The Non-Anniversary.

A note to my 21-year-old self, on what would have been your 26th Anniversary.

I can still picture you sitting on blue carpet in your veil and flannel shirt. Sitting in your sister’s old bedroom, leaning against the bed. I remember your doubts that day. I remember how you dried your tears, squared your shoulders and marched down your parents steps to meet your soon-to-be husband. You’ll need that tenacity a lot in the coming years.

No one really told you how marriage worked. There are basic skills you were both lacking: the ability to communicate being a big one. You won’t figure this out for many years.

I hate to break it to you kid, but your marriage isn’t going to last. You pictured a house and kids, a labrador retriever and picket fence, and you get all that. The reality is not what you thought it would be. It’s a lot lonelier. It’s a lot harder. One day, you are going to decide doing it alone is easier than trying to make your marriage work in a way that makes you both happy. This knowledge will break your heart. This will be the hardest decision to make, and you will never quit feeling guilty about it.

Your children will literally be your lifeline and reason to wake up each day. Your love for them and need to provide for them will lead you into careers you would never picture for yourself. You will never have much, but you will have enough. You’ll never be able to give them what you had imagined for them, but you’ll keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. You really should have gone to college, but you’ll manage to fashion together a nice career out of moxie and hustle.

You will be humbled. Right now you are cocky and young and have one hell of an attitude. That attitude will help you, and hurt you. You will be your biggest champion and your worst enemy. You are a fighter, but you will learn to choose your battles. You will need to learn to ask for help. From friends and family. You will need to learn grace, and forgiveness. These will not be easy lessons.

You are going to have your heart broken. A lot. You will lose friends. You will lose family. You will lose a child you helped to raise. You will lose lovers. You will lose jobs. And you will survive.

You are going to meet so many wonderful people. You can’t even imagine. You are going to meet men and women that will change your life. Some of these people will only be around for a short while. Some of them you will know for years and years. You’ll have friends who become lovers, and lovers who become friends. You’ll have more female friends than you could have imagined and you will learn so much from them. They will teach you to be soft and open. You will love them harder and longer than any man, be thankful for that.

You are going to see and do so many things. You will travel and go to concerts and meet strangers and stay up too late. You will sing Carly Simon songs with Irish boys in a little bar in Ireland.

You will go running through Chicago in your bare feet, heels dangling from your fingertips so you can make it to the bar in time to watch the Blackhawks cinch the cup with your best friend. You can’t even imagine that now, but it will happen and it will be one of many great stories to tell someday. You will have so many great stories.

You’ll never love someone again like you loved the man you married and had your children with. You can’t even fathom right now how someday you’ll barely really know each other. But he will always have your back. He will turn out to be a great dad. He will be the best ex-husband a girl could ask for. He will also be a monumental ass before that happens and he will hurt you like no one else could. But you will both put all of that aside and raise your children together, but apart, in the best way you can. It’ll be ok.

Rest assured, you will fall in love again. You’ll fall in love a lot actually. But you will spend most of your time without a partner. Don’t be afraid of that. It was scary as fuck for a long time, but you will get past that. You’ll do more things by yourself than you can picture. You will be brave.

You will never have a silver anniversary. You will wonder if you will meet that one person to settle down with. There will be moments fear will grip your chest in the middle of the night. And you will continue, at times, to be lonely.

The most important thing 21-year-old me: you will have the best, most amazing children. You are going to do some things really poorly and it won’t be easy. You are going to miss some things you didn’t think you would. They are going to go through hard times, really hard times. And it will break your heart into tiny pieces when they hurt, every time they hurt.

They will be the best things you ever accomplish.

Happy non-anniversary to my first (and only) ex-husband. Happy non-anniversary 21 year old me.

 

 

Rivers and Roads.

The last month or so, I’ve had a bunch of stuff swimming around in my head, my heart. Thoughts of impermanence, loss, life, meaning, past, present, future. Relationships, job. Children. Friends. People you know, people who dig deep, and people who leave. Life is a trip. Literally.

I started my day today at an Estate Sale. Man, they bum me out. Walking through someones home while hordes of people pick through their things like crows in flesh suits. Picking up their things, putting them down or choosing them for themself. It’s vulgar, but necessary I suppose. I commented to my friend “this is so depressing”. “They probably aren’t dead” she said. “Maybe they just got put into a home.”

Indeed. Possibly they got sent somewhere to finish decomposing. Really that’s what aging is, we are just decomposing before we become dirt once again. Before our soul self, energy body, travels back to whence it came. Or not. We live out this life thing. We try to maximize our time. Make memories, collect talismans. Leave a smile on some faces. Minimize damage to others. In the end, we just . . we abdicate our space. Sometimes with purpose. But that’s another post.

Our next stop was a low rent thrift. Its the Salvation Army repository for things even Salvation Army can’t unload. It is, the crappiest of the crap.  Walking through, I’m simply taking in how much stuff was purchased, and then discarded.  Buy, discard. Buy, discard.  We just leave things behind. We move on. Things. People.

People. Awhile back, I met someone. The very first conversation he was quite up front in that he wasn’t interested in a relationship. Which was fine, I didn’t know, and still don’t know, what exactly I’m looking for myself. We ended up spending a considerable amount of time talking (like on the phone and everything) and in person and at some point he decided he wanted to be my boyfriend. Ok. I hadn’t had one of those in a long, long time. It was interesting. It was nice actually. For about 10 minutes it was positively lovely. I forgot what it was like to make yourself vulnerable to another person. And to be adored. To share yourself. To pour into someone.  There was a lot I didn’t share. A lot of ground we never covered. It takes a long time, and frankly a lot of effort, to unpack all your things, but we got fairly deep in a short amount of time. And almost as quickly the tell-tale signs of retreat started.  The words all sounded good, but his actions were pretty clear “I don’t want to do this thing, with you”. It ended with the “you’re great, no you’re great” parting of ways. Wrong time. Wrong person. Hard to say.  He’s just another chapter now. The artist.

As Christine and I were driving around today, we cut through my old neighborhood. That childhood stomping ground. Driving down side streets I don’t get down that often. It takes me aback sometimes, how clear some memories are. How I can go block by block and point out houses of friends. I can clearly see Rogers Market on the corner. Can recall how on a hot summer day the sidewalk would radiate heat, until you thought you might have to just crawl into the grass and sleep because you couldn’t go another step. But if you made it just a few more blocks, you could walk into Rodgers and stand inside the front door where the air-conditioning would blast you in the face until it felt like you had turned to ice. It was the best. Sometimes I would walk back out, just to feel the furnace of summer heat, and walk right back in.  Eventually one of the grocers would come over and ask me to just pick inside or outside.

Across the street was the park. In the summer-time you could get a free lunch and make art projects. The older kids/counselors smoked behind the pavilion or over at the ball diamond. Summer heat, field dust, cigarette smoke, bologna sandwiches. The smell of the plastic we would use to make 4-way lanyard keychains.

We made our way across town and on the way I shared some stories from years ago. Buying my first car at 18. Literally taking my two best girlfriends and test driving the car by throwing in a Metallica tape and smoking a bowl. Bringing it back a half hour later and handing over a $50 check to hold it while I got financing. The story of Steve and I getting engaged, in the least romantic way possible. Me causally saying over a Saturday morning hangover “you want to get married?” Steve: “Sure”.

One of my friends is getting ready to move away. She’s embarking on this big scary new life 8 hours West. I haven’t known her long, a few years.  We road trip more than we chit chat. She knows some of my darker secrets. I know some of her darker fears. She’s the second friend this year to leave the Hoosier state for new life moments. One moved east to marry her love. And now this. The natural evolution of life is that we meet new people, we make new friends, and we let go of others. Or at least the context changes.  I was talking with the wonder-twin the other night about this very thing. Once upon a time we would lay and chase cars. Our context has changed, I’m glad we didn’t let go. I’ll keep these friends, one east, one west and have two new places to visit. I’m lucky in that. My circle is small, but it is spread all over  . . . and pretty amazing.

The summer of the bad year, I took a trip down to Louisville to see Ben Nichols of Lucero play a solo show at Haymarket. A self described “dive” bourbon bar. The show was in a “back room” which was actually a second structure separated by an 8 foot outdoor area with a stairwell above it. The backroom was hot. Several hundred people crammed into a very hot rectangular box. I was able to get a spot stage left, about 6 feet from the man himself.  I drank a pbr some kid brought me because I didn’t want to leave my spot. After the show I took a seat at the bar rail to sample some of the famous bourbons in the area. As I sat there, Ben sat down next to me. RIGHT NEXT TO ME. This is it. I inched my arm over ever so slightly so it brushed his jean jacket. He asked me what I was drinking. I asked him the same. So many thoughts going through my head . . this is Ben. The man who sings the soundtrack to my LIFE. What do I say. I sat there. My arm barely touching his jacket. Finally in a very fast tumble of words in exactly the fangirl way I didn’t want to say it “thankyouforallofyourwordsyouwritethesoundtracktomylife”. To which he looks at me with that wry grin and says “they are the soundtrack to mine too”. And he clinks my glass and goes off to go greet more of his fans, as he does. I could say that was the end of my epic night … but I met two good ole boys from Southern Illinois who had no place to stay, so I invited their drunk asses back to my air bnb and we drank beer and ate pizza and swapped stories until the wee hours of the morning. I wasn’t robbed or murdered and nothing even slightly untoward happened. They didn’t even steal the tv.

So I bought a ticket to Forecastle, Louisvilles music-fest. Back to Louisville I go. I have a friend, possibly friends, going who already had accommodations set up, so I bought a one day pass and entrance to the Bourbon tent.

I’ll keep not buying things, and I’ll keep taking adventuress. I’ll keep making memories as long as my slowly decomposing meat suit lets me. I’ll keep opening myself up to new chapters. To new stories. To being that someone you used to know.  Or that someone you still know, it’s hard to say.

Life is a trip.  All is as it should be, but I miss your face like hell.

Rivers and Roads. 

A year from now we’ll all be gone
All our friends will move away
And they’re goin’ to better places
But our friends will be gone away

Nothin’ is as it has been
And I miss your face like hell
And I guess it’s just as well
But I miss your face like hell

It all starts and ends with a song.

This blog started with a song 4 years ago. And I’m going to post a song, that’s really all the headline has to do with this blog post. Well, except it’s true. From birth to death. Every moment is tied to a song. Every relationship. Lifes moments. Begin and end. Beginning to end.

I was trying to get some thoughts out tonight. I’ve been thinking about deliberate authenticity. The concept of saying what you mean, and MEANING what you say. A practice I’ve worked hard to employ the last few years, but one that I feel so many (myself included) shy away from. People too often say what they think you want to hear. Despite what you feel or see,  we listen to what we hear. We beg to hear the pretty words and platitudes and close our eyes to what we feel in our bones.

Actions speak louder than words.

I’ve been as open and vulnerable and authentic as I possibly can the last few years. I’ve had a lot of time to figure out who I am. I’m certainly not for everyone, I don’t pretend to be.   I often feel I’m too much, or not enough, for just about everyone. Sometimes I have a really hard time verbalizing, but if you get to know me, I’ll tell you honestly whatever is in my head  … if you take the time to let me.

I hope I never leave someone’s space with them wondering what was genuinely in my head or heart. Good or bad.

I don’t know why this song…,except it makes me weep. Her voice is beautiful and haunting. And this pretty much sums it up. “Come sail your ships around me, and burn your bridges down. We make a little history baby, every time you come around”.

Till next time.

 

Living.

There are things in life we have very little control over. When an illness strikes, depression takes over, mother nature rains down her wrath, a moronic cheeto gets voted into office, some things you just don’t have much of a say in.

At points over the  last few years  I was looking around at my life, and my choices, and my circumstances and I was really unhappy in some areas. I was spending way too much time being sad, angry, disappointed, frustrated, and downright masochistic with some of my life choices. There were things I could not change. But there were things I could.

I’ve spent most of my life assessing, evaluating, adapting, changing, growing. I was once told I have a Chameleon’s soul. I don’t think that’s it.  I think I find the best in the people I know. I learn from them, I grow. I take the good and the bad and I try and learn from all of my interactions.

I can look at myself 5 -10 years ago and shake my damn head. I still had a lot of learning to do. And I’ll probably say the same in another decade, assuming I’m still here to talk about it.

As an exercise for myself, I have been writing down some things I know. Things I know for me. And maybe some of these things apply for you too. What I do know more than anything, is we don’t have a lot of time. So, make the most of it.

Let go:

For real, you have to learn to let go.

Let go of relationships (friendships, lovers, partners, etc) that you have outgrown. It’s ok. It happens. As a society we seem to feel like we have to make time for everyone and everything. We don’t. Sometimes people come into our life for a particular reason or time. You don’t have to hang on to it forever. Be grateful for it. And let it go when it’s time. Reason, season, lifetime. Figure out the difference. It’s hard to let go when things quit working. We are trained from an early age to “work things out”. Great. Work hard. Give all you can. Give 1500%.  You simply have to define when enough is enough.  Don’t be afraid. When I left my spouse 15 years ago I thought “no one will ever know me like he does. No one will ever love me like he does”. I was wrong. I met new people along my path that indeed, learned to know me, and love me deeply. When they were over I would cry and think, “that will never happen again”. But it does. They might come along infrequently and the time in-between can be hollowing and lonely, but that is when you learn about you. When the next one comes along you are even more loveable and learnable than you ever thought you could be.

Let go of your job:

You really can. You will say you can’t, that people depend on you. They don’t. You can leave. You ARE replaceable. Check your ego and go find something that brings you joy. You can find something else that fits you better. Maybe you can’t RIGHT NOW. But at some point you can. And you should. Leap. Take chances. We all have to make a living. But if you loathe what you do, are you living? Can you change your lifestyle so that you can enjoy what you do? You probably can.

Prioritize your time:

Quit accepting obligations because you feel like you should. Lunch dates, coffee, drinks, nights out with people you don’t enjoy. It’s ok to say no. It’s ok to put your kid, your partner, yourself, your job or whatever you want ahead of other things. Your time is YOURS to prioritize. For years so many things in my life came before ME. My partner, my job, my kids . .and not always in that order. I didn’t take time to rest, or exercise, or do  much of anything that was self-care.  In retrospect, I’d have spent less time working and keeping the house clean and more time cuddled on the couch with my kids. Which would have been the best self care.

Kids.

I’m going to allow myself a little bit of grace because well, nobody knows what they are doing and I had zero clue how to be a good parent and even less idea how to be a good single parent and manage life stress, financial stress, work stress and three kid stress. But damn, if I could go back in time, I would have given a lot less fucks about making sure the house was clean. I realize it was a reaction to needing control over my life that felt so out of my control. But seriously you guys. Let the house be a freaking mess and just sit with your kids and listen to all of their stories. They will grow up and move way and they won’t cuddle on your lap anymore. And it happens really freaking fast. I feel really old saying that, but it’s true. You will never get those minutes, days, years, decades back to re-do. Give yourself good time-outs. But damn, stay in that game and make it number one.

Spend the money and travel:

Take yourself out of town. An hour away, to another country; or preferably both. I do not have “means. I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had generous friends who have offered me places to stay, or bought me groupons or traveled with me. These kindnesses  have allowed me some opportunities I would not have had otherwise. I’ve also learned some really thrifty tips and ways to travel. If you don’t mind sleeping in someone’s rented bedroom and having someone else rent the couch and sit around casually in their underwear you can stay in a top notch part of town for $50. And you end up with great stories to tell your friends.  Be unafraid to go and do and explore. Take yourself to concerts and museums and zoos and events in new unexplored cities all by your lonesome. You will learn so much more about yourself and the world and you can do it really cheaply. I promise you.

 

Stop being afraid:

This was the hardest lesson to learn. Be unafraid. Unafraid to love, to feel. To have emotions. Unafraid to lose. I still struggle with this the most. It’s hard to not be wary. But sometime in the last few years I realized, there was no point in being so afraid. It didn’t prevent bad things from happening, but being afraid did dampen the happy. A lot.

So much of our life is tied to fear. It manifests in opportunities not taken. In obsessive behavior. You see it in your jealousy of a co-worker, or jealousy in a relationship. Insecurity, control, manipulation.   It’s all fear. Fear of losing something we hold dear. A person, a job, ourselves. The kicker is: it is ALL up for losing.

In the blink of an eye everything you hold dear can be lost. You have almost no control over that. It’s life. Your partner might quit loving you. Your boss might find you are no longer the best man for the job. Your best friend might develop cancer and die. We lose children and loved ones and parents and pets and jobs and houses and LIVES. You can not control it. So let go. Quit trying to hold on, quit being afraid of what you might lose.

And if one of those or one of the other millions of terrible things happens: you will probably survive it.

Or you might not. You might lose it all and end up the muttering person in the box under the bridge. You might. I don’t know.

But most likely you will find a way through the mire and you will go on. You will carry what you lost with you, it will be molded into the new fabric of who you are.

Set your fear down. It is the most freeing thing you can do. And if you start to feel anxious, or scared or insecure or jealous of someone or something just remember: It’s just fear talking.

Seek joy:

I’ve always been happiest by the simplest things. Watching my kids sleep. Their laughter. Their voice on the line. Their little perfect feet. Even when they got to be adult feet I could still picture their perfect toddler toes in my hand. A perfectly smooth rock. The flower growing out of the sidewalk. Walking into a bar with a fantastic juke box. My small circle of friends. The way the light can get all rose gold on a perfect sunrise. Or purple gold on a good sunset. Sharing a bottle of 2.89 wine with my best friend. The last scene of a great movie. Riding along in a truck under the strong arm of a smart man listening to the miles pass and just being still. Joy can come in a lot of small ways. Pay attention. The world looks a lot less ugly, even now, when you can find small things each day that make you smile.

Do it. You really don’t have forever:

Take the class. Write the story. Go back to school. Say you are sorry. Forgive. Forget. Move on. Reach out. Get involved. Get some sleep. Whatever is on your list. Do it. The clock is ticking. One day you will wake up looking at a birthday at the end side of your 40’s and realize: I have a lot of pages left to write. I better make them interesting. I don’t have time to waste weeks or months or years fighting the wrong battles.

Let go. Be brave. Seek joy.

How to be obnoxious, when you aren’t even trying.

I was talking with a friend today, about my early blog postings. Stuff that’s floating around on a blog somewhere that I’ve lost track of. My posts from a few years ago I cringe at. I was so sure after Chris and I split that I had everything figured out. I learned what I need to learn. Blah blah blah. I was so enlightened. Had my shit so together. If I’ve learned anything. It’s that you never quit learning so don’t get too high and mighty about lifes lessons.

Tomorrow marks the last day of my last long term viable relationship. Not that I haven’t fallen in love. Learned wonderful things from wonderful people since… but that was the last time I thought my life path was directed toward a certain trajectory with some length to it. We were together for a bit over 5 years. I did learn so much from Chris. I learned a lot of my faults. I learned about my weak points. I learned about my strengths. I learned I was capable of a lot more than anyone ever asked of me. I learned to love from a distance. I learned about trust . . and what breaks it. I learned how handy I could be. I learned how to fix things and build things and run a chain saw. I learned how to be softer. I learned how to say what I mean, and mean what I say and how to expect that from someone else. Sorta. I learned what it meant to love someone elses children. I learned to let him love mine. I never learned how to let him parent mine . . and I don’t apologize for that. I learned that I’m awfully independent and that how that can shut people out. I learned how to let my boys be boys. He tried to show me a better way to mom my daughter, but it took me awhile to get it. And I learned that I needed to be alone.

The best thing Chris ever did for me was let me go. Sometimes people need to hurt you in that way. I think often about all of the life experiences I’ve had in the last 5 years that I wouldn’t have had if we were still living the life we did. I would not have the friends I have. I would probably not have the job I do. I would have had someone to lean on through some really hard times, but I learned how to get through those times crawling into bed alone night after night after night. I wouldn’t have learned how to lay claim to my personal time. To make time for me, and for my kids. I wouldn’t have taken so many trips, explored so many places. I wouldn’t be the person I am today. And I really like that person.

11 months after we split I recall we had a four hour conversation before the holidays and he said “I made a huge mistake”. And I recall that moment so clearly. I was standing in the kitchen, in front of the microwave with tears streaming down my face and I said “Babe. No you didn’t. i know the kids hurt. I know we still hurt. But we are both so much happier.” He knew that to be true.

Two years ago, on the eve of Caseys death anniversary (and come to pass, the eve of my mothers death), he told me he didn’t want to hear from me anymore. Our cordial friendship that we had maintained was no longer conducive to the life he was trying to lead. It hurt. I was pretty angry. Not only for the fact that he had effectively abandoned my children but that he took that five years and tossed it out as inconsequential to his current life. But there is nothing else you can do when someone needs that break. I sent an email that was probably part kind and probably less so. And let it go. There is no point in holding on to someone who feels  they need to be released of your acquaintance. I’m thankful for the friends I still hold dear, who I loved once. But I also am ok with the ones who have disappeared into the ether. Make space.

We made some  fantastic memories. With our kids. On our no kid weekends. Our road trips and adventures. Pushing each other to be the best people we could be, for as long as it lasted. I will forever and always hope that he is happy and healthy and smiling. I’m thankful for him loving me. For thinking I was a fucking rock star  and teaching me to smile and nursing me back to emotional health when I was a far more broken human being.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to learn more lessons.  Live more life. Love new people.

I’ll trade that any day for a 25th anniversary plate.

2016. Thank you.

I wanted to wait until 2016 was officially behind me before I said anything, no need to tempt fate.  2016. You were a good year.

If you’ve been following along at all, my years start out like this “last year was hard, but I’ve learned a lot, I feel better prepared for what life throws at me” and then life goes AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA, I’LL SHOW YOU”.

January. Man. 5 days into January in 2012. Chris decided we were through. And we were, it was such a good call. But ending a 5 year relationship and watching how much that hurt our kids was devastating. He was my best friend. That shit was hard.

18 Days into 2013 we lost Casey. A few weeks into 2014 and we found out mom had pancreatic cancer and the odds were not great. 18 days into 2015 we lost mom, (on Casey’s death date no less), 2015 continued to kick at me as well. I also fell down a really dark hole of depression that lasted most of 2015. I’ve written about most of this before.

So 2016. 2016 started with a fantastic New Years seeing Skrillix and Purity ring with some of the baddest bitches I know. We partied it up for Christine’s birthday, had good luck foods at JoBeths. It was an epic and stellar weekend. A month later I left for Ireland with my good friend Carrie and we spent a week exploring and traveling and drinking WAY too much beer with the locals (thanks Joel!). Weeks later I interviewed for a job at a company I had been wanting to work for, for several years. A week after that I put together a wedding for my Son and his bride with literally, a week’s notice. Immediately after that I got hired for the job at Big. All this before my birthday!

2016 continued to roll out nicely. Some trips to chicago. Taylors graduation from college after 5 hard years. Taylor landed HER dream job.

Chase and Jo moved to California. And I was fortunate enough to have a job that let me take time off to drive my son across the country on a trip I will never forget. Both for the time I had with him and for the fact that somehow I thought we could make a 36 hour trip in 36 hours with 2 cats, a snake and a Kia Rio in the mountains. (lessons) My son is living in the state he always wanted to live in. He’s with a beautiful, driven woman who loves him deeply. I am proud of those two.

Almost to the end of the year, on their 7 year anniversary Taylor and Eddie got engaged. 5 years of that was spent doing the long distance relationship thing while they both went to school. I am so proud of them for making it to here. Eddie has been a part of our family for so many years, but in 2018 they will make it official. ❤

I learned how to be alone as fuck in 2016. But happy alone. Not seeking. Not really dating. Just being really happy with great friends and great kids and my gym membership and my new job. It felt really good. And the sky didn’t fall. And no one died. (except every single one of the icons of my youth and you know, PRINCE  . . . .)

I continue to meet cool and interesting people who wander through my life. Some stick around, some wander off. It was a good year.

 

Happy Holidays.

In the last two weeks I had road trips with the same co-worker and he loves Christmas. He loves holiday music. Which lead me to ask “what do you love about christmas”. And I swear to you his eyes sparkled and he lit up and told me. And he asked why I didn’t love Christmas. And I wasn’t really sure.

There are certainly things about the season I enjoy.

I love decorating the tree with my kids. Even when they would fight and argue and I’d want to strangle all of them. It’s the one time I play holiday music. They take their required photos in front of the tree. They hang their ornaments. We talk about the handmade ornaments they made in school. We place the lucky spider on top of the tree. No one can remember exactly whose lucky spider it is, or what culture the tradition is from, but up it goes. I like that part.

Inevitably the tree falls over in the middle of the night and I get up in the morning and cry and clean up the mess and redecorate the whole mother fucker again. It’s tradition.

Back when my kids were little, I loved Christmas. I loved going out and buying their little kid presents. I loved buying their stocking stuffers and staying up late wrapping all their things. Steve and I would exchange our gifts on Christmas eve and drink champagne (we thought we were so grown up) and wrap the kids gifts together.  The kids would wake up early, bound into our room and we’d all go down and start Christmas together. I’d bake cinnamon rolls and the kids would open their gifts and spend the next few hours playing with them. I’m SURE it wasn’t as peaceful as it sounds now, many years down the road. But that’s how I remember it.

It was Christmas time when I first broached the idea of separating with Steve. I remember going out alone that year to get the tree. Struggling to get it into the stand. My dad stopped by and bore witness to the unbearable tension in our house. That is the only year I remember exactly what Steve got me for Christmas.  I can still see the stockings laid out in the big comfy chair. The kids on the stairs in the morning. Harrison just barely over a year, his sister helping him down the stairs in the morning. My heart breaking. My husband defeated. Happy Holidays.

Christmas as a single parent, is hard. All of those family traditions: the Festival of Trees, the botanical gardens, gingerbread festival. Those get pricey with 4 of you. Buying presents and stocking stuffers gets pricey. And I’m a conservative holiday person. Its just hard. Christmas meant spending the next 3 months catching up on whatever bills you didn’t pay in Dec. so you could afford the holiday season. Ho ho ho.

Early on in our split, Steve graciously let me have the kids Christmas Eve night and Christmas Morning. I couldn’t bear the thought of not having my babies at home. For years the three of them would sleep in the same bed on Christmas Eve. This was a HUGE treat for the boys to be able to be in their sisters room. My favorite memories are listening to them squibble and squabble as they tried to fit in one bed as they got older. Giggling. Arguing. And finally the final goodnights. I’d go downstairs, pour a glass of wine, and go about wrapping their presents and stuffing their stockings and making sure all was ready for Christmas morning.

Eventually, I had a long term relationship, and on our second christmas, we did the blended family Christmas. By this time, the kids and I had been doing our own thing for 5 Christmas seasons. Some of the blending went well. They tolerated The Festival of Trees. The lighting of Santa. They also tried to rename the tree. Our tree is Carl. Every year. Every year we go to the tree lot and we pick our tree and we name him Carl. The end. It’s tradition. We also have our way of putting ornaments on the tree. Each of my kids has their own ornaments. And then we have the “family” ornaments. You can see how this goes sideways quick with two exuberant little boys. We survived, but I do think my kids were slightly scarred. The next year Chris had his own place and  he and his boys started their own traditions. We still shared Festival of Trees. But that was about where the blending of our holidays ended. Chris and his kids always joked about the Smiths and our traditions. I can see now we might have been a bit rigid . . .

I’m sitting here tonight, on my 4th solo holiday season since Chris and I split. My 14th all together. I hung the lights on the house today. I’m getting ready to pull the decorations out of the basement. Tomorrow Taylor and Harry and I will decorate the house. In another week or so Carl the 12th (we think) will be procured. T and H will help me decorate it. This year is different. Chase and Jo won’t be home for Christmas. Taylor is going to spend her first Christmas eve with her future husband instead of in my house. And as much as these two things make me sad, they make me happy. My kids are now starting their own holiday traditions. My job is to make sure Christmas stays special for Harrison. That we start our own new holiday tradition, he and I.

And someday, maybe I’ll have a new holiday tradition. Maybe I’ll fly around and visit my kids. Or maybe I’ll spend a week on a beach somewhere. Or maybe I’ll meet someone who takes my breath away and we will form our own traditions. It’s hard to say.

I just wish the holiday came with a lot less expectation. I’ve always tried to manage those expectations, but it always leaves me feeling a little sad. Sad my kids bounce from house to house. Sad, that by 2 pm on Christmas it’s just me in my underwear drinking beer and watching football. (ok actually, I kind of like that part).

I hope that now that my children are becoming adults, they find the traditions that make them happy. That they chose to spend the time in a way that isn’t stressful. Maybe that means choosing to not come home during an expensive and stressful time of year. Who knows how this will look in another few years, for all of us.

But what I do know: my favorite part of the season has always been the traditions me and my kids developed. The four of us. And no matter how our lives twist and turn, we hold the memories of those traditions, and I fully anticipate some of them they will carry on to their families. And some they won’t. And so it goes.