I like to call this time of year Family Season. It starts with Halloween and end with New Year’s Day. The big family holidays, when it pays to be a kid (or an adult that enjoys kid-like things). Dressing up, eating turkey, celebrating the gift giving, and then staying up until all hours waaaayyyy past your bedtime. It’s the time of celebrating kith and kin!
Yes, the Deja holidays are a little more Griswold than Rockwell, but they were ours! Home-made costumes were a mad-cap compilation of ideas, imagination, and poor sewing skills. Thanksgiving dinners were crazy experiments in timing and only once did it work out that the turkey and the rolls finished simultaneously. We never taped present openings or the pile of wrapping paper that grew like a mountain in the middle of the living room floor. Rather, we laughed at each other’s bed head and ate creme brulee french toast in our comfy pajamas. I’m not even sure if there has been a New Year’s Eve where we’ve all lasted until the stroke of midnight…
But divorce changes all of that.
No matter how I try to put a good face on things, the Family Season is difficult for me. First off, there’s Husband #1’s visitation to contend with. Throw in 3 family birthdays and a wedding anniversary spent apart from Husband #2, and it really starts to suck. And I just can’t seem to carve a turkey to save my life.
It would be nice if there were some magic formula to make everything better but that would truly take a Christmas Miracle. Son #1 is old enough to remember holidays spent together as a family with his dad and I know he misses that feeling of togetherness, even now, even 12 years after Divorce #1 was finalized.
As a kid, he wrote about his defining moment for his English class. Divorce #1 – immortalized on construction paper in an 8 year old’s printing. I saved his project, his child’s open heart working through the pain of his father leaving. It still breaks my heart to think about it but it is too precious to me to throw that faded paper away. Somehow getting presents at two houses doesn’t erase the hurt of a divided family. Go figure.
(I strongly recommend counseling or therapy for kids going through divorce. They are grieving a loss, too, and need help exploring the grown-up feelings they are wrestling with)
Husband #2’s departure is nearing the end of its second year. Yet another wedding anniversary came and went and it was our 9th. We didn’t speak to each other on our day, more my fault than his as I had plans with my friend. I’m not sure if my friend realized it was my anniversary (She probably did. She’s good with things like that.) but she took me out for a fun night on the town and it helped me to forget my separation for a while. No matter how strong I am, those closest to me see the soft creamy center inside the crispy outer crust.
Sometimes, when I’m baking a pie or a batch of cookies, Son #1 will come into the kitchen and say something nice to me. When he was younger, he used to call out, “Mom, you’re the bomb!” Now that he’s 20, his kudos are a little more focused. “Mom, you always take good care of us.” The others? They are still teens who alternate between surly and indifferent but every once in a while some love seeps out of the cracks in their façade.
In my heart I know there are only a few more Christmas’ where Son #1’s presence is guaranteed in this house. And then the next kid will leave… And then the last one will leave… Bam Bam Bam. Like falling dominoes. The three of them will do what I raised them to do – head out into the world and create their own families and their own memories and their own traditions.
That’s exactly what I want for them.
For now, I’ll smile bravely as we hand out candy, carve turkey, open presents and blow noisemakers without Husband #2 around. And the kids will share another Family Season with me before leaping into adulthood.
Divorce tries its best to suck the fun out of these special holidays because the brief time you have with your kids is now made even briefer by visitation schedules with someone who used to be a partner.
The only piece of advice I can offer is to find joy in the little things. Celebrate every day like it is a holiday. Those are the memories that will stay in your heart forever.