The stockings are hung by the chimney with care.
The Christmas tree is up. No lights or ornaments yet. I promised my five-year-old son I’d wait for him. He’ll be here later today.
I decorated my house for Christmas alone yesterday. My first holiday season as a single, divorced father.
The most-interesting and occasionally unpleasant thing about my new life is how emotions creep up and surprise me.
I wasn’t so naïve as to believe I’d be unaffected by the experience of going through boxes of holiday décor to see what I would set out versus what I will deliver to my ex-wife this afternoon.
I was really surprised by what my insides did.
Through the Years, We All Will Be Together
I opened a small tin.
There were many ornaments from her childhood. I closed it.
I picked up her stocking, her name stitched across the top. It has an angel on it. She loves angels. Has an entire Christmas tree dedicated to them every year. I folded it and put it back.
I went through a phase as a college student and young adult where I didn’t really make a big deal out of Christmas.
But it truly was a magical time of year for me as a child.
And as an adult—particularly as a father—I found myself softening up and gravitating back toward all of the goodness I’d always associated with the season of Christmas.
I even started listening to Christmas music again after avoiding it for several years.
These changes took place in large part because of my ex-wife. That girl oozes Christmas this time of year.
“This place looks like someone vomited Christmas EVERYWHERE. I love it!” said a former co-worker about my house when attending my ex-wife’s birthday party two years ago.
We had kicked around the idea of starting a new tradition where we had an open house party every Christmas evening. After the presents have been opened. All businesses closed. Maybe people would feel like getting out and drinking eggnog with us.
I always thought that sounded like fun.
If the Fates Allow
My last really nice memory with my ex-wife was this past Christmas.
Just the three of us and her brother’s family of three at her mother’s house.
I knew we were in enormous trouble.
But the spirit of the season poked through. It’s the last time it felt like family.
We had friends at our place for New Year’s. The clock struck midnight. I leaned down and kissed her cheek.
“This is the year everything gets better. 2013’s gonna be the best one yet,” I promised her.
“I hope so,” she said.
Faithful friends who are dear to us, gathered near to us once more.
We celebrated with fake smiles and sparkling wine.
But in the early morning hours of Jan. 1, 2013, we went to our separate bedrooms, starting the year just as it will end.
Thinking about Christmas paralyzes me. Because it matters again.
But I can’t run from any of it. There’s nowhere to hide.
Opening gifts and eating turkey with my family back in my hometown? Hours away from my son?
Staying home? Alone?
I don’t mean to sound overly dramatic (for once) but, shit. No. Right?
All of it sounds horrible. And I’m an optimist!
Is it possible to live vicariously enough through your child to overcome the shock from all the changes between last year and now?
Seems like a lot to ask of an oblivious kindergartener.
He’ll pick up an ornament later today.
“Where do you want to put this one, dad?”
I’ll glance over.
It will be the one with a photo of my ex in her wedding dress. Or the one with the bride and groom figurines. Or the one with a pretty ring jutting out of a red jewelry box. Or one of the dozens of ornaments an aunt or uncle had sent to both of us over the years.
Happy golden days of yore.
“Not that one, kiddo.”
“We’re going to give that one to mommy, bud.”
“No, sweetheart. We’re not going to hang that one on the tree this year.”
But we’ll soldier through, my little man and I.
Maybe watch a Christmas movie.
And I’ll hang that shining star up on the highest bough. The one being held by the angel who sits atop the tree, watching over the proceedings between now and early January.
The calendar flip.
A simple act. Turning that page. But hopefully a meaningful one.
Hopefully one that delivers the good tidings I falsely promised would come this year.
When our troubles will be out of sight.
But first, we tackle December 25. Together.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas.