It is 8:30 am on Christmas morning. There was a day seven years ago that I never would've imagined I could confront with joy the silence that surrounds me, the emptiness under the tree, and the absence of my two most precious gifts, my young daughters.
It is Christmas for hundreds of my friends, posting photos of merriment on Facebook. It is Christmas for my closest girlfriends, who have included me in a group text message, and my phone is erupting with their back and forth warm wishes for the day. But it is not Christmas for me. Not yet.
If you are a divorced parent, then you can really understand what I'm saying. As much as I wish my girls could be here with me every Christmas morning, the truth is, I have only every other December 25th with them, so I have to accept that instead of 18 "Christmas" mornings with my girls until they go off to college, I will have 9.
Seven years ago this reality nearly crushed me. Our first Christmas apart, I watched them leave me. Elizabeth gripped in her father's arms, Madeline's little hand encompassed by her Daddy's larger one. They were not in tears, but as soon as I closed my door, I was. They came rushing, crashing out. I cried like I did when I was a child, heaving and then a slow hiccuping when my eyes had no tears left.
That Christmas Eve I drove down to the bar and a dear friend of mine, who happened to be the bartender (It's a small town), took a glance at my face and poured me a series of shots. It wasn't the best way to deal with my despair, but at the time it was the only way. Drunk and oblivious, he called a cab. I stumbled through my front door with a pristine snow swirling all around, an evening that in all my childhood dreams had never transpired in this way, and passed out on the couch. I woke up with a pounding headache, nauseous, and the tears spilled again.
I cried because there were not tiny feet coming down the steps. I cried because my husband was not my husband and I was alone. I cried because my heart was broken. I cried because I was lost and I didn't know who I was anymore. And lastly, I cried because I was ashamed that I had gotten drunk on Christmas Eve.
Although subsequent years were not as hard (thank you to my sister, Amanda especially for spending these holidays with me so I wouldn't repeat my shameful previous performance), they were certainly not easy emotionally. And they were not easy financially either. I needed a second job to be able to survive the cost of the holidays. For the first three years I taught summer school. The following two years I got seasonal jobs, working in the mall one year at a jewelry store and another year bartending. I worked only when my daughters were with their father and was able to save enough money to make Christmas happen. Every year I felt sick as November approached. I knew we were entering the holiday season and emotionally and financially this was painful.
This has been the first year that I've looked forward to Christmas since 2006, when my second daughter was born. A combination of factors has changed my misery to merriment. A big part of it was having cancer. Something about thinking you could die changes a person. Another part of it is having an amazing man in my life, who is tremendously kind, generous, understanding (not to mention how much he likes to clean! What more could a girl ask for?). He and his three children and my girls have become a blended family of seven. There are difficult, crazy, chaotic days, but I feel that I am learning a new way to live.
So I am sitting here on Christmas morning with the wind blowing hard through the two story tall pine trees, watching CNN, cupping a mug of steaming coffee, looking forward to early afternoon when my girls come home, looking forward to the evening when Brock's children come home and when Brock finishes his work day. Then, my new family, patched lovingly together from our previous defeats, will celebrate our Christmas eve. It may be a day later on the calendar, but not in our hearts.
For all divorced parents who will celebrate your Christmases, Thanksgivings, Halloweens and Easters apart, I hope you come to see the holiday is in your heart and it's not the date that matters, but the day you create with the ones you love.
Peace and blessings.