Christmas 2012 will be the seventh Christmas I've spent as a divorced mom. Normally, this time of year sends me into a psychotic, eating-drinking downward spiral. My usual reaction to hearing Christmas tunes and seeing all of the commercials on TV with perfect families opening perfect presents is to mentally curl up in the fetal position and hide until December 26th.
But no more. Not this year, not ever again.
I'm taking Christmas back.
As I look back on the past six Christmases, I am filled with a sloppy mixture of grief, joy, regret and a weepy nostalgia. They were all so different, and yet... so alike.
There was the Big Money First Post-Divorce Christmas of 2006. Our divorce was finalized on December 6th and around that same time, my ex introduced our four kids to the woman who had helped take down our marriage. I was devastated and a bit insane. The alimony and child support had just kicked in and I spared no expense for the kids. We not only had a lovely Frasier Fir in the living room, we had one in the family room as well. Just because. I had my neighbor/photographer take pictures of the kids and I for a Christmas card and composed a "Hear Me Roar" Christmas letter announcing the new lightness and happiness we were experiencing in our home. he boys had a new Wii and a new Xbox, and my daughter had pretty much every single thing available on the American Girl website. I thought that having a mountain of gifts under the tree would help ease their pain, at least for a little while.
There was the Pauper Christmas of 2010. The year I finally lost my house after the child support and alimony abruptly stopped when my ex abruptly quit paying them. Our first Christmas in the rental house. The only way we had a tree and some presents under it was due to the absolute kindness of some lovely "strangers". A man I had never met, and have never seen since, dropped off a bag of gifts on Christmas Eve, all wrapped and labeled with my kid's names. I cried as I placed them under the tree we got from a Christmas shop set up by the local food shelf.
Our Christmases have been varied, that's for sure, but all of them have had one thing in common: I faced each one with a sick knot in my stomach. I was haunted not only by the ghosts of Christmases past, but also by the ghouls called "What Could Have Been" and "What Should Have Been". I lived in the past and dreaded the present.
I'm a slow learner, folks. It's taken me this long to realize that it's not Christmas I hate. I hate how I react to it. Whether I want to admit it or not, my piss-poor attitude towards the holiday and all it encompasses has done some damage to my kids, and has definitely damaged me.
I have let my bad feelings leach the goodness out of the season, and in turn infect it with moroseness and gloom. I've allowed my circumstances to dictate the feel of Christmas, to orchestrate every moment of it. I started feeling it again, a few weeks ago, when I turned the corner at Target and saw their Christmas section, all cluttered and festive and red and green. That old familiar knot started forming, just below my heart. I think I may have actually uttered, "I hate Christmas" to myself.
But then, something happened. I can't pinpoint exactly what, or when it hit me, but it did. And hard.
My kids are getting older by the second. In a few years, they'll be grown -- off on their own adventures, living their own lives. Do I want their memories of Christmas to be of a sad-faced mom, crying into her coffee as they open their gifts? Or do I want them to remember their mom embracing the season, grabbing it up in a big bear hug and telling melancholy to step off?
I think they want the latter. So do I.
So I'm taking it back. I'm not only going to survive this Christmas, I'm going to love it. Love it hard, like I used to back before the divorce, like I did when life was seemingly perfect. Because you know what? It's still perfect. It's changed, that's for sure. But it's perfect in its own way.
I'm still broke, and there still won't be a ton of gifts. There won't be laptops or cars with bows on them. I had to wait until mid-month to start shopping, because my first paycheck had already gone to my landlord, my gas tank and school lunches. But I got out the decorations, I'm playing Christmas music and we're going to make cookies in the shapes of snowmen and trees and Santa.
The biggest, bestest gift I'm giving my kids is the gift of a happy mom. A mom who will no longer cringe when someone says Merry Christmas. A mom who may not be able to get them the coolest things but can definitely give them something priceless: love. Love, and a lesson.
Life can be hard. It can be awful and mean and it can hurt. But you can't let it scar you so badly that things which are beautiful and simple and meant to be enjoyed become dark and painful. I want to show my kids that life is good. Even when it feels like it's not.
You know what's funny? I started out writing a very different blog post: a divorced mom's guide to surviving the holidays. Here's the kicker: I couldn't write it. I couldn't write it because, honestly, I don't know how to survive the holidays. I only know how to endure them.
Maybe next year I'll be able to write a post about the holidays... but not only about surviving them. About enjoying them.