Christmas Past

Over a year ago I planned to write this post. Of course, at that time in my life I was working 2 jobs, going in at 2 and 3 in the morning, and was, in general, exhausted. It never got written. I’m going to give it a go again this year, although to be honest, it’s not coming out the way I wanted it to.

Holidays can be hard. When you’re going through the breakup of your marriage and the dissolution of your life as you knew it it can feel like you are alone and no one knows how you feel. The pictures of happy families out doing fun family things can be overwhelming and like a knife in the heart. You may be feeling like all of your past holidays were lies, or like you’ve wasted years of your life. You may be thinking that the only real families are those with two parents and your children can no longer celebrate the holidays properly because they live in a broken home. You may be thinking that you will never be happy again.

If this is your first holiday post split I know it can feel like life is spiraling out of control and nothing will ever be the same again. I know it probably feels like everything is changing and all your traditions are falling by the wayside. Do you want to know a secret? Life is always changing. It doesn’t change just because of a divorce.

I saw this comment on Chump Lady some time ago and it has resonated with me.

Last year I was mourning the LOSS OF EVERYTHING during the holidays when I happened to find an old Christmas photo from my childhood.  My grandparents were in the picture, as well as a dear family friend.  I was about 12, and everyone was laughing and having a good time.  It suddenly struck me that most of the people in the picture were gone now.  That’s when I realized that the structure of our families change over the course of our lives whether we want them to or not.  We can’t stop it.  So the structure of my family changed suddenly and rapidly, but it was inevitable, even if there wasn’t a divorce.

When I read that comment I had a huge WOW! moment. What she says is absolutely true. How we celebrated Christmas 20, 30, or even 40 years ago is probably not the same way we celebrate now.

I think back to Christmases when my parents were still married. My grandparents (on my dad’s side) would come over, carting laundry baskets of presents. My great grandmother (Grandpa’s mom) and great grandfather (Grandma’s dad) were there. My aunt celebrated with us as well.

On Christmas Eve we would have a big dinner and it seemed like we had to wait forever before we could finally open presents. I would get to open one before dinner and then before the real present opening began my grandpa would always give us the lecture on how we were very fortunate and many kids didn’t get as much as we did.

On Christmas Day after seeing what Santa had left us we would go over to my grandparents’ house for lunch and spend the entire day.

I remember my grandma’s little church and the choir boys made out of candles. I remember the bubble lights on her Christmas tree and the circus lights. She had a set of lights that were circus trains that each contained a different animal.

Things changed after my parent’s divorce. Definitely. For years we would celebrate Christmas with my dad and his parents a week or two before the actual holiday, until I was old enough to drive and then I would drive myself and my two brothers down on Christmas Day.

Eventually my great grandparents both went into a nursing home. My grandma stopped decorating and instead put all of the gifts around the ceramic tree that my mother had made and given her for Christmas years and years ago. And then finally there came the day that she just started writing checks.

I look at pictures of those long ago holidays and everything about that has changed. Yes, the divorce played a huge part in it, but the truth of the matter is things would have changed anyway. My great grandparents and all of my grandparents are gone now. The house I grew up and where we celebrated on Christmas Eve has long been sold. The house I went to on Christmas Day stayed in the family another 30+ years, but now even it is gone. My father is suffering from some form of dementia. I have one brother that I rarely talk to and the brother that I do talk to was only one when our parents separated, so he wasn’t a part of the celebration for very long.

I recall when I started buying gifts for my stepdad’s stepson’s girls. Got that? They were younger and I hadn’t bought toys in years and years. The year was 1990 something. Early. 1991, maybe, or 1992. We hadn’t had young kids at Christmas in years. It was so much fun shopping in the toy aisle once again.

Then the baby boom began. My step sister had a baby in 1993. My brother had one in 1995. I got married in 1994 and Jezebel had already had her first child in 1993, as well, and another in 1996. 1997 brought 3 new babies into the family, although one of them wasn’t born until New Year’s Eve. Rock Star came along in 2000, followed by another nephew in 2001 and then Picasso in 2002. Little kids reigned at Christmas time. And now we are once again back to no little kids celebrating Christmas. That didn’t change because of divorce. It changed because life’s always changing. Kids grow up.

I think my favorite Christmas video ever was in 1995. I had been married a year. Christmas was being held at my house that year. I decorated for the first time since getting married. I ordered all kinds of goodies and treats. I cooked up a storm. I was finished with Christmas shopping by Thanksgiving. I have tons of video from that year. My Mamaw was there. There is video of my brother dancing with his baby daughter, who is now a beautiful young woman who graduates from nursing school this spring and will probably be getting engaged soon. My dog, Taz, was wearing his little Christmas hat, and my cat, Mashburn, was wearing his cute little collar with Christmas ornaments on it. CF was upstairs the entire time, suffering from cluster headaches.

Everything about that day has changed. Some due to divorce, and some due to life. My Mamaw is no longer with us. Taz and Mashburn are long gone. As I said, that sweet little baby is about to graduate from college. I haven’t spent a Christmas with that particular brother in over five years at this point. Maybe longer. We sold that house and moved to Michigan not even a month later.

Our children grow up. They have families of their own. They opt to spend holidays with their in-laws or just with their spouse and children.

One day you’re out scouring every Toys R Us and Target for a Dora the Explorer Talking Dollhouse (and every other store you can think of that might have one!) and the next day you’re buying Better Than Sex mascara to put in their stocking. The day after that your kid tells you she won’t be home at all for Christmas because she’s spending it with her in-laws. I think I may have solved that crisis by telling my child that as long as she wakes up at my house on Christmas Day Santa will always come visit her. She really likes when Santa visits.

Honestly, we didn’t have many traditions in our family. It was always changing because we were always moving, especially in the beginning. Our very first Christmas happened a mere two weeks after our wedding. We had no tree. We lived in his two bedroom apartment. We spent Christmas Eve over at my mom’s and on Christmas Day his mom and stepdad flew up to spend the day with us. That never happened again. For years we would celebrate Christmas with his family at Thanksgiving because he had more time off then. Christmas Eve would be spent with my family. Then we moved down south. CF never came up with me. We spent Christmas Eve apart. That lasted for two years. The final year we had Rock Star and were getting ready to move back up to Michigan. He met me there and we once again celebrated at my mom’s house. I remember I hosted Christmas once or twice up at our house. Then we moved again. The first two years after moving to Utah we came back for Christmas. The next few years the kids and I would come back home and celebrate with the families (yes, I took the kids to his mom’s as well) right after Christmas. Then my kids’ school changed their schedule. Instead of being a year round school with our break occurring after winter break, which gave us a generous 4 week break at the holidays, we were on the traditional schedule. They had a week. We stopped going back to celebrate.

The first year was difficult, but after that I decided to make it a day of fun. We’d get up on Christmas Eve, have breakfast, go bowling as a family. One time we actually went to the movies as well. We’d go out to eat for dinner and then return home and open gifts. On Christmas morning the kids would wake up to find what Santa had left them. I would usually just make some appetizers. We would spend the day lounging around, the kids playing with their newfound booty. Sometimes neighbor kids would come by.

Our last Christmas as a family we opened gifts early before heading up to my mom’s. We spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day here. I bought us matching pajamas. All four of us were lined up, smiling for the camera. The kids woke to find that Santa had left them each a MacBook Pro. We never spent another Christmas with him.

Take a look at your wedding photos or video, even if you’re happily married. How many people that were celebrating with you that day have died? How many of those people do you still talk to?

Browse through a family photo album (if you still own one!). Who is still around? Who have you lost?

My mom has some amazing pictures of her family in Virginia. I look at those now, those happy snapshots, and I realize I’m probably older than they were at the time those pictures were taken. Almost all of them are gone now.

As Patty Loveless sang:

Life’s about changing

Nothing ever stays the same

Maybe if you’re one of those people lucky enough to grow up and stay in the same town, or at least area, for the duration of your life so far you haven’t experienced much change in your life until now. Maybe the changes in your life are much more subtle. They’re still there, though. We all eventually lose family members. Perhaps you didn’t move away but some or all of your siblings did.

As a person who has moved numerous times throughout my life I can say this is true. I was just talking to a friend from Utah the other day. She is the one who’s husband moved her all across the country after fixing up their house to sell it and then decided he couldn’t be married to her any longer. Our lives followed parallel paths. She made mention of how she missed the days when we could hang out talking on our front porch. She said it seemed like a lifetime ago. It truly does. My life is completely different from the one I had out there. I miss it.

But you know what? My life has changed repeatedly since the day I got married. I thought I was going to live in the same city I had pretty much lived in since we moved up here in 1979. We bought a house. We had a dog and a cat. Then he got a job offer in another state and we moved two hours away. It was still close enough that I could visit often, but it wasn’t the same as living in the same city. I made a few friends but not many. We moved again. I made tons of friends. I had a baby. We had an active social life. We loved where we lived. And then that ended. We moved again. Back to Michigan. This time I made friends. Those friends all ended up either getting jobs or moving away. So I started going to church and getting involved. I had another baby. I started going to MOPS and joined the hospitality team. I volunteered to help out in the nursery at church. I became a small group leader. Eventually I joined the Meal Team. I started a MOPS chapter at my church. I volunteered at my daughter’s school. I enrolled my son at a co-op preschool and helped out there, eventually taking on the Vice President position his second year. I enjoyed my life. I was content. Then we moved again. This time over 1500 miles away from any family, out to Utah. Slowly I found my footing- joining PTA, making friends with the other gym moms, taking my son to hockey. I had wonderful friends out there. We met for lunch and hung out and did things together. It was fantastic. For eight years I lived a pretty terrific life. And then I found out about CF’s first affair with Harley. A year later we moved 2000 miles across the country to Virginia. I never really found my footing there, although I tried. I decorated. I made a few friends. I helped out at the school gymnastics meets. I had everything I had ever wanted, probably had ever even dreamed of having, and a year later it all came crashing down. Major changes came about. The end of my intact family. Another move a year later. This latest stuff has been rough but I’ve made it through. I’m working full time. I’ve got almost a year in which means I can look to other things now. I met a fantastic man. My kids are doing well.

All of those changes I detailed above happened without a divorce occurring until the very end. It was the simple twist and turns of life. It’s wonderful if you can stay in the same place forever, never change jobs, never have friends or loved ones move away. That’s not the reality most of us face, though. Life is constantly changing.

This isn’t supposed to be a maudlin post. I’m writing it to let you know that if you’re in the midst of a divorce, or just finalized one, and you think all hope is lost and this has ruined the holidays for you forever, it hasn’t. You can still create holiday traditions with your kids. Hell, you can continue on with the old traditions if you’d like. Nothing says you have to stop doing everything you did back when you were married. You are still a family; you’re just minus an entitled, selfish, lying cheater.

I’m fresh off an amazing win in court so I’m more optimistic than usual, but I remember what it was like. I remember last year when all I could do was get through the damn holidays. Maybe that’s where you are now. I’m here to tell you it will get better. Remember that Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat/Twitter and so on don’t tell the whole story. That glorious family decked out in holiday gear, smiling brightly for the camera might be struggling and you would never know. Maybe they’re having financial problems. Maybe they’re having marital problems. Maybe their kids are throwing some grand problem at them and they have no idea how to solve it or keep the kid safe. The person whose life seems great on social media may be going through some really dark moments. Those snippets of life on social media may be the only happy part of that person’s life, or they could be an illusion. Just stay sane. Keep your chin up, and if you can’t bear to do that, then put your head down and grit your way through this holiday season. Life’s about changing; nothing ever stays the same. That can be a good thing. If things are bad right now then there’s a good chance that eventually they’ll become good.

Here’s hoping that everyone will have a fantastic holiday season. I hope that Santa is good to you. Remember, these two things. 1. It gets better. It really does. It may take a while, but you will get there. 2. You and your kids really are a family all on your own. You are in control! Do those things you’ve always wanted to do but couldn’t because someone was always complaining or putting down your ideas. Be the parent that shows up, that is always there, and know that you are enough. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be like it’s always been. This is your moment to shine.

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