There you are, just chugging along...life is working out despite some serious roadblocks. Your divorce, while unfortunate, happened and somehow you've managed to pick yourself and your kids up, dusted everything off and are making nice headway into your New Normal.
And then the holidays arrive. Your divorce-spidey-senses start tingling, sometime around Halloween. You make furtive glances towards the calendar, knowing in your heart that although it seems so far away, those biggies we call Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas will be here in the blink of an eye.
You get out that decree, which, if you're newly divorced is probably still smooth and stapled together (you should see mine now, lol. Highlighted, wrinkled and stained with blood, sweat and wine.) and you go over the holiday stipulations. Most of us divide up the holidays on an even/odd year structure. Sometimes, you and your ex are agreeable to changes and swap certain dates with a smile. Sometimes, you and your ex can barely speak to each other and cling to that schedule like Rose hung onto that freaking board in Titanic. Sometimes you even join forces with your ex and decide to toss that schedule into the wind and hold your own Big Happy Holiday, providing your children with a united front.
All of these situations are normal. All of these situations are okay. You must know this, right now: ALL OF THEM ARE OKAY. There is no absolute right or wrong when it comes to piecing together a family holiday post-split. What there is, is black and white and fifty-thousand shades of grey. And you need to do what is not only best for the kids, but what is healthiest for you. These two objectives are like big circles in a Venn Diagram. Sometimes they overlap so much they look like one and that's awesome. When they don't? Well, that's life.
If you are in the Big Happy Holiday camp, bravo! From the bottom of my heart, congratulations. What you're doing is remarkable and wonderful and will no doubt instill some lovely, warm memories into your children's brains. They will look back on these times and be grateful their parents were able to put differences aside and go all kumbaya.
For those of us who don't fall into that camp, and who couldn't even find the freaking campsite with Sacagawea and GPS, don't sweat it. What works for some people doesn't work for everyone. To quote all the cool kids, "You do you."
A lot of you are still in survival mode, and during the holiday season you have to kick it into high gear. The absolute worst part of this season will be letting go of the kids. Whether it's for one night or a week, most of us will be apart from our babies for a while. That first time is like nothing else. I can't really describe it accurately except to say that watching them drive away felt like my heart was a big ball of yarn and someone was slowly, deliberately unwinding it.
Waking up on Christmas morning to a silent house. No hot kid breath in your face imploring you to WAKE UP MOMMY SANTA WAS HERE, no little feet pounding down stairs and no squeals of joy when that lusted-for toy was discovered under the tree. For some of us, this is the stuff of nightmares. And guess what? It sucks. I could pussyfoot my way around this one for you, drape some garland over it and say oh honey it's not so bad but my friends...that shit hurts.
The good news is, you'll survive. The better news is, so will your kids.
And each year, it gets better. Does the hurt ever go away? For some, yes. For others, it doesn't disappear completely but it shrinks down to a manageable size. Some of us take time to reflect. Go back over the pages in our brains and press our hands over memories, remembering long ago moments and noises and faces. It's fine to do that. It's normal to look back. But what you really need to do, what is best for you is to also look around your now. Look at their faces, they've changed so much but you can still see those little kids inside them. Enjoy the moments you're given, and really let them sink in so when they're not with you, you can close your eyes and see them.
As for what to do with all of that quiet time? Girl. The options are endless. You go ahead and wallow that first year, and okay...maybe the second one, too. That's your God-given right and nobody can tell you otherwise. But eventually you'll tire of being the Divorced Christmas version of Miss Havisham and want something different. Here are a few ideas:
- Get the word out that you're going to be alone. You might be surprised at the invitations you receive. Whether it's from a friend inviting you to her big family shindig or a fellow single who needs some companionship, embrace the offers. They are symbols of love and caring.
- Eat something you love. If you're poor, this might be the perfect time to go big and buy a few crab legs. Try making a cheesecake and eat that sucker right out of the pan. Buy a bag of Red Vines, let them get a little stale (please god tell me I'm not the only one who prefers them that way) and chow down without having to hide them from the kids.
- Binge watch something on Netflix or Amazon. I always joke that I need a good blizzard in order to really get my binge-watch on, but my best watching times were when the kids were with Big Daddy. I've heard good things about the Aziz Ansari show on Netflix, and I'm currently sucked into The Wire on Amazon. Idris Elba has become the face of my body pillow.
- Move your ass. Go for a walk. I once took my dog for a walk on a lonely Thanksgiving. The smell of turkey dinner and intact families hung over my city like a fog and I walked through it like I owned it. It felt good and my dog-mom guilt was relieved for a day.
- Go see a movie. I have never mastered the whole "go alone" thing but I've heard it's not so bad. Theaters are open on the holidays, yo. Even if you just go and sink into a plush seat and don't cry for approximately two hours, it'll be worth it.
- Have you a lovah? (say that with your best Downton Abbey accent) If so, yay! Now is your chance to do something crazy, like go get a glass of water in the middle of the night completely naked or make out in the living room. Get ur freak on, friends. It's what Santa would want for you. No lovah? No problem. This would also be a great time to shop for a new shower massage.
- Do something nice for someone else. Babysit a dog, volunteer at a soup kitchen or shelter or surprise a sad neighbor with a basket of goodies. Nothing on this planet will chase away the woes like doing a good deed. Although pretending your body pillow is Idris Elba does a fine job, too.
Whatever you do, remember this: holidays come and go. Your kids will, too. One day there won't be a decree telling you who goes where and what days are yours. What you do with these dates now is entirely up to you. I encourage you to make the best of it, regardless of how crappy you feel or how mad you are or how much it hurts to see so much change. It may seem impossible, but you can make the holidays happy.
In closing, I'd like to invite you to watch this video. My dear friend and Listen To Your Mother director (producer? GAH) Galit Breen is part of the fabulous VProud network. They made this video featuring women JUST LIKE US talking about co-parenting during the holidays. Some good tips in there and also some funny.
With that, my dears, I will leave. But not before I give you a big hug and my most sincere wishes for a good holiday season. If it makes any of you feel better, I broke down yesterday and cried yet again, this time while driving around. And I've been at this for 9 years now. The good news is, I was fine when the floodgates finally closed and today my eyes hardly look puffy at all. Sometimes you just have to let it out.
Know that you are not alone in this. Always, always know that. You are not alone.