I discovered the first grey in my hair on Christmas day – several grey hairs, actually. Grey is not easy to detect in blond, but there they were, unmistakably. They looked quite beautiful (if I may say so myself): My head of straw was given a quiet shine of distinction by just a dozen strategically located, individual hairs.

For all I know, they could have been there for many months. When was the last time I had had leisure to look at myself in the mirror, without having to rush off or while focused on brushing my teeth or putting on lipstick in a reasonably straight line (if at all)? But my theory is that those greys crept in over the last six or eight weeks, while I was stressed out over my recent move, from the beautiful side of Brooklyn Heights to the ugly, and from a charming old cottage to a large apartment complex. Or perhaps they grew overnight. Perhaps the night after I found out my daughter had broken her right wrist.

For on the Sunday afternoon of Thanksgiving weekend, that’s what she did. I wasn’t anywhere near the site of the accident. Instead, over Thanksgiving weekend I had hung some art. I have a really bad hammer in my toolbox, and it turned out that the walls in my apartment are very solid. So behind each picture, there are some pockmarks in the plaster, and pencil markings mar the freshly painted walls.

I never knew her wrist was broken — at least, not on that Sunday night when she called me from her father’s house to tell me that her wrist was a bit swollen after a fall she took while skating. Nor the next night, when she came home to me and I managed only a brief look at her arm, which, she said, was better. She only complained about it in school on Tuesday, landing us straight in NYU’s Orthopedic Emergency Room that afternoon.

And even though the break was clean and undramatic and never hurt her very much, it was somehow the last straw to make me feel like my life was coming completely undone.

Another worry. Another care. Another demand on my time – time to be taken off work, off finishing our move, off slowing down during the advent season, which I usually treasure. Mixed into that was a tremendous feeling of guilt for not having taken better care of my child. That part, I knew, was silly; she had sustained the kind of accident that just happens to any active, athletic (and sometimes daring) child, the kind that no parent can prevent, present or not.

I wondered how to ever climb back out of the huge hole of fear and doubt and guilt, the one I had dug for myself by doing what should be considered a positive rite of passage: Finally, at almost 47 years of age, buying a home, to make our lives — physically and financially —more stable. But somehow the whole process had turned into a nightmare, uncontrollable, unmanageable. And, so my theory goes, that’s when my first hairs turned grey.

Of course, everything happens for a reason. The grey on my head – I felt proud of it as soon as I noticed it. My daughter’s wrist was healing when I found that grey; her cast had already come off the day before Christmas. And during the month of December, while her right hand had looked a bit like the Big Bad Wolf’s paw, her injury had forced me to focus on her, in ways I had not done since she had started middle school earlier this fall. In the first days of wearing a cast, she had needed to dictate her homework to me. Suddenly, I revisited the multiplication of fractions, and I learned about hieroglyphs. There were no surprises in the subsequent parent-teacher conferences, since I had just started to understand my daughter’s learning habits myself.

Also because of her injury, we just had to learn to be still. Now I understood, or perhaps remembered, that things happen in their own time. I saw that my first statement from the mortgage bank, while showing the largest debt I have ever had in my life, also showed a tiny, tiny nibble out of the massive loan I committed to last summer; that the amaryllis bulb I bought in late November blossomed in perfect time for my birthday in mid-December; that my birthday weekend, about six weeks after we moved into the new apartment, was indeed the right moment to cook a simple beef stew for some very close friends – the ones who’d laugh at the fact that we still don’t have doorknobs.

A few nights before Christmas, I sat in the window seat built over the heater in my living room, watching the first snowstorm of the season unfold outside. There were whirly patterns of snow in the parking lot 11 stories below, and tiny hooded figures hurrying toward or away from the entrance of the subway station steps away from my building. As the snowfall thickened, it obscured first my distant view of the Chrysler Building and Empire State Building in Manhattan, then the bridges over the East River – Manhattan Bridge, then, finally, the Brooklyn Bridge that I have always loved so much.

As the snow drifted to the ground, another realization slowly sank in: that I would not have to shovel any of it; that there was a staff of people I helped pay to do just that; that there was no clan of mice anymore, sending advance scouts to check out my kitchen (especially my toaster), like there had been in my old cottage. No squirrels trying to make nests under my roof. No wood to carry, fires to light, ashes to discard, all in an almost daily effort to warm my home in the winter. No leaks in the roof, no clanking heaters. Perhaps this is the first time I have ever lived in a fully functioning, grown-up apartment. And there will be time to miss my roses and my tiny garden when spring rolls around.

So far, my daughter has spent most of the days of her holiday break sequestering herself in her room and listening to the audio recordings of the later Harry Potter novels, CDs I strategically stretched out over her advent calendar. As she does so, she sits on the floor, designing animal shapes out of Lego blocks, happily being a child just for one more season (at least as long as none of her peers are watching). When I prepared waffles for breakfast a couple of days ago, she watched me and, approvingly, said: “I see you finally got used to your new kitchen.” Which triggered a debate about chores and responsibilities and ended with a giggly chase through the apartment.

Her big gift to me this season: She showed me so clearly how she had gotten to feel at home in our new place at a time I didn’t. She gave me license not to have to worry about her. If she could be happy in the new apartment, I could learn to be, too.

My daughter has asked that we stay home on New Year’s Eve, that we go up on our roof in time for midnight and see where we can catch a good view on a firework or two, over Brooklyn’s Prospect Park or perhaps over Manhattan, depending on visibility.

While we are up there, I just want to step back from the views for a moment: from our lives, from my work, from my daughter’s homework and flute lessons and the boots she has just outgrown, from the tiny spot of moisture I recently detected on the bathroom ceiling.

There will be more grey hair in 2010. But there is no need to hasten it along; it will grow in its own time. (There will be doorknobs at some point, too, I am sure of it.) If I can just find those moments to be still and at home in between all the restlessness, it will be a good year. If I can just step back for a moment here and there and look at what we have accomplished, rather than look at everything still on the to-do-list. There is no need to leap; tiny steps will be enough.

(First of a series. Next, we’ll learn why the Krups ended up making the big move, and how it felt to pull apart and recreate home bit by bit. — Ed)

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