This is the selfie I took I call “first kid dropped off at college.”

Ten Reasons to Celebrate Hard Years

Last year at this time was, for me, admittedly harder than this year. But it’s been a hard year. Whatever those measures mean, at the end of this one I don’t possess the bandwidth to “do” all the holiday things just like usual. But exhaustion really wasn’t what gave me pause about the annual calendar. For the first time — although not the first hard year, this was the first time I responded this way; I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to see our year. I didn’t want to think about how much I’ve poured into family, worried somehow that the visual evidence would disappoint or sadden me or in some way I can’t articulate and twist me up inside.

People make art from personal hardship all the time. Mine’s been private, in the form of a journal I’ve written in both deliberately and with more cursing than I care to admit (it’s… colorful sometimes). I’ve followed some incredible semi-private chronicles of personal hardship this year — a friend’s breast cancer blog, another’s on a mental illness diagnosis, and a third on the sudden loss of her partner of many years. Debbie Galant has taken breast cancer and created compelling podcasts — The Chemo Files. Whether we document our crises or not, we live them and we somehow laugh and cry and kick ass and sometimes just kick.

The calendars — our family’s and the one I do for our dear friends’ family, whose kids mine spends so much time with I can’t help but capture amazing images of the three of them — turn out to reveal that we all kick ass. I did feel sad, because I remembered how hard some of the time was, how afraid, how really lost I felt — and my people felt — at times. I saw how exhausted my friends’ kids looked during the early stretch of their mom’s chemo and I remembered the extra hugs we snuck them and the endearing search every time my four year-old buddy came over for my high school son “Louie.” And then I remembered how Lucien dropped whatever he was doing to play ball or some other game with the four year-old. I remembered how deep and special it felt for my eldest son to reconnect with home places, like the theatre he put so much time into throughout middle and high school. I was reminded that despite a zillion hard moments between us, a zillion-plus-moments blew me away. That is not hyperbole; that is truth.

I’m glad I pored through those images and I’m glad I remembered. I’m glad I’m here, where I am. So here are ten reasons to celebrate whatever year it’s been if you need a few (and if you don’t want to celebrate, then, beautiful, don’t do it):

  1. Whatever the year was you get to say goodbye to it now, at least on a calendar. My friends decided to hold their annual New Year’s Eve party, despite a year that took a deep dive into sadness, more sadness and still more sadness. The invitation stated: “So long, 2015. Don’t let the door kick you on the ass on the way out!”

2. To be reminded of how hard x was you get to be glad for that same thing’s return to more ease.

3. You also get to see how fun a lot of it was, despite how completely hellacious other parts were.

4. You note how dark humor, like dark chocolate, has a certain bite that can be quite delicious.

5. The small kids have gotten SO MUCH BIGGER now (awww).

6. You get to be grateful again for professionals’ smartness and compassion. Thanks, doctors, teachers, nurses, therapists, camp counselors, coaches, and awesome babysitters all.

7. You rely on books, music and maybe movies or television or plays. Whether anthems, encouragements, or distractions, you remember how much those things mattered.

8. I got to remember, as I do each year, how thankful I am to have friends I love with kids I love — and a swimming pool. What a wonderful thing to hang out in that spot. What a wonderful thing to watch children morph into fish.

9. New chapters began, WOW. In remembering a year, there were new jobs and new schools and new developments that enrich and challenge and change us. Maybe some of that is hard — in my family it has set me up as the main domestic person to five students so for me, it’s kind of drudgerous (a word I just coined, see?) but it’s also kind of awesome (my husband is 1L as of this fall; my eldest is now in college — and that doesn’t count other people’s amazing endeavors around me).

10. This was a year during which I both helped others and was helped a great deal. I relied on a lot of help from my friends. I relied on help from therapists and an awesome coach (along with friends who essentially coached me) and a writing group and the cheer of Thursday spin class and Friday I-do-whatever-Jen-tells-me-to-do class at the Y. I taught and learned from my students. If you have a tough time, a silver lining to your personal s*^%storm may be that you are reminded how much other people matter to you — and you to them. What a blessing that is — and the best part is you can live happier times with this knowledge tucked in your pocket and continue to reap the benefits of helping and being helped.

To 2016! Onward!

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