Growing up, New Years Eve was always a night where the rules seem to disappear. More than any other night of the year, I just have memories of that night being oddly liberating and all above-the-law. It probably has something to do with it being the one night of the year children are actually encouraged to stay up past midnight and--gasp!--make as much noise as possible.
For several years my "god-cousin" Amy (my godmother's kids and I came up with this term to define our relationship to each other) hosted a New Years Eve sleep over. The invite list would invariably be about a dozen of her "bestest" girlfriends, her brother--who was about a year older than me--my sister, and me. So if you do the math, that became more than a dozen grade school girls and two oddly out of place boys, all chaperoned by one very tired woman. Back then I could never understand why she seemed so frazzled and out of it by two in the morning as she was struggling to get us into bed. Wasn't she having as much fun as we were?
Drama always seemed to fill those sleep overs. Jonathan (Amy's brother) and I would enact our yearly competition to prove once and for all that boys were in fact better than girls. At least two of the girls would breakdown crying at some point and attempt to call home--attempts that were usually thwarted by Jonathan's Mission-Impossible-like removal of the mouthpiece transceiver from the house's only phone. And if you've never made Jiffy Pop on a gas stove and had the aluminum foil pan burst into flames...well, then you just haven’t had a real childhood.
There were other years where I got to stay at my grandparents all alone--well, except for my sister who would be snoring away in the guest room by nine--while the adults went out and did whatever it was that adults got dressed up in fancy clothes to do. I'd stay up well past midnight, watching the Three Stooges marathon on WSBK TV38, sneaking illicit peeks at the rated-R movies on HBO, and eating myself sick on the snacks and pizza my grandmother would leave for me.
The next morning I'd awake to find a stash of paper horns and plastic noise makers in a pile on the kitchen table. My sister and I would watch TV quietly in the living room until everyone got up, and then pester them for details on their night. We'd have a fancy dinner in the afternoon to celebrate the new year, and gradually life--complete with all its rules--would return to normal.
As I grew up into adolescence, the magic of New Years Eve seemed to dissipate. For whatever reason, the night became less about finding something for the kids to do than finding a way to include the kids in a family event. This changed the night into just another holiday, and I was a little sad to see it go.
I remember this most the New Years Eve of 1993. I was a freshman in college that year and had been invited to no less than three parties that night--including one at one of the unofficial frats off campus. Instead, though, I found myself in the back seat of my dad's Ford Explorer, driving up to have dinner at my uncle's place in Derry, NH. I was--I think understandably--less than thrilled with the plans for the evening.
My mom and I exchanged some words on the way up. I let her know how I was far too old for these silly family things, and she put me in my place in that practiced way she had. Nothing unusual really, but the fight made me realize for the first time just how much things were beginning to change. We made our peace in time to sit in my uncle's condo and eat chips and dip, and then later Chinese food from paper plates as we all sat around his big screen to watch Dick Clark. It was just another night, really.
This year I find myself celebrating New Years Eve back in the tradition of my childhood. As I write this, I've been off of work for nearly two weeks--a consequence of the holidays falling on Tuesdays this year combined with a nice backlog of vacation hours. Kim, Erin, and I have really just spent that time relaxing. It's been several days of sleeping late, way too much pizza, and a perhaps sickening amount of family fun--and a little non-family fun thrown in where Kim and I could manage it.
It's been a wonderful vacation, but tonight really marks the end of it. Tomorrow night I'll have to go to bed at a reasonable hour and get ready to get back to it. No more fun concerts, late nights drinking, or watching reality show marathons in our pajamas all day. I'm not really sad, to be honest. I'm ready for a new year, and the year's worth of challenges I've set out for myself (I'll stop short of listing a pile of "resolutions" here, don't worry). This time off has been a perfect way to recharge the engines, and now I am anxious to get back to it.
I guess what's really striking me today is what New Years Eve has meant to me over the years. I hadn't realized it, but this break from the rules on those years was such a well needed moment for me. Perhaps in a strange way I have learned the true meaning of New Years Eve this week.
It's not how drunk you get, really. It's how much fun you have once you are drunk...or something like that.