The List I Should Have Made For January

Mom w shovel and cocoaJanuary began. I made my New Year’s Resolutions that first day, a task-slash-process I take seriously. I like this ritual. I think about it for weeks. Some years, I write a long, specific list. Other years, I pen a short and somewhat more ethereal list. Anyway, I began the year caught up in the hopes a list like this stir up—and just a day from the kids’ return to school.

The return to school that wasn’t, due to weather. The return to school scheduled for January second that didn’t occur until midmorning January sixth and by then with a great deal of angst for the fifth grader, loath to return to school. In the meantime, on January third, I twisted my ankle quite badly (carried laundry, missed a stair). Three days in bed followed. There was a sense of the long, social holiday period ceding to the long convalescence and then the school refusal. Oh, and January brought bone-chilling cold all over, the kind of cold that’s settled deep and that makes us all brittle—skin, bones, and spirits.

I’d forgotten January could do that to you. Even a day of thaw here or there didn’t override the sense that we’d become frozen in our winter selves, and our wintry lives.

Rambling preamble to say my New Year’s Resolutions and all that ensued thereafter made me forget you need a list of reminders for January or you can get lost between the bitter temperatures, the cabin fever and the slap routine makes after all those holiday gatherings. Here’s what I should have remembered:

1.  You’re not the only one swept up in the aura of your New Year’s Resolutions. The Y parking lot becomes a traffic jam of epic proportions and the Y fills up with people you won’t see weeks from now. Everything is crowded. Every regular is grumpy.

2.  New Year’s Resolutions can have an adverse effect on some people. They get cynical or self-loathing. Keep your happiness about your own process to yourself. Also, even after you seriously twist your ankle and must take to rest-ice-compression-elevation glimpse your list. Stick to it. Trust it.

3.  As eager as parents are for routine, kids may be equally resistant to it. There’s some law in physics about equal and opposite forces. Whatever that is, it may apply in early January. The snow days’ bonus only made this truer.

4.  Many kids thrive on routine and feel glad to be back to it and to their friends. Still, routine after no routine is exhausting. Post-school, kids are spent, out of sorts, and everyone must accommodate until routine again feels … routine.

5.  This month has been SO VERY FRIGID. Natural consequences: less activity, more cabin fever and the long cold month feels even longer (and colder). Take this into account all month long.

6.  Do not underestimate the power of citrus.

7.  Television is a reasonable escape. Travel sites and desperate searches for deals to leave town before the end of the month are not.

8.  Even if you tire of One Direction, get your daughter to play it—often, loudly. She is happier when she dances.

9.  Try not to be thrown by the fact that everyone starts to discuss summer camp options during the absolute coldest stretch of weather. That’s aspiration or magical thinking, mixed with a little self-hatred. It is not vindictive so do not hate your friends for raising the subject. Despite the grumbles at the return to school, remember that for many children happiness and routine are often intertwined. If there are camps with lotteries, sign up on time.

10.  Practicalities you should remember: hats, mittens, wool socks, leg warmers, neck warmers, fleece, boots … cold weather gear is for cold weather and January’s cold. Wear it.

11.  The promise of hot cocoa is incentive for kids to go outside. So is payment for shoveling snow. In other words, if ever there was a time for bribery, it’s January.

12.  Do note that the light has begun to last later and start earlier by the end of January. January is a very long month and February’s the shortest month. Remind yourself that by the end of February, you’ll practically taste and smell spring. That’s just four weeks from now, regardless of an old groundhog.

Illustration by Christine Juneau

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This entry was written by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

About the author: Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Brain, Child Magazine, and Salon, amongst others. Follow her on twitter–@standshadows.

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

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