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Another Auld Lang Syne

Am I the only one who gets a bemused look when I hear the song, "What are you doing New Year's Eve?" I can count on one hand the number of New Year's Eve parties I've gone to in my 40 years, and all of them were at home. Though I never planned it this way, a look back at my ticket stubs and hotel receipts reveals that, more often than not, I travel on New Year's Eve. And the funny thing is, I'm not going anywhere flashy. I'm coming home that day in time to be with my husband, who can't take time off during the holidays, because I typically try to squeeze in family visits between Christmas and New Year's. 

It wasn't always that way. In 2005, Mark and I returned to our old stomping grounds in Chicago and boarded a Mystic Blue New Year's Eve cruise, which feels a lot like going to a wedding without the bouquet throw and garter dance. Out on Lake Michigan, with Chicago's glittering skyline stretching to our west, we dined, we slow danced, and, at midnight, we bundled up and stepped out on the deck to watch not one but two simultaneous fireworks displays shimmer over the water. We shared a first kiss of the new year, and I remember thinking, We are definitely going to do this again.

Our son was born four months later, and the next New Year's Eve found us on a bouncy flight home from Washington, D.C., where we'd gone to visit family, only to return to a blizzard, a full diaper and a dead car battery in Des Moines. The New Year's Eves that have followed included enduring the pent-up craziness of preschoolers in a gymnasium full of inflatables, skating on Fountain Plaza in Cincinnati and driving through the Festival of Lights display in East Peoria, Illinois. Not quite as flashy as our Chicago cruise—but each flecked with their own moments of sweetness.

Last New Year's Eve, with special dispensation from my husband's boss, I surprised Mark with two tickets: one to Fort Lauderdale; the other, to the Orange Bowl, where his Northern Illinois University Huskies had earned their first trip to a BCS bowl game. We could not all afford to go, and though I missed ringing in the new year with my NIU alumnus, I loved hearing how happy he sounded, his skin warmed by 80-degree weather and his eyes marveling at the sight of palm trees in December.

The Huskies lost that game, but really, that didn't matter. Mark had a lifelong dream to go to a bowl game, and his dream had finally come true. I am so glad we splurged. This New Year's Eve, for the first time since before our son was born nearly 8 years ago, we have no plans. A neurological illness has sidelined my ability to travel for the time being and reminded me how unpredictable the years can be. I'm grateful for all of the New Year's Eves we've had—the fireworks, the shimmering skating rink, the bright lights, even the blizzard—because we were together. And we will be this year, too. And it'll be anything but just another auld lang syne.

(Chicago fireworks photo courtesy of Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.)

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