The end of the year is upon us.
Damned if I know how it happened this fast.
I know: this is what everybody says. There aren’t that many things that everybody says and I agree with, but this is one of them.
I read once that the reason it seems as though every year flies by faster is that each year is a smaller fraction of the total time we’ve been alive. It’s the kind of explanation that can get you nodding in agreement until you realize it doesn’t make a friggin’ bit of sense. A year is a year, regardless of whether you’ve lived five or seventy-five.
Rather than delve into a discussion of the psychology of time (a discussion for which I am wholly unequipped), I offer my own completely subjective opinion on the subject: how fast time passes is tied directly to how much we did (or meant to do) during that time.
Before you reject my position, consider one example that should be fresh in your mind:
When you were five, the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas seemed endless because all you had to do was wait for Santa Claus.
But when you were thirty-five, those same weeks flew by because you were probably juggling some (or all) of the following:
- Asking everyone in your immediate and extended family, “What do you want for Christmas?”;
- Following up (by phone, email, and body-blocking in front of the door as they try to exit after Thanksgiving dinner) with the people who won’t answer the question;
- Making lists of gifts to purchase;
- Realizing you don’t know size and color preferences, or which videogame is cool or whether Barbie Musician is a better choice than Barbie Beekeeper or Barbie Robotic Engineer, and following up again to obtain such information;
- Adjusting those gift lists when people change their minds about what they want;
- Shopping for gifts;
- Shopping for other gifts in response to more mind-changing;
- Returning the gifts that are reportedly no longer wanted;
- Wrapping the gifts;
- Hiding the gifts;
- Hoping nobody changes their minds again after you’ve wrapped and hidden their gifts;
- Cursing them out when they change their minds, and then setting the whole return/repurchase/rewrap machinery in motion again;
- Making a list of card recipients, including checking last year’s list to see if the Jensens sent us a card this year because if they didn’t, that’s two years in a row and they’re off the list;
- Remembering that Kim Jensen is your spouse’s supervisor ever since the reorganization in April, so it doesn’t matter if the Jensens sent a card last year or not because they cannot be cut from the list;
- Purchasing cards;
- Purchasing mailing labels so you can print the addresses, thereby sparing the postal service the obligation of trying to decipher your handwriting which becomes increasingly illegible as you pour another glass of wine in a futile attempt to feel festive;
- Trying to figure out how to print the labels without gumming up your printer;
- Giving up on the whole label fiasco and block-printing the addresses;
- Digging out all those return address labels you’ve received from charities that wanted money you never sent to them because let’s face it, if they have sufficient funds to make labels for you, they don’t need your money anyway;
- Writing out cards, except that by the fourth one, you’ve abandoned the notion of including a cheery little note about how the year has gone and you just scrawl “Happy holidays from our family”;
- Realizing you forgot to buy stamps for those stupid cards;
- Realizing you’re not sufficiently tech-savvy to buy stamps online, which means you’ll need to go to the post office and stand in line with everybody else who somehow managed to forget that this year, Christmas will arrive on the 25th;
- Realizing once you’re in line that you still need to pack up the gifts that need to be shipped;
- Sending emails to those people to let them know their presents might be a smidgen late this year due to unforeseen circumstances (like Christmas arriving on the 25th);
- Bringing the artificial Christmas tree up from the basement;
- Bracing yourself against all the complaints about why we have to have a fake tree when the people next door always go out and cut a live tree at a local farm;
- Hauling the ornaments, garland, and other decorations up from the basement;
- Shooing everybody out of the house so you can decorate in peace, because it’s just not worth the effort to try to turn it into a lovely family tradition and somebody would probably fall off a ladder and end up in the emergency room anyway;
- Deciding who’s hosting dinner, which includes negotiating the minefield of hurt feelings when it turns out that both your sisters want to host because “she did it last year!” or, alternatively, trying to dodge the bullet when the subject comes up and nobody wants to host;
- Either way, getting stuck with having to cram into your house at least ten more people than would reasonably fit;
- Figuring out a marginally festive menu that takes into account your mother’s unshakable belief that she’s allergic to baked potatoes (mashed potatoes are fine), your father’s insistence on ham as the main course, your sister’s recent conversion to veganism, the fact that your brother-in-law keeps kosher, your other sister’s newly-discovered allergy to gluten, your other brother-in-law’s passion for Czech cuisine, your nephews’ cravings for Doritos, your young niece’s refusal to eat anything other than SpaghettiOs, her teenage sister’s refusal to eat anything other than celery, your cousin Sunshine’s recent divorce (green beans remind her of her shithead ex-husband, who ran off with the girl from the produce department at Shop Rite), and your loving spouse’s gentle insistence that you cannot plunk yourself at the head of the table with a large bottle of merlot and announce, “This is what I’m having. You people can order from Uber Eats”;
- Trying to assign responsibility for some of the items on the holiday menu and realizing that, your plans notwithstanding, everybody has their own ideas about what should be on the menu and what they are thus willing to bring;
- Giving up and shopping for everything, finding places to store it in your already-overcrowded refrigerator, and making a chart of what needs to be done when in order to have everything ready when the hordes descend;
- Going through the list of traditional holiday specials to decide what to watch throughout the season to create that festive mood;
- Discovering that Amazon has jacked up the rental price of The Bishop’s Wife to $9.99 (they really did!) and deciding that even Cary Grant himself would think that was outrageous, and watching The Holiday for the fourteenth time instead;
- Putting out the cookies and milk for Santa and the carrots for the reindeer;
- Eating the cookies, pouring out the milk, and putting the carrots back in the crisper after the little ones are in bed;
- Filling the stockings and setting out the presents around the tree;
- Waking before dawn when small bodies pile onto your bed to remind you what day it is;
- Blinking long, slow, half-awake blinks as you ingest caffeine and those same small people decimate your careful wrappings and make noises at decibels that should be illegal before noon;
- Corralling everyone to dress before the family arrives;
- Cooking and serving the holiday meal (with minimal assistance from anybody even though they’re all standing around the kitchen, blocking the routes from refrigerator to counter to oven);
- Fielding comments about how you look so tired and you really should think about taking some time off during the holidays;
- Resisting the urge to crack the now-empty merlot bottle over the head of the next person who says anything remotely like that;
- Ignoring people who say, “We should do this for New Year’s!”;
- Breathing an enormous sigh of relief as the last of them leave and you close the door behind them, and you’re so grateful for the (comparative) peace that you don’t care about the arguments going on in the family room, and you head to the solitude of the kitchen, where you run the water just hard enough to drown out the sounds of your loving spouse managing the chaos, and you soap and rinse and dry and put away and say to yourself the magic words:
“Next year in Aruba.”
Not to mention tiny little extras like continuing to go to work, feed the people and pets in your household, pay the bills, and do the laundry. None of which goes away, no matter how much holiday stuff clamors for our energy and attention.
This, my friends, is the real reason why the time seems to race when we’re older. The more we have to do, the more obvious it is that we don’t have a shot in hell of actually doing it all, but we try anyway.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I still need to freeze the leftovers, strain the stock made from the ham bone, and check the supply of wine.
After all, New Year’s is coming.