Splitting the Holidays

At 4pm 3 days ago, Christmas Day, I walked my son down the stairs outside our apartment and toward the open arms of his father, who'd driven 40 minutes to pick him up. So went the fourth-in-a-row such Christmas day, the fourth since his father and I separated.

In the immediate moments leading up to the hour of exchange, and in all the underlying moments during the two days leading up to Christmas Day, I was torn by the desire to enjoy every second of the present, and the sadness accompanying the knowledge that my son would be away for 5 days.

I felt guilt for every moment I was shopping for gifts instead of playing with him. I dreaded the thought of cooking all morning on Christmas, wondering how many times I'd have to tell him I was busy and couldn't do whatever it was--any number of sweet and curious-minded little 4-year-old things--he'd try to pull me into. I was plagued by a series of questions that I know many parents, regardless of their marital status or custodial arrangements, are all too familiar with: am I a good mother? Do I give enough of my time to my son? Will I have any regrets later about what I did and didn't do?

I'm not going to try and answer any of those questions right now. Not here in this blog. I'll save further thoughts on those questions for the middle-of-the-night terrors when he's a teenager. Or when he's left the house for good and all I can do is ask myself again and again whether I've effectively prepared him for the world.

For the time being, I was dealing with Christmas.

The day was made doubly strange by the absence of my boyfriend Kevin's son, who (although his father and I aren't married), I consider my stepson. Though he'd spent every single night since mid-August with us, sleeping in his bedroom down the hall from ours, he was away that particular Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, with his mom. What an odd kind of quiet had settled over the place. How lonely his presents looked under the tree once Kevin's folks and my folks and my son had opened theirs.

How exceptional, to have these two boys apart on this day of all days.

My stepson returned home at about 8 that night and he wanted to wait until the next morning to open his presents. But because of my early departure for work, I missed even that. It was the most disjointed Christmas I'd ever experienced.

Kevin and I only yesterday finally got around to opening gifts from each other, and my son still has an untouched stocking hanging in the living room, awaiting his return.

Part of me wants to feel (again) sadness and guilt about this.

And then there's this other part of me.

The other part reminds me that this is the reality, and that nothing will change that in the time it takes me to come to terms with it; all that coming-to-terms-time is just wasted moments of the here and now. It reminds me that life is not all perfect plans and days that work out just like they do in your mind, or in the lives of others. Christmas Day does not have a rubric that we must aspire to follow. It just has this history in my mind, this vision of the way I celebrated it.

But my parents were together then as they are now. My brother was my blood brother and he was never further away than across the hall from me. Step-families were a thing of lore, and--as I got older--a something I encountered occasionally among friends; at that I never had a clue how complicated the schedules of these friends' families must have been.

What to do then but to take lessons (one each) from two of my favorite members of the male gender?

From my son: to follow his example and go with it, whatever the "it" is and to handle everything in stride as it comes to me, as it is explained to me; to never once pause long to complain, to be absolutely present in every moment and to enjoy the company of those around me.

From Kevin: to keep in mind his consolatory words to me that evening before Christmas (after all, he's been sharing holidays for years now), that "there is a certain amount of acceptance that has to accompany these choices we made." And yes. Yes! That's exactly what was in order and the only thing that stood to bring about peace-of-mind. What else is there to do, really?

What else but to keep in my mind that my son knows I love him, even when I'm not near. To remember that he is loved very much by the people who surround him when he's away, people who are very happy to have him there with them. To remember that mine and Kevin's sons' inability to be in the same house at the same time one Christmas is no tragedy. It's a chance to make the holiday whatever we want it to be. It removes the pressure of that ONE morning. It says well, if we can make two days of it why not 7? Why not stretch the festivities out over the course of a month, as my grandfather did with birthdays in his later years?

Why the hell not?

And while I'm at it, why not also remember that every single moment I do spend with my son is a gift I can not possibly over-appreciate.

That Christmas morning I spent cooking? The one I'd worried so much about? It turned out to be wonderful. My son played with his new Ninja Turtle and Lego toys nearby peacefully and contentedly. When he came around it was well-timed such that he had my complete and joyful attention. He was full of affection for me and I for him. It was one of my favorite mornings of all the mornings I've had the chance to spend with him.

My hope is that, with mindfulness and acceptance, I can truly enjoy all the these holidays exactly how they come, dis-jointed and funkily timed and oddly shaped and all.

Kevin's Sketch

In his words (further work on last week's piece)...

Inspired by my fascination with the eye candy of the Archimedean Solids, 13 of which were described by Johannes Kepler in 1619.  Their names are a mouthful—pictured at top, the Great Rhombocuboctahedron, middle, the Truncated Icosahedron, and bottom, the Great Rhombicosidodecahedron.

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