literary hotshot, and I wait for his next glance in my direction. I court him. The other half of me squints at him and tries for aloofness. I am old enough now to know the apparition isn’t him, it’s me, the part of me that predicts failure, judges harshly, is mean and biting. In the dream, it comes wrapped in the best body-costume my sleeping mind knows how to give it, and the dreaming me does with it what I do while I’m awake: woo it, woo that terrifically exciting judgmental sonofabitch. And, alternately, realize it’s nothing, nothing real at all.
This January, the trap is, I’m about to be 36. At work I filled out an application to hire a summer intern, a high school student, and I needed to describe my experience working with youth. Working with youth? Youth? The last time I checked, I was youth, and oops. Now I am not only not youth, I have no experience working with youth. I had to ask all of my coworkers the same question, and every one of them looked at me like, Huh, I haven’t thought about this in a while, but: none.
I am going to be 36 and my name, the one I use in real life, still ends in ie, and that seems a bit young. My husband’s uncle’s 60-year-old girlfriend’s name is Betsy, and I don’t know. Betsy is eight, you know? I need to head that off.
Did I mention I feel myself turning every conversation into a rant? Calm down, I tell myself. Calm down and listen. Ask questions and listen. Remember? That’s what you were going to do. Listen.
It’s January. I say things, then I think: Ooh, I said way too much. Again.
One day last week I did let it all suck me under: boots, age, doubt, Mama Mama Mama. I was pissy and unreasonable and ranty and unsmiling.
At the Y I am teaching the girls to swim. They get water in their faces and I teach them to blow it off—literally, figuratively—shake their faces and blow bubbles in the air like cartoon creatures with slack lips and blinking eyes. Let the drops fly off of them and move on with their fun. Nothing about getting water up your nose will hurt you, it just feels weird for a minute. Make that silly face and move on, I say. Make that silly face and move on.