Last Christmas the tree didn’t come down until February. At the time Kyle and I were nesting (we switched in and out of the marital home while the kids always stayed there) and I knew all of our ornaments would never be together again, so I was in no rush. When I finally decided to undecorate, the kids and I sat on the living room floor and we decided which ornaments should be packed to go to my new house and which would stay with Kyle. The moment was poignant and highlighted how much their little lives were changing with the dissolution of our marriage. They were matter-of-fact about the process, though, not giving up how they felt.
Yesterday the kids and I hurriedly put the ornaments on the pre-lit tree that now dominates my new, tiny living space in the townhouse we rent. I normally would wait until after Thanksgiving because I dislike rushing Christmas, but they will be with their dad this coming weekend. This is my first holiday season in this home. “Where is that one ornament from grandma?” my daughter asked. “I bet it’s at Dad’s,” my son answered. Even holiday decorations have custody rules.
When I was a kid, holidays were simple. We always spent time with my dad’s parents, because my mom’s family lived out of state and eventually had almost all passed away. My aunt and uncle and their children came, too, for the same reason – there were no other gatherings to attend. No one was divorced yet, though that would come later.
Now holidays schedules require near-military-strength planning and precision. My kids are with me half the day on Thanksgiving, my sister and her husband may or may not have his daughters that day, my brother’s stepdaughter may spend half the day with her father and they’ll all go to his wife’s family’s celebration at some point, another brother will be with his girlfriend’s family the first part of the day. My dad gets frustrated at how complicated it’s all become when he remembers the ease of our holidays back in the ’80s.
This year I’ll be alone Thanksgiving morning, a disorienting thing. Tonight I will make my assigned side dish and maybe even a dessert, though one wasn’t designated to me, just to fill my time. In the morning I’ll clean and maybe do some work because – why not? Then Kyle will deliver the children to my house and we’ll all go to my sister’s. I’m fighting with her at the moment because she’s judging the choices I make as a divorced mom and I couldn’t stay silent about it anymore, which should make my presence at her home awkward, though I hope for the kids’ sake we can keep it civil. We have practice ignoring each other, I’m sure we’ll be fine.
On Christmas Eve I’ll have the kids the first half of the day, then Kyle gets to spend the night with them and be there when they wake up in the morning. For the first time in their lives, I won’t witness their joy at discovering what Santa brought.
I can barely handle this.
The rest of my extended family will be with their immediate families, hugging and opening gifts, and I’m not sure what I’ll do. Maybe I’ll go to my grandparents’ house, or sleep until 2pm so I can be ignorant of what I’m missing.
Last year my holiday season was colored by divorce proceedings and I felt so much relief at no longer living with Kyle I didn’t have the time or energy to feel sad about the new holiday arrangements. The kids spent Christmas morning with me while Kyle was away. Now that parenting time and fractured holiday schedules are a reality and not a new test, I’m feeling the loneliness more fiercely – both from being separated from my children on days I should be with them and from being uncoupled.
I don’t miss Kyle – I don’t have nostalgia for the way things used to be when we were married. But I miss the feeling of being with someone. To me, that’s what the holidays are about – togetherness with those you care about. Better Homes and Gardens didn’t address this possibility for emptiness in their Thanksgiving issue full of recipes and smiling faces. This year, some of my holiday time will be spent alone and I’m not prepared.
Black and white photo used under creative commons license from Mark Surman.