Christmas 2011 was the first one that my ex husband and I celebrated separately. We still lived in the same house but not together; that fall we had begun dividing household and parenting responsibilities. Even though we didn’t talk much in general at that point, the holidays were relatively simple to sort out. We did what we had always done, just not together. He and the kids went to his parents’ house Christmas Eve (I worked). On Christmas morning we all gathered in the living room and the kids opened the presents we had each gotten them (They made out like little bandits that year!). Then I took the kids to my parents’ for the rest of the day. I think he went to work that evening and life just went on. It was almost as if nothing had changed. Heck, it may have actually been less stressful than a couple of the previous Christmases.
2012 went about the same except that we didn’t live together anymore. He brought the kids to my house Christmas morning, went to church with us, stayed for presents and went about his day. That was the last time we spent Christmas morning together. A few months later I filed for divorce, shortly after that things got pretty ugly between us. Even so, the next couple holiday seasons followed our established pattern: Christmas Eve with him, Christmas day with me. That was our thing, our tradition. The holiday rhythm and routine revolved around it.
This year, though, everything was different.
It’s the second year under our “permanent” parenting time order that directs us to rotate holidays on an every other year basis. Last year just happened to follow what we had always been doing. This year not only would I not have the kids on Christmas day but I also ended up having to work a good portion of my “holiday break” time with them. Last year we kept our parenting time weekends the same over break which worked well and maximized the time each of us actually had with the kids. This year my ex was not open to that. He did not care to be flexible because it only benefited me…that’s exactly the reason he gave. It didn’t surprise me but I was definitely disappointed. And frustrated. And, to be honest, a little angry.
Not having my kids Christmas day seemed to throw everything off. Although it wasn’t the only cause, it aided in my family not being able to settle on one time for our Christmas celebration. We ended up with three different gatherings. Even though all my siblings were in the same state (which maybe happens once every two years) there was no time we were all together. It created a lack of the usual family cohesiveness. The stomach flu that worked it’s way from family group to family group didn’t exactly help that cause either. Every day from December 20th to the 27th (when most the out of town siblings were leaving) someone was vomiting. It hit us Saturday through Monday, the last few days of break days that the kids were with me.
My kids went to their dad’s early in the day Monday, I won’t see them again until next Monday. A solid week. As soon as they left I missed them. Heck, I missed them while they were still here. How is that even possible? While we were trying to fit everything in and find a new balance to our holiday traditions (my kids love traditions) the brevity of our time together hung over us like a dark cloud hovering on the horizon. I’m not sure if the kids felt it but I sure did. I do know they felt the impact of the differences in the holidays this year. They started commenting about it back in November, worrying that they would miss seeing the cousins on their dad’s side on Christmas Eve and commenting sadly that they would be missing the big family stuff at my house on Christmas day. We didn’t get to all our usual traditions. No sugar cookies got made. My six year old kept asking when we were going to make the “gingerbread men” cookies. I didn’t have an answer. There was no big dinner with my kids’ million aunts, uncles, and cousins. Just one quick brunch on Christmas Eve that we had to be the first to leave to get to mass on time. Christmas morning came with a very limited time for enjoying new toys due to the 10am holiday transition. Everything felt rushed. Everything was different.
That’s the thing about divorce. It’s there all the time but around the holidays feels especially acute: Everything is different. Everything. Some things are better, but many things are harder. Sadder. They feel a tiny bit broken even when they’re good. Happiness slightly tinged. Maybe it’s different for couples (or former couples?) who have a more amicable divorce and subsequently a better more functional co-parenting relationship. Right now I can’t really say. I have no idea what that’s like. But every family is a little, probably a lot, different in every way after divorce. Every kid is massively effected by divorce and I’m sure nothing feels the same for them after that. Their entire world view is changed. My kids’ collective experience of childhood is completely different from anything I can relate to. That’s especially difficult for me, not being able to fully understand what the people most important to me in the entire universe are going through. It’s always there but the holidays this year brought it into such sharp focus. I’m not really sure how to fix that, what I can do to make it better. That’s also difficult for me. I’m a fixer. I solve problems. But this problem, there’s no solution. No ideal answer.
Everything was different, it always is, I did my best to keep the important things the same though. To create the feelings of stability and security that traditions give us. And that’s it. That’s all you can do, try your hardest. Give it your best effort. Make the important people a priority. Choose based on that.