Why is it that white-sky weather always seems so permanent, like it’s the only way things have ever looked, like the bright blue skies and lush warm evenings that you vaguely remember enjoying once before are merely a dream, something that belongs to a different world? Our weekend was frigid and bleached of color, the sky claustrophobic, pressing right up against the windows like piled-up snow.
We made a refuge inside, only venturing out for supplies: flour for bread. Root vegetables for roasting. I unpacked the Christmas box aided by Clara, who wore a wool elf hat and diaper and offered the constant refrain, “This Christmas tree for Jesus, okay?”
Our Christmas box is a humble thing: beat-up cardboard holding a few Christmas books, a hoop wreath I glue-gunned together last year, a tangle of lights, some velvet-covered boules and shiny pomegranate ornaments from Monoprix. Still, it’s more than the sum of its parts. Having a Christmas box to fetch out of the closet means tradition, continuity, nostalgia. It’s tangible proof that a family has existed and made a home together for at least a few Christmases. Memories waft from such a box along with the specks of Christmas dust: the white winter glitter, the crumbs of fake snow, the errant jingle bell. Unpacking this one had the added bonus of transporting me to post-Thanksgiving fun with my little brother. I could hear the Jingle Cats cassette tape we always played to annoy Dad. I could see Spencer crawling inside this ridiculously oversized red velvet stocking we had, making Mom laugh. I could taste the hot chocolate with the tiny marshmallows, remember the elvish satisfaction of carefully unwrapping dozens and dozens of Hallmark ornaments in their red boxes with the artist’s photo on the back.
This will be our fourth Christmas together as a couple, third with Clara, and first as a family of four, featuring new arrival baby Silas James. He’s almost three months old already, has just started to grin and hiccup-laugh, and as I’m watching him and Clara grow, time is passing at a speed unlike any other period in my lifetime. (That probably explains why I’m writing here for the first time in over six months–you didn’t miss anything!–and introducing Silas with no preamble. He is the most lovable, huggable little chunk. Or not so little. He measures at about the 105th percentile for height and weight. More on him soon.)
We’ve all been sick on and off for weeks, further loosening my grasp on time and my ability to remember dates or reply to messages. The apartment has echoed with the harsh chorus of baby coughs and been strewn with wadded tissues, calcifying tea bags, and half-used doses of sérum physiologique, the saline solution that seems to be prescribed in France for just about every ailment. We made quite a group, here a bronchite, there a sinusite… each with our little white pharmacie bag of treatments. This weekend though, we had relief at last: the collective ability to breathe unobstructed. With uninhibited oxygen came real rest. Good fiction, puzzles, slowly reading a Psalm, bread-baking. Practicing the under-appreciated skill of doing one thing at a time. We bought a new oven last week as ours has been impaired and largely ineffective for six months. As soon as it was installed we had one main thought: sourdough bread. After a few days we succeeded in coaxing back to full vigor the starter that had hibernated in our fridge for nearly a year. Victor tested both the starter and the oven with two loaves of country sourdough. While they were cooking, I made pancakes with some of the leftover starter: an easy flavor upgrade.
When I have managed to dart outside with the kids during the last couple of weeks, Silas strapped to my chest and Clara unmissable in her bright Boden “apple tree coat,” I have noted with interest and some melancholy how our world has changed right under our noses. The rich red leaves on those trees outside Carrefour have melted away entirely. The cherry tree by city hall that I think of as confettied and bubblegum-pink has turned orange and gone half-bare. Why are things always changing, and the better question: how does this always manage to surprise me?
I think, as I do just about every couple of months, of Lewis’ writing on the changing of the seasons in The Screwtape Letters. (Context if you haven’t read it: the book is one long letter from a senior devil to his nephew, explaining how they can better tempt and destroy certain human targets. The Enemy is of course God).
And since they need change, the Enemy (being a hedonist at heart) has made change pleasurable to them, just as He has made eating pleasurable. But since He does not wish them to make change, any more than eating, an end in itself, He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. He has contrived to gratify both tastes together in the very world He has made, by that union of change and permanence which we call Rhythm. He gives them the seasons, each season different yet every year the same, so that spring is always felt as a novelty yet always as the recurrence of an immemorial theme.
Well, I have to go watch Silas watch the Christmas tree. I leave with a renewed commitment to blogging, because I do miss it, miss collecting the precious details of ordinary life. I am rusty. I want to make writing a habit again, so between stuffed animal tea parties and countless diaper changes, I will be doing my best to publish here somewhat regularly. À la prochaine!