Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Very Single Parent Christmas

So, my kids will be spending Christmas with their dad - and, by definition, not with me - this year. For the past few weeks I've gotten used to people asking me (usually in hushed, careful tones), "How are you doing?"

Usually, it is a sincere and well-meaning question from people who care. And maybe they're curious, too, about what it's like to be a single parent without one's kids on Christmas - that Familiest of Family days, that day when everyone who's anyone is gathered before the yule log, cups of hot cocoa in hand, regaling each other with family stories from all the years gone by together. As Family. Who have stuck together. (And the kids all have rosy cheeks and eyes as sparkly as Christmas lights to boot.)

The holidays present a dilemma for single parents/co-parents that is perhaps unequaled at any other time of year. Not only are we facing the usual scheduling challenges, but there's the added (if unspoken) demand to Stay Cheerful ( <:-D !!!!!) - if not for the sake of tradition then for the sake of the kids who, if we stop and think about it, are the ones who are potentially having the hardest time dealing with the whole two-household situation. By the way, I realize not every single parent situation involves two households, but it's the scenario closest to mine, so I'll just go with it. Bottom line: Divorce it tough. The holidays can be tough (divorced or not). Divorce + Holidays = Potential difficulty for parents, kids, extended family and friends alike.

Two years ago, when it was my ex-husband's "turn" to have the kids for Christmas, the divorce was still a fresh wound (for me and definitely for the kids). If someone had asked me then (they probably did and I've just blocked it out) how I was doing, I no doubt would have gritted my teeth, told them I was fine and then waited until I was alone in my house to burst into bitter tears and pound the mattress with my fists. It was really, really awful. Also, I had a hard time not making it all about me, which was compounded by the fact that my ex and I both had a hard time extending even a little bit of grace and kindness to each other at that point. When he came to pick up the kids for their week-long stay that year, I held it together and forced that smile until they were out the door. Then I promptly collapsed on the couch and dissolved into a puddle of weepy slobber - not my best look. Fortunately, a couple of the people who love me most in the world were right there, sitting on either side of me, rubbing my back, holding me up and generally dealing with my meltdown.

Because it was CHRIStmas, you know? I mean, how can a mother not have her babies with her on CHRIStmas?? How can she live through not seeing their eyes sparkle like Christmas lights when they wake up and see the presents under the tree? How can she not be there to hover and coo and adore them as everyone is standing before the yule log, cups of cocoa in hand?

I'll tell you how. Because it's just a day.

I repeat: It's just a day.

Now, before you accuse me of being a Grinch or a Scrooge or, at the very least, a Very Negative Person Indeed, let me firmly state for the record that I love Christmas.

I repeat: I love Christmas.

Did my family of origin look like we had just walked out of a Norman Rockwell painting on Christmas Days when I was growing up? Hardly. We had our own set of issues and tensions like any family, and the holidays often served as a thrift store pressure cooker to really heat up all the dysfunction until the lid was blown off and all the goo ended up spattered all over the kitchen ceiling (metaphorically speaking). Did the kids' dad and I do a little better during Christmases with our kids when we were together? Maybe, but we're human beings, too, not robots. And we definitely had our issues.

Still, I love Christmas. I love the decorations. I love the get-togethers and school plays, both small and grand. I even love the tinny Christmas songs eking out from every big box store speaker starting the day after Halloween. I love looking outside on snowy evenings and seeing the neighbors' Christmas lights. I love logging onto Facebook and seeing what my family and friends are doing and baking, and how they are celebrating Christmas and Hannukah. And I love how, this year, I bought our live, re-plantable tree on sale at an awesome price (also in October) - because I get to kill two birds with one stone that way (which gets me Scottish Lassie blood a boilin'): We get to have a Christmas tree AND an addition to the landscaping out front! I love how the kids helped decorate the house at the beginning of December, mugs of Starbucks Salted Caramel hot chocolate in their hands. I love how we took turns reading Dickens' A Christmas Carol on the Nook (Mom's early Christmas gift to herself, thankyouverymuch). And I love how we've tried to keep the cat from eating the greenery so she wouldn't turn around and yark it up in one of our shoes. I love the new set of songs I've downloaded from iTunes to add to my Holiday library (it's Buble' all the way this year, because he has a voice just made for the holidays).

Truly, there is a lot to love. And I am richly blessed. Have I missed my kids this past week, and will I miss them tomorrow on Christmas morning? You bet. But unlike two years ago, this year I am not filled with fear and grief at the prospect of Christmas morning. Instead, I am filled with an overwhelming sense of love, gratitude and peace. I've been carrying those three gifts around throughout the holiday season despite the imperfections I can so easily find in myself and others. I've been carrying them despite the inconveniences and tragedies of life. And that, my friends, is what the holidays are really about. Not the yule log. Not some idea of familial perfection. Not even the salted caramel cocoa (though I admit it's a real contender).

For those single parents spending your first Christmas or Hannukah or (Insert important holiday here) away from your babies (I don't care how old they are - they're your babies) and wondering how you will get through it, I am here to tell you that you will get through it. And from here it can get better, so much better than you can maybe imagine right now. And regardless of where your kids are spending their holiday or how much distance separates you, my wish is that you will find the gifts of love, gratitude and peace wrapped and waiting for you in the morning.

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