Here is my New Year's Rockin' Eve fantasy: A lipstick-red strapless dress (think Ava Gardner in One Touch of Venus) finished with a pair of Brian Atwood heels that make your legs look like the floor is the only thing that's stopping them from going on forever, a crystal flute of Veuve Clicquot, a little Auld Lang Syne, a lot of colored lights, and the man of your dreams (obviously, in this case, that would be my boyfriend—not Clive Owen, not Benicio Del Toro, not the green-eyed guy who sold me sunglasses at Barneys—and shame on you for dragging them into this) takes your face in his cool, confident hands and gives you the kind of kiss that makes the world fall away just as the clock strikes 12. Friends are giddy, caviar is glistening, the old year is ending, and the new year is whatever I say it is.
Here is the reality: Ava Gardner put on a housecoat the minute the director yelled "Cut," caviar makes my ankles swell, and New Year's Eve has never once lived up to its billing. I spent 18 years in a tiny studio apartment just a few short blocks from Times Square, and I'm here to tell you I saw things—ugly, hard-partying, throw-uppy things—that never made it onto any Dick Clark special. I mean, I like a disco ball and confetti as much as the next girl, but there's something about forced frivolity that feels so, well...forced. Then, a few years ago, I took a radical step: I quit. You heard me: I dropped out of New Year's Eve. I mailed my formal letter of resignation to Ryan Seacrest, explaining that the urge to go out and get crazy has been replaced by the urge to stay in and get sane (or a reasonable facsimile thereof). I said, "So long, sucker," and I never looked back.
Here's the routine I employed in the early days of my gala-free existence. I'd slip into something a little more comfortable (we're talking Detroit Red Wings jersey and tube socks). I'd cook a lovely meal and eat it at a table set so perfectly it would make Colin Cowie weep. I'd rent anything with Katharine Hepburn—The Philadelphia Story, Bringing Up Baby (hey, if Cary Grant happens to show up, so much the better)—and then—drumroll, please—I'd pick my worst set of drawers, my messiest closet, my highest mountain of old papers, and start chipping away at the chaos that had given me grief all year long. I was ruthless in my pursuit of clarity: dog-eared Crate & Barrel catalog from last spring, gone! Thomas Friedman article I meant to copy for everyone I'd ever met, out! The New Yorker with that incredible Art Spiegelman cover, bye-bye, baby—it was great fun, but it was just one of those things. My friends would wake up with hangovers while I would wake up with a clean closet and at least half a dozen bags of stuff for Goodwill. I felt calm, I felt virtuous, I felt really, really out of it.
Then one fine day, Johannes, that boyfriend I mentioned a few paragraphs back, became the father of my daughter, and suddenly the lovely meal I'd always prepare was replaced by a hot dog for Julia, fish sticks for Jonathan (boyfriend's son who doesn't eat meat), and finally, at that inevitable moment when Jules gets cranky and begins pelting Jonathan with his own fish sticks and Jonathan can't be in the vicinity of a nonvegetarian hot dog without making obnoxious gagging sounds, I'd go to plan B: macaroni and cheese for all. The Katharine Hepburn movie gave way to a Polly Pocket video, and the messes that used to drive me nuts stopped getting to me in quite the same way. I finally figured out that life is inherently messy and it takes a lot more than a New Year's Eve purge to bring it under control.
So now, whenever December 31 rolls around, I abdicate control. I invite two or three close friends to stop by if they're so inclined; and if they're not, Johannes and I like to devote at least a couple of hours to horrifying the children with our general dorkiness. Last year, just before midnight, we got ourselves and the kids all bundled up and headed to the roof to watch fireworks light up the East River. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that unlike the Fourth of July, we had the roof all to ourselves. It was around 12:03 when one of us remembered that there are no fireworks over the East River on New Year's Eve. I guess sometimes you just don't get fireworks. But every once in a while, you get something even better: We stood there, huddled together at the top of the world in our flannel pajamas, down jackets, mittens, and scarves, our breath coming out in soft puffs that mingled and hung in the night, laughing like idiots—thinking that for better or for worse, these are the good old days. So good, in fact, we may do the exact same thing again this year.