Growing up, Christmas was always celebrated BIG at my house. My little brother and I would wake up Christmas morning to the wonderful sounds and smells of mom cooking and dad frantically wrapping and placing last minute gifts around our over-loaded Christmas tree.
My younger brother, PJ, and I always kept to our pact….”first one up wakes the other one up”, which always meant while it was still dark out. We were very close and always watched out for each other. As mom would say “we live out in the country and you two only have each other, so you better learn to work out your differences or you are going to be playing alone.” And we always did. He was my best friend growing up.
Once we snuck into each other’s bedrooms on Christmas morning, we would run out to the kitchen together, and were greeted with hugs and given cinnamon rolls to hold us over until the rest of our family arrived. Our anticipation built to explosive levels as our noses were pressed against the front windows, awaiting signs of our grandparent’s huge brown station wagon to arrive, followed by our aunt and uncle.
Experiencing this tradition with my own children was always a dream of mine. Ted did not share my dream. Each year we would attend Ted’s family Christmas Eve celebration, with family traditions set so deeply in stone, even the addition of children to our families did not keep the festivities from lasting until 1-2 am(much to my groaning and pleading to end a little earlier) We would rarely make it on Christmas to my parent’s house before late morning. As the years went on, we arrived later and later.
When Grant and Kristy were very young, my parents retired and moved out of state, primarily due to the stress of Ted pushing them out of our lives as much as possible. A part of me will never forgive myself for allowing this to happen. By the time they moved, we barely attended holiday celebrations with my family.
One stipulation put into the divorce decree when Ted and I divorced was that every Christmas Eve will be his parenting time, and every Christmas Day will be mine.
When I fell (stupidly) for abuser #2, I was thrilled to learn Christmas morning was a huge family event at his parent’s home. My children FINALLY got to experience the mounds of presents and happy atmosphere early on Christmas morning, but it wasn’t the feeling I had when growing up. We had to tread lightly never knowing when the warden would have an outburst.
It was only a week before what was to be my third Christmas with him, when I could no longer take the abuse and living in constant fear. I constructed an elaborate plan and got the warden (named for his treatment of me and my children, not his occupation) out of our lives.
That Christmas it was just Grant, Kristy, and I, alone for the first time, and I had very little money. I was only able to get them a few small gifts. I still remember how my heart broke as I looked at how few gifts were under the tree. I had a lump in my throat fighting back tears as they hugged and held each small gift as if it were made of gold.
We talked a lot that morning. It was our first really good conversation since Ted and I split up. They were happy about the split from the warden, and as it turned out, they only enjoyed Christmas at the warden’s because of his mom, whose personality ALONE (literally) warmed their home.
The mounds of gifts meant nothing to Grant and Kristy compared to the freedom we all felt with the warden out of our lives. They assured me many times they didn’t need the “stuff”, they only needed me. Our relationship before this was stormy to put it lightly. It was at that moment two years ago, when our healing truly began.