Wow, December, what did you do to me? Whose couch am I on, what time is it and where the hell are my keys?

November’s end brought me back from an epiphanic vacation to my oldest daughter having moved home while I was gone. I’ve spent December flailing among identities, some of which I manage better than others, and trying to pull them all back together into some semblance of functionality. I wonder what it would be like to wake up and have just one role to fill, one certainty of self with which to move about the world; or rather, I wonder what it would be like to have that experience, so fresh and new to me, be the norm.

I started working full-time at 16 and the only “breaks” in my job timeline involved temporary unemployment as a trade-off for raising children and, simultaneously, a college education. The time in Taiwan not only provided a respite from the daily grinds, but for the first time in my adult life, I was allowed to be just me. Not a mom, not an employee, not a volunteer, not a social director. Just Jennifer. Still caring, sure, but too distant to be obligated to much beyond myself.

In other words, a complete reversal of the norm — and one I embraced quickly, proof of my selfish nature, I suppose. Upon return, I underestimated the difficulty of reassembling my whole self after being pared down to the essential. A difficulty compounded by the challenge of renegotiating my relationship with my adult child and what it means for her to live with us again — what it means for her to live with us again with her plethora of animals, two of whom we’d already taken in months ago and who now include her 100-lb. Akita puppy. I love animals, sure, but the sheer number of them now in my home, along with all the hair, food, worry and constant tripping over them, creates a situation where I no longer take pleasure in any of them as individuals: they’ve become a single unit representing Things I Don’t Like (more mess, more worry, more annoyance). And thus, I am now the bad guy because I want the dogs outside and the cats off the furniture and fuck it, I’ll just stay away from the house as much as possible rather than deal with the chaos inside it.

All that and a fast slide into the holidays, too. With my attitude downgraded from usual optimistic to outright cynical, that “fuck it” factor colored my spending and drinking decisions a rather ugly shade of Too Much — fortunately I have always instinctively balanced my self-destructive streaks with self-preservation (internally and externally, my life is both yin and yang at all times and forever) and so I also wrapped up the year with some work triumphs and a steady streak of workouts at Praxis that have kept my ass in shape regardless of how wobbly my mind has been.

And Christmas — it worked out. I blew off even fetching the stockings as Chelsea’s stuff was blocking access to the Xmas box in the shed, but Nick, determined to holiday up the house, took it upon himself to maneuver through the mess, pull out the stockings and decorations, then spruced up the house while I was out shopping. I returned home to discover everything in place and had the first authentic heartwarming moment of the season. I’ve tucked that moment away for safekeeping — it’s those pure, unexpected chunks of goodness that protect us from giving up on life and people entirely.

So, yeah, December? Survived. Looking forward to practicing some austerity come January. In fact, I think this newly reconstructed self of mine is going to be just fine. And then some.