Let Me Tell You a Love Story

There's a couple that walks down our street every night after dinner, a boy and girl who are most likely newlyweds. They're just a few years younger than I am, still lightened by the weightless possibility that comes in those post-graduation years of your early twenties.

My husband and I good-naturedly refer to them as Hipster Couple. They resemble each other in the way that long-term couples do. They both wear huge plastic glasses and, occasionally, matching fedoras that top their honey-colored hair. He has a signature goatee and a love of both flannel and suspenders. She wears only warm neutrals and has the impressive ability to pull off wide-leg pants with confidence. They even have a pair of matching dogs, each of them holding a leash.

Hipster couple is always touching each other. Sometimes they hold hands, but more often he'll have his arm draped across her shoulders, or she'll have hers circling his waist. If the dogs are pulling them apart, they still manage to lean towards each other, as though they're magnetized.

I have never seen them not talking, not smiling, or not laughing. They're adorable, is what I'm trying to say.

I refuse to feel creepy about watching them whenever they pass by. For one thing, our house is on a hill with a huge picture window facing the street; it's hard not to notice who's walking along. But more than that, I'm drawn to them.

It's like watching a rom-com day by day. They make my heart happy every time I see them. More than once, I've felt the urge to snap a few candid photos and anonymously leave them in their mailbox (after following them to discover where they live in the most non-stalkerish way possible). I think they deserve to see what their love looks like from afar.

Jacob and I can't help but comment on them. Mostly I'll talk about how happy they look and he'll talk about how he doesn't understand fashion these days. But the other day, we had this exchange. 

"Do you think Hipster Couple will be together forever?" I said. "We don't even know if they're married." 

And Jacob, who is no great romantic, replied, "Yeah, they will. Those two just go together."

I hope they never move. I hope I get to keep watching them walk by for years and years, eventually accompanied by a pregnant belly, then a stroller, then laughing, smiling, honey-haired children. I want to watch this far-away, shining love story go on forever. 

And I'm not delusional, okay? I know that I don't actually know them, that maybe all of us would look this happy and in love if people couldn't see our screaming fights and our secret fears and the nights we feel so far apart, even though we're sitting on the same couch. 

All I'm saying is, this boy loves that girl, and that girl loves this boy, so much that perfect strangers can see it from their living room window. That's the kind of love I'm going to keep believing in, even if it makes me the crazy stalker lady in the house on the hill. 

How I Get December Wrong (and You Might, Too)

My childhood memories of December are surrounded by a glowing film of nostalgia, probably brought on by the fact that I was a kid and didn't have any sort of responsibility to get things done or make other people happy over the holidays.

I would spend all school break reading by the fire while it snowed outside, and on weekends, I'd help out with the only baking my mom did all year. It felt a little like magic in the middle of the regular year.

And then you grow up, and December is far from magical.

From Thanksgiving to Christmas, it's all buying gifts and swearing at the burned-out Christmas lights and last-minute runs to the store for that ingredient you forgot for the cookies you promised you'd bring to the party. You play Christmas music in the background and hope to all heaven that your kids are somehow experiencing some sort of Christmas spirit, because there's flour in your hair and you forgot a hostess gift for tonight's party and how is it already a week until Christmas? 

Then we smack into December 25, and BAM. It's over. You're exhausted and surrounded by a floor full of pine needles and wrapping paper scraps, feeling relieved and let down all at the same time. As an adult, it feels like December never lives up to the hazy, snow-filled memories of my childhood.

Christmas mug

My biggest source of stress in December is the feeling that it's my job to make this season magical for my kids, and that I'm not doing enough to make it happen.

Sledding, snowmen and snow angels, hot cocoa, baking cookies, crafting ornaments, watching classic movies in the glow of the Christmas tree . . . it feels like there's not enough time for any of it. I can't shake the feeling that if they're going to have cherished Christmas memories, it's my job to manufacture them.

The pressure I put on myself is enormous, never mind that, at 3 and 1, my kids are too young to appreciate any of those things right now anyway. 

Less than ten days before Christmas, I'm making time for the first Christmasy experiences my family has had this year: baking cookies with the preschooler, then sitting by the tree and watching Frozen with both kids after lunch. (No, Frozen is not officially a Christmas movie, but there's snow, so it counts. It also seemed more child appropriate than Love Actually.)

As I watch Elsa have her Jessica Simpson moment on the screen, I'm hit with my own realization of why Christmas stresses me out so much: I'm trying to elevate ordinary moments into something special, when their everydayness is the thing that makes them so memorable in the first place. 

Not only that, I don't need to cram in all the fun Christmasy things before December 25. This season isn't meant to be celebrated according to the sales calendar of retail executives. In the liturgical calendar, we're still in Advent, the four weeks of waiting, reflection, and repentance that comes before the birth of Christ and the celebration of Christmas. 

If some of that ordinary Christmas magic gets pushed until after the 25th, during the actual Christmas season, then so much the better. My kids have no expectations for what December should look like, so why should I?

My favorite memories of Christmas are nothing extraordinary. Reading by the fire is (still) one of the best ways I spend my time all winter long, not just in December. The magic is made up of the simplest, best things, and the harder I try to make that happen, the less I'll be able to enjoy it. 

The Christmas season will always be at its best when we get out of our own way and let the memories happen on their own.

Cheers to an ordinary, magical December.