December 30, 2012

A New Year’s Tale: Maddie & the Man with Two Faces. ~ Kathy Kottaras

“Tell me the story about New Year’s Eve,”my five-year old daughter demands from the back seat.

“What do you mean, honey?”

“Tell me the story,” Maddie says. “Like about pilgrims. Or like Santa Claus. Or like George Washington or, like, whatever,” she says in her best pseudo-teenage-wannabe inflection. “Like, what happened, you know?”

I fumble. “Well, I don’t think there is a story.”Usually I can come up with something pretty quickly, but beyond perhaps extolling the virtues of Pope Gregory XIII, I’m stumped. “It’s just a day when the numbers change. It’s 2012 now. When we wake up on Tuesday, it will be 2013.”

“But what’s the story?”

“I guess, it’s to celebrate the day when everyone runs to the store to buy new calendars,” I offer.

This placates her and she redirects her attention to a passing train outside our car window, but I’m rather disappointed by my own lack of creativity.

Her request for a narrative about this next holiday ignites a desire in me—for a character, a plot, a resolution—and one that won’t involve getting on the treadmill or eating less cake.

I start thinking about what it is that we do celebrate on this day—beyond Auld Lang Syne and champagne glasses—at its core, why do we spend a night staying up way past our bedtimes to watch digital clocks as they mark an arbitrary shift in time?

Of course, that night, I head to the internet to search for a story. I read about calendars—solar and lunar, the Mayans and Julius Caesar; I read about leap year errors and the numbering of years.

And then, my search takes me to Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and endings, gates and doorways, for which our month January is named.

He was worshipped at beginnings, planting, births, marriages, and to honor transitions, including the simple but often complicated process of a child’s growing up. Janus looks to the future and to the past, and thus he bears two faces, one to see the future, one to remember the past. Thus, he represents change. Thus, he represents life.

And so the next day, I tell my daughter this story, a story of New Year’s Eve:

“Once upon a time, there was a land where everything was the same, all the time, every day. There was no morning, no night. There were no clocks. The sun shone all day long. The sun shone, even at night.”

“Did they sleep?” Maddie interrupts.

 “No one slept, no one woke up, and everyone spent all of their minutes, all of their hours, all of their days doing the same three things: eating, working, and then eating again.”

“Then what happened?”

 “Well, one little girl—“

“What was her name?”

 “Little Maddie, of course.”

“Oh! Well, what else?”

“Well, Little Maddie decided to start walking. She walked away from this land where nothing ever changed, where day was night and night was day and nothing moved and everything stayed the same. She walked for days and hours and minutes, though she could not count them, away from the land, searching for something else. She did not know why she needed to walk, but something inside her moved her toward the horizon, toward something different, something beautiful.”

 “What did she find?” My Maddie asks again. “Did she get there?”

 “Yes,” I say. “Yes, she did. She found a locked gate. And next to the gate, a little brown house.”

 “Who was inside?” My Maddie’s eyes are wide and eager. And she let me continue…

On the little brown house was a very big door with a very small porthole. Maddie knocked three times, and the small door of the porthole opened to the face of a man peeking through. He was bearded and old and just a little bit wrinkled.

“What do you want?” he snarled.

“’I’d like to pass through the gate, please,’ Maddie said.

“Why would you want to do that?” he asked.

“I’m looking for something,” Maddie replied.

“What could you possibly be looking for?” he grumbled.

“Something different,” she said.

“Why”? he demanded.

“I simply want something new,” she said.

He said not a word but slammed the small door of the porthole closed.

Maddie waited a few minutes, and then knocked again. She hadn’t walked all this way for nothing.

The small porthole opened to the face of a man, this one different: he was young and soft and he blinked very slowly.

Maddie was startled at first, of course, for she was not used to anything changing, but this new face excited her all the more, for she knew what she was looking for was beyond that locked gate.

“What do you want?” this man whispered.

“I’d like to pass through the gate, please,” she said.

“Why would you want to do that?”

“I’m looking for something,” Maddie replied.

“What are you searching for?”

“Something different,” she said.


“I simply want something new,” she repeated, for her desire was a simple as that.

He said not a word but shut the small door of the porthole closed.

Maddie waited a few minutes, and then knocked again. She hadn’t walked all this way for nothing.

This time, the very big door opened all the way. A whole man stood there, body and all, but his head bore two faces—the old on one side, the new on the other.

Maddie jumped back; she had never seen anything like this before. All of the people in her land only had one face—this man before her was monstrous.

“Are you frightened?” he asked. “Are you frightened of my faces?”

Maddie looked at the man in his four eyes and then she looked at the locked gate. She thought for a moment.

“No,” she replied. “I am not frightened of anything. I simply want to pass through the gate to see what is there.”

He nodded with his two faces and took a key from a pocket. He walked to the gate and opened the lock.

And Maddie walked through to the other side, where she found leaves falling from trees, clouds dancing through the sky, and the sun setting low in the horizon.

After that day, days turned to nights and nights turned back into day. That evening marked the first new year, the first of many where we began traveling around the sun, spinning and spinning with great delight. And each time we return to that open gate, we stay up late and celebrate that first girl who stepped into a new world, that first girl who invented time.

My Maddie is listening intently now.

“I liked that,” she states.

“Well, thank you.”

“But wait—I have one more question.”


“Will I, like, get to stay up late that night?”

“Yes,” I say. “Yes, you will.”

“Well, that’s totally cool,” she replies.

Yes, I guess it is.


Kathy Kottaras is originally from Chicago, but now lives in southern California where she spends sunny January mornings playing with her compost bin. She also teaches yoga and writing, cooks dandelions for dinner twice each week and wishes she had a puggle as a pet. Visit her website to find out more.





Ed: Bryonie Wise

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(Source: spamula.net via Cheryl Carey on Pinterest)



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