This is the last picture of my Christmas tree. I swear. But it was one of the few things that brought me joy during this holiday season. It also contains a pic of the Dirty Dawg, who didn’t abandon me this Christmas…whon, whon, waaah (can you hear Charlie Brown?). Since this would be my first Christmas alone in many years, I was on the fence whether or not to put up my beloved tree. Over the last 12 years, due to a non-traditional custody agreement, and the fact the houligans have long since aged out of any traditional custody arrangement, I have my kids all the time. Every holiday. Period. I’ve grown accustomed to it. Most Christmases we are together, either at home, or traveling, which I’ve mentioned in the past (Europe and Australia). There have been a few times we’ve ventured to our former hometown, where both my father and my kid’s dad reside, which has had its challenges. My dad has a less than stellar living arrangement, since my mother’s passing, in their home with his new-ish domestic partner-anyone see Fleabag?-which makes for a less than pleasurable time when I go to visit.
As for the kids, their dad has re-married. For lack of a better term, their Christmas Eve with that side of the family has turned into a glorified frat party. Lot’s of booze, questionable substances, and just general bad behavior. Not what I’d ever imagined for my kids on a holiday that remains deeply meaningful for me. I mean, how did we go from matching dresses, Christmas Eve Mass, and cozy new pjs to drunken brawls? And to be honest, lets suffice to say my situation with my dad isn’t a lot better. Last year, after a miscommunication about spending Christmas Eve with him and the DP, I ended up locked out of the house, sleeping in my clothes on my best friend’s couch. Being a displaced person on Christmas morning: Not my fave. The houligans situation at their dad’s house wasn’t any better. As we prepared to leave our little home town last year, the day after Christmas, promises were made never to return for the holidays. To say I was a little smug over this turn of events, would be an understatement. I had presented them on a silver platter so the other side of the family could enjoy a holiday with them and they f***ed it up, not me. I now had validation that I could have them all to myself forever and ever. Sick. I know. And, as it turned out: Not true. Wanna see how this played out…
This holiday season, my eldest defected to Europe with an extended group of friends. What the whaaa??? And despite many protestations to the contrary, the other 3 opted to go back for round two with the Dysfunctionals. This was one of those moments where I had to put on not one, but two pairs of big girl panties. I had to make my peace with not being with any of my children on Christmas. At my higher level of being, I truly want them to be able to go where they feel like they need to be on any given day. However, returning for Christmas with my dad was not an option this year. I just couldn’t do it. Even if it meant being separated from the kids, I had to listen to my gut that said ‘stay put.’ There was also a deep awareness on my part, that I cannot run proximal interference for my kids any more. I knew there would be trouble with their dad, and at their ages, this really doesn’t involve me. Aside from providing emotional support, when they ask for it, I’m a bit tapped out. Emotional boundary setting with my kids has long been a topic in response to unpleasant behavior, and it is their responsibility to enforce it. Not mine. P.S. They are Masters of Boundary Setting when it comes to me. lol.
Since these circumstances left me alone, or as ‘alone’ as I wanted to be, I had to spend time trying to figure out again, how to make Christmas meaningful when circumstances change. I had a quiet Christmas Eve, with two dear friends, was home early and woke to a quieter house than I would have liked. As the sorriness started to creep in, I decided to take charge of my day. Just as I was bemoaning the absence of the sour cream coffee cake that I couldn’t justify making only for myself, it slowly dawned on me, I COULD BAKE IT FOR ME. And I did! This small act encouraged me to address what other things were missing from my holiday routine, that I wanted to re-instate. With the smell of that delicious cake wafting through the morning air, I became centered and was able to refocus on the fact that despite divorce still sucking in a major way, I get to design how I want to experience the holidays.
I also need to be hyper aware that just as I yearn for Christmases past, I also need to be cognizant of the fact that things were not always perfect even when my family of origin, and my own nuclear family were intact. My mother was a notorious over-spender, and probably an undiagnosed manic-depressive. She created beautiful, over the top Christmases that I knew I would never be able to sustain once she was gone, while simultaneously putting my parents in debt for the first few months of the new year. This behavior created its own stress. And, as wonderful as my holidays were as a child, they were followed by Januarys where my mother’s depression reared its ugly head and stole her from us for weeks at a time. As for my marriage, I don’t miss my husband getting wasted on Christmas Eve and me wrapping presents until midnight, pissed off. Someone else gets to do that now! So, as I age, I need to figure out what will bring me happiness as I navigate ‘the most joyful time of the year.’ LOL. As my kids get older, I will have to accept that they won’t always be with me during the Christmas season, and I need to make the season meaningful for me.
Once I made a conscious effort to be in the moment, I realized we were all fine. December 25th was just a day. It also made me realize I have goals for myself and how I want to be living my life, whether my kids are at home, or not. I know I want to be back in a living situation where I can have the Christmas Eve open house I so miss. The Christmas brunch with our traditional coffee cake. The Christmas dinner with a beautiful table set that so reminds me of my mother. I’m beginning to understand that I can have all the things associated with Christmas that I have been missing, but that I have to make a concerted effort to make it happen. I also need to acknowledge that these traditions mean something to me, and that is reason enough to replicate them.
Today, as everyone re-enters their lives and goes back to school and work, I have time to pause and reflect upon what I liked about this past holiday season, and what I have control over to change in the future to stave off the feeling of being left in holiday no-man’s land. I will continue to put up my tree the day after Thanksgiving, I will continue to go to Christmas Eve Mass, solo or naught, and I will have friends over after church for hors d’oeuvres and a celebratory glass of pink champagne. I will make the sour cream coffee cake, even it is for one, like this year! Ultimately, I will have peace knowing I get to decide how this plays out. No holiday victim allowed.