Something cynical this way comes....

And I'm trying to keep her away!

Here we go again. 'Tis the season and all that jazz.

I used to LOVE the holidays. When Big Daddy and I were young parents, early homeowners, I met the holidays with ham hock arms wide open. I decorated our little crack den from top to bottom. We went to a tree farm and cut down our trees every year, fighting angels wrestling in the snow while Big Daddy swore under a tree wrestling with a hacksaw. We did the requisite Santa visits, videotaped all of it, even Molly seizing up in sheer terror when Mommy plopped her down on a big fat stranger's lap.

We would go to the late night service at church on Christmas Eve. I remember getting choked up and sometimes, crying as the already-beautiful hymns were enhanced by the dark, candle-lit sanctuary and the chorus of voices swelling around me.

We hosted Christmas. Oh, the fun we had, preparing the menu, going shopping for the honey baked ham and the pierogies and the pies, getting out our "good" china.

But my favorite part? Getting things set up under the tree on Christmas Eve, and the wondrous, glorious feeling the next morning when the kids would wake up at the ass crack of dawn and toddle down the stairs. I'll never forget the hot little faces next to mine, waking me up, telling me that "SANTA WAS HERE!!!!". Sitting on the floor in my pajamas, a cup of coffee and a big garbage bag at hand, watching my sweet babies enjoy their Christmas. I burned these memories into my head. Still remember Charlie holding Buzz Lightyear like a newborn baby, I can still see 1 year old Molly opening up her first baby doll (a girl she named Adam, and still has, by the way) and gasping with all the delight someone that age can muster. I remember ice skates and Barbies and books and bikes and chemistry sets all being unwrapped and loved and played with. I remember looking at my husband and smiling, and finally feeling like I was home.

Of course all of that ended.

Enter the cynical me. The first couple of Christmases, they were ok. Big Daddy was still playing nice, and letting me enjoy Christmas Eve. The first one? I fell asleep with the kids and woke with a start at about 4:30 a.m. on Christmas morning. I kind of wish someone had videotaped that scene...it was a classic "Welcome to Single Parenting" moment that I am finally able to laugh about. Never before has a Santa visit been so quickly staged.

But then things got icky. Big Daddy had unveiled his Dirty Little Secret-ary and she became the head of the household over there. The kids were confused, because "over there" Santa wrapped presents instead of leaving them out. "Over there" they had a fake tree and they put it up before Thanksgiving. We always wait until Molly's birthday has passed before we put up the tree "here". I never wanted her birthday to get lost in this insane holiday fog that encompasses the world from mid-October. And our tree? Always real. Always.

Gone were the hosting days. In the old days, our guest list consisted mainly of Big Daddy's family, and inviting them over to my Single Girl Soiree would have been slightly awkward.

And then the money stuff hit. Prior to becoming poor, I managed to fill some of the voids I felt, real and imagined, with presents. Charlie got a Mac one year, Molly had box after box from American Girl. We had the Xbox 360 Christmas and the Wii Christmas. I couldn't keep all of our traditions alive, but dammit, I could still spend money like I was married to a CEO.

Our first poor Christmas was actually so pathetic it was almost funny. First of all, there was the lice. Henry, William and I had been dealing with the scalp marauders for 3 weeks when Christmas popped up. Our sweet neighbors George and Katherine had invited us over, with one caveat: "Keep your buggy heads covered." We now refer to that year as "The Hat Christmas". At that point I had become desperate and had covered our heads with olive oil. And then wrapped said heads in plastic wrap. And then perched jaunty chapeaus on our plastic wrapped noggins before heading over to the neighbor's house.

I can still feel the olive oil slowly dripping down my neck.

I had managed to scrimp and save and buy a few goodies for the kids that year. They'd been warned, we'd had a family talk about our tight finances and the fact that Santa was most likely going to be a little less generous than in years past. And they survived. That was also the year that a "Secret" Santa had gifted us with bags of goodies, including a big old grocery store gift card and get this...NEW PILLOWS. Unless you've had lice, you have no idea how AWESOME new pillows can be.

The year after that? That was last year. And that wasn't so great. I hadn't gotten Molly a decent present for her birthday (which falls on the first week of December) so I had put together the remains of various gift cards and bought her an iPod. The other kids got a few presents, nothing awful...I made sure that they each had one thing they had asked for. But the tone was different. I knew, in my heart, that was going to be the last year we put our tree in front of that particular picture window. I knew that I'd never again hear the squeaky old wooden staircase in the morning as the kids would sneak up for their morning ambush attack. That was our last Christmas in our house. And as brave and strong and resilient as I pretended to be, part of me was dying.

And so I am starting to feel that blackness creep in again. But this time, I'm ready for it. I was without kids for Thanksgiving, and instead of sitting in a darkened room watching crime shows and drinking wine, I headed out. Out to my mom's house for an interesting meal (it still blows me away how fast a 44 year old woman can become a 12 year old girl again just by walking through a door) and then on to one of the most fun weekends ever. Two impromptu nights with very good, old friends, and then I hosted a hen party at my house on Saturday.

My house was filled to the rafters with cackling ladies, and it was good. At one point I looked around my house and was almost physically pushed back by the warmth and love I felt (or maybe it was that third margarita that pushed me back..whatever). The blackness was swept far away, under imaginary rugs and into pretend corners. I felt normal, and happy and good. Did I miss my kids? Damn straight I did. But instead of wrapping my loneliness around me like a shawl, I spread it out on my good old Ikea couch and got cozy with some of my best friends, old and new.

But now, late at night, after everyone has gone to sleep....I find myself alone with my old friend again. My old buddy, Cynic. I can feel it bubbling up now and then, like a tickling cough in the middle of a super quiet room. Watching commercials about what everyone wants and needs this Christmas, seeing actors assembled to make up perfect families...I watch and worry and fret. My mind goes to that dark cell, the one where I stew and stir up all the bad thoughts. How unfair I think it is that my kids are taken away from me on holidays, spending these precious moments of their childhood with a shallow homewrecker with whom they have no history, no shared love. How I miss my dad, and my stepmom, and my stepsister and stepbrother and all of their kids. How I miss the days of hosting.

So far I'm doing a decent job of kicking myself in the ass and getting away from that dark place as fast as I can. And I think I can keep it up. I have my hen posse to keep me occupied, my strong kids to keep me focused and that may be all I need. I know that mourning the loss of my children's childhoods, and the things that used to be, is natural and that I have to acknowledge it, but I'm not going to let it overshadow the good and the fun that this season has to offer.

In fact, I may go ahead and have one of my old-style Christmas Eve celebrations right here in our new house. Just for me and the kids. Honeybaked ham, pierogies, pie.

All dished up on the "good" china.

Happy Holiday season to my dear friends and readers. I wish you all the best. And if you want to come keep me company while I pretend to be fierce and strong? Please, do.


  1. Your words of wisdom helped get me going with a smile this morning.If you lived through donning a saran wrap scarf over a little olive oil,then finished it off with the requested hat for dinner, girl, you can make it through anything!
    a fellow Smartly writer -- I came over for more after the mice story ;-)

  2. Those hats were more than jaunty; they were straight out of Dr. Suess's books. :-) Hang in there, J. You're not alone.

  3. I feel the sort of the same way about x-mas b/c I don't celebrate it and therefore feel kind of left out of the fun. I totally get that lonely feeling on that day when everyone else is with family/friends and all the shit on t.v. is geared towards celebrating the day, etc. Just say the word and I'll come have Christmas dinner with you.

  4. I'm sure your kids appriciate everything & anything you give them, regardless of the pricetag. I think you should totally have your own christmas celebration on Christmas Eve with your kids. At our house we have a big-o feast on Christmas Eve, open our gift at midnight & just hang out on Christmas Day. Hang in there hon...hard times never last forever :)

  5. One thing Charlie and I have always done on Xmas Day is have the annual Bethke Misfit Xmas. We dont get together with family for Xmas until after Xmas, usually in January, so on Xmas day we always have whoever over that doesn't have any other plans, or anyone that wants a breather from relatives, LOL! Lots of folk dont have big plans for Christmas, you'd be surprised. No gift giving, etc. Just food and drink, games and sledding. Drunken sledding is a blast, by the way.
    Except this year; it actually worked out to have regular famly xmas on the 25th this year, which is nice, but I'll miss the misfits!
    Last Saturday night (and Friday!) was amazing.
    I met some awesome ladies! Wish I didn't have to hightail it out of there so soon! Well, since I got there at 530 and left at 1130, I suppose I had my share of brie and wine, LOL!
    Cackle cackle.


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