It is an icy, frozen night here in New Haven, Connecticut. The snow we had last week, is completely frozen over creating an icy sheen out our front door, for as far as you can see. Graysen’s snow “boy,” called such because it is not tall enough to be a “man,” is keeping watch out our front door, while our first outdoor Christmas lights twinkle on the hedge.
You may have heard about our move to Connecticut this past August. Ted was accepted to Yale School of Architecture in April, I got a job as the director of Yale College Annual Giving in June and in a span of one month, we closed on the new place, packed up and moved. To this day, unpacked boxes still stand in nearly every room. Our unpack process stalled because of our workload. That and our home in New York took a little longer to sell than we anticipated. We have a contract now, but have yet to close the deal.
Tonight, I am thinking about Christmas letters or holiday letters as I have come to call them working in diverse, politically correct institutions like Yale. When I started writing my Karricatures newsletter years ago, it was because I was in a new city -- New York City – and wanted to share all my new adventures and exciting experiences. Now, I am in another new city – New Haven. The adventures and experiences are far different now and most are hardly anything you would put in a newsletter … or would you?
The first year I lived in NYC, I went to the Rockefeller Tree lighting ceremony. I got there at 3 in the afternoon and stood in the cold for 4 ½ hours until the event began, only to get home in time to see it on TV with a much better view. There I was pressed up against millions of my closest friends hoping to get a glimpse of the Rockettes.
New Haven had a tree lighting ceremony, too. It was held in the town green across from my office. I picked up Graysen after work and still made it to the park in time to enjoy the festivities. Graysen rode on a rickety carousel and then a strange mechanical polar bear before Santa arrived to a sea of adoring children, riding on top of a fire truck. What could be better than that? Santa Claus AND a fire truck! The Lions Club served popcorn and apple cider and local choirs performed holiday tunes. There was even a table to write notes to Santa to place in a large postal box on our way out of the park. It was bliss!
In New York, Ted worked for Robert A.M. Stern Architects, a firm of over 360 architects with prominent projects all around the world. One of the projects Ted worked on was a new visitor’s center for Graceland. In March, he went to Memphis with the team to present the project and had lunch in the Graceland dining room with Priscilla Presley. At Yale, Robert Stern is the dean of the School of Architecture, so now Ted and his 60 classmates have him as a teacher and critic along with a number of other well known architects. Next semester, Frank Gehry and Richard Meier will both be teaching at Yale.
Graysen had a full time nanny in New York City who took him to the Museum of Natural History, the Children’s Museum, the zoo and all that New York had to offer. In New Haven, Graysen is in school for the very first time. He has a bi-monthly Spanish class and since the school has grades preschool through sixth grade, he interacts with the “big kids” as reading buddies.
When it came time to buy our tree this year, we thought of our Canadian friend who sets up shop on the corner of 110th and Broadway in New York. We could always negotiate him down to around $70-$80 and with a tip; he would help tie it to the roof. That was the most fun for Graysen – having a Xmas tree on the roof of our car.
In New Haven, we went to a local tree farm. It was the week after Thanksgiving and snowflakes were just starting to fall. We walked through the rows and rows of trees until we found what has to be the most beautiful tree we have ever had. Ted cut it down and we all carted it up to the car. At $45, it was quite a bargain. We didn’t even have to negotiate, or ask to have it tied on the roof. Everything was included, even the complimentary coloring book.
I’ll admit the move here has been challenging for me. New York is an extraordinary city with limitless opportunities. Everything in New York is the best, brightest, most exciting version of whatever you are pursuing. But the move to New Haven or New “Heaven,” as I sometimes call it, has shed a bright light on a much larger part of our life – the ordinary.
My new job here has half the stress than any of my prior jobs. I leave every day at exactly 5 pm in time to pick up my sweet Graysen and have the evening with him. The people I work with are flexible, so I never miss a school meeting, pot luck, concert or sing along. And because I work for Yale, I even get to participate in special opportunities to learn more about the Architecture School. It’s wonderful, because I am able to be a part of what Ted is doing, even when he is so busy, he can’t see straight. And because I have less stress and more time, I am more present for everyone. I don’t miss the moments within the moments which come and go so fast these days.
One of those moments came while we were decorating the tree this year. We handed Graysen an ornament that I made when I was in third grade. A cockeyed, Popsicle stick frame with my 3rd grade school photo in the center, Ted gave it to Graysen and asked, “Who is that girl?” At first he replied, “Emily.” (I think Graysen could find a way to answer Emily to every question.) Then Ted and I both encouraged him to look again. When he did, Graysen said, “No, it’s you Mommy.” “Me?” I said, “How did you know it was me?” And as only your three year old son can say, Graysen said, “Because you’re you, Mommy.”
I am me. And I live an ordinary life in New Haven, Connecticut. As I write this, the church across the green is playing its daily Christmas Carol from the bell tower. “Angels from the Realms of Glory…” Every day at 3 pm, even when it’s not Christmas, a hymn plays and for a moment, I listen to the humble sounds of New Haven. It’s not New York City, but it is a kind of haven or “heaven” for me. Who knew that by leaving the extraordinary city of New York I could find more meaning in my every day life and even a truer sense of myself? Who knew that living an ordinary life could be so extraordinary?
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