Last year during the holiday shopping madness I always fail to avoid, I found myself at Chef Central with my daughters, whipping out my charge card to pay for $150 worth of gifts they'd selected for their father, his longtime girlfriend, and her two children. A wine carafe, some stemware, cookie-cutters, a root-beer float maker, a few of those "reindeer poop" candy packages. It added up.
"Ouch," crossed my mind as I signed for the charge. How insane is this? I asked myself, thinking about the child-support my ex and I had negotiated a few years earlier (not without some argument) and about the extra expenses -- medical and educational -- that I keep close track of to make sure he pays his share. We get along fine now, but we do have residual issues surrounding finances, to put it politely. If he buys clothes for our girls on "his" weekend, I'd subtract my share from what he owed me for camp payments, etc. And now, what do I do with this expense? What category in my psyche do I file this under? Am I nuts? I even went on to finish that thought, I'm ashamed to admit: ...nuts to spend my hard-earned money on my ex and the woman he replaced me with? And her children? This at a time when I'm working hard as heck to try to keep a roof over the heads of my own children?
The thing is, I knew it wouldn't occur to my ex to plan ahead and take our daughters shopping for a gift for me; so even-steven was not going to be at play here. I felt myself sinking into a moment of awful pettiness. I imagined my girlfriends chastising me for spending on gifts for my ex and his new family while I'm a single working mother who'd suddenly found herself unemployed six months earlier.
Of course, I didn't express any of this or even allow any ungenerous feelings to show on my face at the register with our children. It's important to me that they learn that giving is -- maybe not better than receiving, come on -- but at least a rewarding experience they ought to have, especially this time of year, to balance all the "I want this; I want that" our society encourages. I found myself shrugging inwardly -- her kids are nice. I like them.
I enjoyed watching the girls wrap these gifts later at home and head out to their Hanukkah celebration with what I refer to as my new extended family. We are one big, happy, divided family after all. And we get along; she and I in particular. We sometimes sit and share a cup of tea or a glass of wine and catch up on new books or movies while kids are being dropped off or picked up. She's given me birthday gifts, and I her. If this were forced, or faux friendliness then I could maybe justify my petty feelings about springing for the holiday gifts. Maybe.
But this amicability is real to me -- to us -- and it benefits the children. So I corrected my course and didn't indulge further in that knee-jerk pettiness that tried to creep in last year and spoil my Christmas spirit. Last week, I took my younger daughter shopping and told her we're on a tighter budget, like everyone else in the country, but -- hey, look, would your dad like this sweater? I think it's his size.... No, Mom; that's dumb. Let's keep looking.