When my nephew Matt was 6, his dad, older brother and grandpop spent one Saturday morning installing a basketball net in their backyard. I was at the house too, and while Matt laid in front of the TV with a blanket up to his neck, I would say things like, “Matt, don’t you want to help?”            

Clearly he didn’t, because he didn’t budge when I would yell updates from the kitchen window. “They’re pouring the cement. Looks pretty cool. Might be nice if you went and helped, especially if you’re going to want to play basketball.”

Again, he didn’t move. I don’t even know if he heard me because he was mesmerized by cartoons. 

And then his brother Mike – who was 8 – came running in the house. “It’s done! It’s done!”   

I then watched Matt dramatically throw the blanket off him, revealing a basketball tucked under his arm. He sprinted to the door and the pair ran out to play. I was dumbfounded. He had been laying there all along holding a basketball waiting for others to get the yard ready for a game. I didn’t know whether to be appalled or impressed.

Last month, Joe and I took a 2-hour road trip to visit Matt, his wife Amy and their 3 children: 10-year-old-twins and a 3-year-old, who is, of course, filled with nonstop energy. We usually see them at holidays and special events here, in our environment, which is Matt’s hometown. But we wanted to get a glimpse of their real life – to step into this new world Matt has created that is so different from the one we have always known him to live in. As with all of the changes that just keep coming at me, I’m trying to not focus on the sad part of that reality, but instead focus on the happy.

And in Matt’s house, it’s easy to focus on the happy.

Matt and Amy just finished a renovation to their new house, and I don’t know if it’s the paint colors they chose, but just walking in to their very-open first floor, you immediately take in a lot of brightness. It was definitely a theme we kept feeling all weekend long: sunshine, light, a warm ease. It was right there between the walls, and I don’t think you can credit the new construction for that.    

We visited a nearby museum and went out for a Saturday-night dinner without kids. We drove around the neighborhood and saw the elementary school, some favorite spots, fun parks and even their old house. But the best part was the hours we spent hanging in their home – watching football on TV and playing UNO Flash while a toddler screamed and ran (sometimes just in circles) and called out “Joe!” every time he saw one of his new visitors.

I got to sit with a little person and read him books he carried over to me, and we all listened as one of the twins played some notes on her violin. (This is a new activity for her, so we definitely heard notes – not an actual song, which was so beautifully sweet.) 

It was a little odd to drive home, to go from a new life back to the old. It’s funny how Joe and I stay put in this life we’ve known for so very long, while some people who once lived here with us – who were an integral part of our existence – grew up and created their own life somewhere else, with new people who add so much joy and love to all our worlds. 

I guess the theme for 2023 has been change. At least for me. It isn’t what I chose, it just keeps happening, and I know it will continue. It’s the path we’re on. 

What’s wonderful is the change we keep witnessing is what’s supposed to happen. It’s how life goes on. It’s how families grow and happiness is shared. That was crystal clear in Matt’s house, where happiness lives. We’re so lucky we get to visit.

All of us at SJ Mag Media wish you and your family a warm & happy holiday season.

Read more “Wide Awake” by Marianne Aleardi

December 2023
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