All the depressing tropes of being single during the December holidays came knocking this year, but I beat them back with a big stick called “I got a lotta awesome friends behind me, and your cultural assumptions about how women can’t hack December on their own are welcome to walk right off the same pier that ol’ Donald Trump is headed for.”
I had a single mom, I have smart and kind friends, and there was no way I will be beaten down by something as lovely as the Hanukkah-Solstice-Christmas stressfest.
You know how, in times of crisis, all the things your elders have said come flooding back? How when you see fire you remember clearly the visit in second grade in which the firefighters told your class, “In case of fire, use the stairs not the elevator.” And how when you’re packing your earthquake kit, you remember your grandma’s entreaties to “Please, whatever else you remember, make sure there’s water, and bags for the makeshift bucket-toilet.”
No? Just me?
Oh. Well. I taught my children candle safety during our Hanukkah week and I taught them why postponing our Solstice peanut-butter-and-birdseed pine cones because of rain made sense.
And then I panicked a bit about Christmas.
I had a single mom growing up, so I benefitted heavily from her experiences. I remember keenly the year she cried because she couldn’t get the Christmas tree up the stairs by herself.
“Would you like this tree netted, for an additional $3?”
Yes, yes I would.
I remember the year she couldn’t get the tree into the stand because the trunk was too wide. And that, the next year, the trunk was too narrow and the stand’s screws couldn’t reach the bark, let alone enough core to hold the dang thing. I also recall that, after years of tree stand frustration, she asked for the wooden stand, got the tree upstairs and realized that it was too tall. And already in the stand.
“Would you like a stand? Did you already measure the ceiling of the room this will be in?”
Yes, yes I did.
Christmas, I knew, made single moms cry. And I would not play those reindeer games.
So we went to the cut-your-own farm with my darling sister-in-law. Third year in a row, but our first as two ladies with an agenda: make this Christmas about SuperLadies, the lady people who make the plans and do the things. With ease.
I had the kids pick out a pre-cut tree, after we wandered the acres of drought-ravaged pine. They didn’t care I wasn’t cutting something down. Neither did I. Selection: check. Cutting: check. Netting, so nine year old and five year old can help, but also so that I don’t cry when I can’t do it myself if they are feeling whiny: check.
Hunky college guy making extra money on his break tossing the tree on the car: check. Just saying. Silver linings and Ho Ho Ho and whatnot.
The kids waited patiently for the six seconds it took me and my SuperMom partner to lace it to the car.
Long drive home: cakewalk. Transfer from car roof to living room: so simple. Decorating: fast and peaceful.
I did none of the seemingly miraculous feat myself. My mom taught me pitfalls. My sister-in-law provided moral support and heavy knot-tying skills. My kids helped and lifted and toted and watered and decorated.
And none of it felt overwhelming or daunting or When Harry Met Sally pathetic.
As with our famous hike and trolley episode, everyone involved with this tree felt the process was easy, everyone knows we can do stuff like this, and everyone feels better that divorce hasn’t killed any of us yet.
So that’s good.
As was hosting Christmas, by myself, for the family: a beloved and small group of 10. Potluck, and a decent outcome. I forgot to get a picture of us all together, but everyone seemed okay and well-fed and happy.
So on the pop cultural single parent scorecard I was winning. Up too late wrapping presents, including one for myself, but still reasonably patient the next day.
And then the boys’ dad, who had come early to watch them open presents, took them to his place for the weekend.
Saying goodbye to my children on Christmas evening might have been the hardest part of the split so far.
I forced myself to go out, to a friend’s house for a casual Christmas evening of chatting and wine, so I wouldn’t just sit and sulk. Or clean and sulk. Or drink and sulk.
And as I came home, to a tidy-ish home that smelled of chestnuts and butternut squash and Irish soda bread, I saw the twinkling holiday tree and realized everything is about give and take. That, all in all, the sacrifices I’m facing are relatively small.
I couldn’t have actually done the whole thing myself: I had multi-generational help on the tree, the dinner, and the making of the family. The whole reason my kids have two houses rather than one is that I share them with their dad. I don’t get the perfect holiday because I didn’t play the game right; but if I can just learn to let go of them a little bit each week, then the new version of home will look just as beautiful as it is.
Because this home is warm and loving, and full of us doing our best with a lot of emotional support.
My reality isn’t what I’d hoped or what I dreamed. But it’s a pretty breathtaking reality, if I just allow it to be.