This past weekend my kids were with their dad and I started jotting things down I wanted to get them for Christmas. Immediately, I felt a void make its way into my heart, pushing any joy I’d have for the upcoming season aside.
Last year I went Christmas shopping alone and, honestly, I’m not sure I can handle it again. What used to be my most favorite date night of the year, and consisted of dinner out and shopping with my husband, then trying to sneak bags in while hearing our kids trot around upstairs, their anticipation keeping them awake, was replaced with a lonely afternoon.
My hands clutched various carts as I went in and out of different stores grabbing stocking stuffers and pajamas, books, and electronics as fast as I could, thinking, I want to get out of here, I can’t breathe.
I got a large hot cocoa with extra whipped cream to cheer my spirits and tried not to let the sight of families shopping together make me want to crawl out of skin. I ignored the fact that my family wouldn’t be spending all our time together playing out the same traditions we’ve had for over a decade.
Instead, I got in my car and cried the whole way home, my heart completely pierced. I felt sorry for myself, I felt sorry for my kids, I felt sorry for the cashier who was wearing a sweater adorned with Christmas lights that actually lit up because when he greeted me to check out, I couldn’t pull myself together. I watched him go from enjoying his festive mood to a person who felt like he couldn’t look at the woman behind the sunglasses for fear he might say the wrong thing.
“I hope you enjoy the rest of the season, Ma’am,” he said as he put my receipt in my bag and handed it to me.
I went home and ordered the rest of the gifts online, including some whoppers for myself, then stared at my Christmas tree. Funny, I don’t even remember what I bought — survival mode will do that to a person.
I’d brought home a fake white tree a few weeks prior as a symbol of new beginnings and traditions, but also because I couldn’t take my kids to a tree farm and cut one down like we used to with my ex. I needed fresh and different and hoped it would be healing for all of us to stop trying to relive every holiday tradition we used to do.
While I believe in that, and think it helps in the moving-on process, it was horrible too. Doing the same things post-divorce is a reminder to your family things have changed, but so is doing different things.
Nothing feels right or comfortable over holidays after your family has changed. You no longer live under one roof and your children are going back and forth. You try to hold on to the specialness of the season, but your grip is weak and you are afraid your kids will notice and you’ll somehow ruin it for them.
You try to create new traditions because you know it’s the only way to heal, and some things are better left in the past, but you still miss them so hard it makes you feel raw and vulnerable and like you don’t want to do this damn holiday shit at all.
When your kids, your flesh and blood, those little people who made you feel the holiday magic in a way you never have before, aren’t with you this time of year, the loneliness is excruciating. Even when you are surrounded by other family, friends or a lover, it’s just not the same — nothing compares to being with your kids.
When they are having fun with their dad and starting yet another set of new traditions, I’m so thankful and happy because even though their parents are divorced, they will always have that love from both of us no matter what time of year it is.
And yet, I’m also sad because I’m not there to witness it and absorb their joy.
I find myself wanting to overdo it this year with gifts and memories and good food and making all the crafts with them. I could tell you it’s not to compete with their father, or that I don’t hope they have a better time with me but the truth is, when you have less time with your kids, especially during the holidays, you want to give it your all to make up for the times you aren’t there with them.
I don’t know how to do the holidays as a divorced mom yet. I don’t know how to make it so we are all comfortable and I feel like I’m not breaking things that are already fine the way the are. I don’t know how to not try too hard and sit back and just let this time of year unfold as it may.
I’m pushing against the angst because the holidays have always been so precious to me. I hate being uncomfortable during this season, but I am. We all are. And the only thing I can do is get used to the discomfort and hope it will point us in the direction of finding some normalcy around this time of year again.
Our family may look different, and my ex and I maybe be in a peaceful place about our decision to part ways, but the holidays are such a reminder of what used to be and can make you feel like you were supposed to continue on in an unhappy marriage for those family moments you so desperately miss.
I’ve been told by other divorced moms the only thing you can do is start building, one moment at a time, your new way of celebrating the season and know with each year, it will get easier until finally, you are there.
So, we will make the cookies and do the crafts. I’ll hang extra lights and I will buy myself more gifts. I will keep building the new, waiting for the peace to come because I have to believe it will.