The first thing I did after my ex moved out six years ago was to buy a new bed. Not just any bed, but a massive Tempur-Pedic that cost nearly $4,000—money I most definitely did not have to spare.
Not the most responsible decision, perhaps, but I’d argue it was the best money I’ve ever spent. Sure, it was largely symbolic: I couldn’t bear sleeping in the same bed I’d shared with my ex, the site of so many vicious late-night fights and hollow early-morning apologies. But it was also somewhat practical. During the latter years of my marriage I had developed extreme stress-induced insomnia, and this fancy new bed—with space-age technology no less!—promised some respite.
Not only did I upgrade the bed itself, I also went from a queen to a king. Again, perhaps not altogether practical—who was going to sleep on the other half?—but along with ditching the marital mattress, I wanted to burn the bedding too, and this gave me the perfect excuse for a fresh start.
The kids were so little then, barely 5 and 2, when I sat them down one winter weekend and shared the news that would change their lives forever. They were far too young to understand what “Daddy isn’t going to live with us anymore” even meant. I knew nothing would ever be the same for them again, so I decided to embrace the new normal and create new traditions for the three of us.
I never imagined they would last as long as they have, but six years later, what started as overly enthusiastic, “we will have fun if it kills us,” whims are still going strong. Sunday Fun Day was one of the first inspirations. On random Sundays, I wake the kids up, bribe them to get ready quickly with the promise of doughnuts, then head off to a surprise destination. Along the way, high on sugar, they frantically try to guess where we’re going. Over the years, we’ve visited the zoo, picked apples and pumpkins, gone ice-skating and trampolining, made our way through all of the Smithsonian museums, seen lots of shows, and trekked up to Baltimore to the National Aquarium and the Maryland Science Center.
Matching Christmas Eve pajamas are another family custom, born that first year we decorated the tree without their dad. Early on, I got to choose the patterns and styles, but now they spend weeks poring over catalogs to find just the right set. I may cringe when they force me to wear red and green Star Wars-themed long johns, but I’ve saved every year’s pj’s to have made into quilts someday.
Their favorite of these new traditions by far is Sleepover Night, which started as an attempt to comfort my daughter when her dad didn’t show up one evening as planned. I let her cuddle in my bed, put on a movie and made popcorn, and called it a sleepover. We’ve followed pretty much the same routine nearly every weekend since. Once her little brother graduated from his crib, we let him in on the secret and invited him to join us.
Over the years, Sleepover Night has evolved a little, but not much. We had to kick my son out of the bed a few years ago due to his constant thrashing (he now sleeps on a chaise longue a few feet away). The movie selection veers more toward Marvel than Pixar, and we’ve gotten erratic with the popcorn-making. Sometimes we have to skip Sleepover Night due to other social engagements. Sometimes, due to snowstorms, illness or school holidays, it lasts an extra night or two.
The bed, thankfully long since paid for, is still an oasis. Mostly in a figurative sense, but when we had our floors redone last year, it was literally the only uncovered surface for two weeks. We named it “Bed Island,” and it served as a couch, table and general lounge area. When anyone in the house is unhappy, it’s my bed whose covers they crawl under.
Last night, the kids dug out their Star Wars holiday pajamas and insisted I wear mine too so we would all match for Sleepover Night. They are 11 and 8 now, and I can’t help but wonder how much longer they’ll want to spend their weekend nights eating popcorn and watching movies with their mom, let alone wearing matching sleepwear.
I asked them if they’ll still want to have sleepovers when they are teenagers. “Of course!” they shouted. “What about when you go to college?” I countered. “I’ll come home every weekend,” my daughter assured me. I smiled, knowing that everything will change again someday, but we’ll keep finding new traditions.
Then we piled onto the bed and clicked play.