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.