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Saturday, November 29, 2014

When Your Holiday is Broken

Sometimes, things just don't go as we plan.

Life gets in the way. Things change. Families break up. Death, divorce, or separation come in like bulldozers, destroying everything we love.

Divorce comes in like a wrecking ball...

Sometimes, especially in the wake of a divorce, the changes can be a relief. No more fighting. No more tension. Freedom. Hope. A new future. A second chance.

Rebuilding means all of those things, and more. What was broken can be swept away, and rebuilt into something new, maybe something better. When a marriage has crumbled, it was because the foundations were not strong. Divorce, at least for me, meant that we were finally acknowledging that what was once "us" could no longer be saved.

Suddenly, everything has changed. 

The holidays, however, are about family. About tradition. About all those years we had together, and celebrating everything we'd built. Divorce's bulldozer has come in and taken all of that down, and, especially for the first few years, living in the wreckage is painful. Living in the wreckage, and trying to make it festive for the holidays? It's a recipe for despair.

The holidays are also an opportunity for rebuilding. You have a  new reality, a new family dynamic, so this is the time to celebrate the new beginnings... and to create new traditions of your own.

For me and the kids, that process has been a little rocky. The first year, they went with their Dad to the in-laws' for Christmas and Thanksgiving. I was fine with it- we had our "family" holidays a day after, with just the three of us. It was a little sad and awkward, but the kids had a nearly-normal holiday- celebrating with his family as we always had. And, they got a second celebration with me, a relaxed day of movie-watching and hanging out.

Then, their father moved out of state. Half-way across the country. Their lives changed, again. Last year's holidays were harder. The kids were struggling in school, and coming to terms with his slowly dwindling efforts at contact. We all hit a wall, a tsunami of depression and anxiety. We were swamped, but we kicked up, swam to the surface, and broke through. Both kids went onto home tutoring programs to finish out the school year. I dropped out of my college that semester. We made adjustments, and we moved on, together.

It's been rough, but with a little help from friends, we're conquering our giants.
Thing1's response to big problems seems especially appropriate. 

For Thanksgiving last year, my in-laws were out of town. The kids were facing their first holiday without any of the traditions they'd had their entire lives. I was determined that it would not be an empty holiday. We would have fun if it killed us. So, we saw Frozen. It wasn't a completely drama-free day, but we made memories. We were happy. We had so much fun, we decided to make Christmas a day of movie marathons. So, we watched The Avengers, The Life of Pi, and some Christmas movies. It was a good day.

This year, our Thanksgiving was a little different. The in-laws were in town, so they invited the kids over. I spent the day working, and planned on a big holiday for us on Friday.

The best laid plans often fall apart... and mine did. Big time. Thing1's best friend, Thing2, wanted to come over. He's here so often, he might as well be part of the landscape, so I thought sure, why not? It was only a minor adjustment in our plans- instead of eating at home, we'd go pick up Thing2, grab breakfast out, and swing home for a few minutes before the movie, in order to put the bird in the oven. It'd be ready when we got home.
I just needed to get it in the oven, and we'd be good to go...

Thing2 was late. No problem. We still had time... just... to get home and put the bird in the oven. It was all good... Until Thing1 had one of his famous mood swings. He went from relaxed and looking forward to the movies, to throwing a temper tantrum and arguing that he "never wanted to see the movie anyway," because he "didn't get a choice". (We'd discussed the movie line up and I'd specifically asked him if there was anything he'd rather do. When it comes to holiday plans, we work as a democracy.) The argument escalated, and he stomped off upstairs just as I finished putting the bird in the oven. Our plans for a movie were spoiled, and my habitual calm was shattered.

Furious, and more upset than I should've been, I went for a walk... and made it 1/4  mile up the road before my leg gave out. I limped home, in pain, and spent the rest of my day sulking behind my computer screen.

Babygirl, in a rare moment of teenage wisdom, (the kind that give me glimpses into her future as a thoughtful, amazing young woman), mentioned that her brother was just being a "self-centered teenage boy," and that it's "not about you, mama."

Not about me. There's a part of me that answers back, you're darn right it's not. It's about my kids. It's about our family. It's about us being happy and productive and stable.


Yesterday's meltdown told me something about myself. Sometimes, it IS about me. Friday's Thanksgiving celebration was supposed to be MY Thanksgiving. My kids had a Thanksgiving already. They had it with the in-laws, and the family of the father who abandoned them. I'm glad they had that time with the out-of-town cousins, aunts, and uncles they don't often see, but there is also loss... I used to be a part of a family, and now I'm not. It's a very strange and disorienting feeling. 

Yesterday was supposed to be about celebrating the new us. The kids and I. When I lost my chance at what should've been a happy family afternoon, I felt that loss, hard, and the grief and anger poured out. 

My holiday was broken, but I don't have to let it stay shattered. Christmas is a few short weeks away. We'll try again. We'll build another new tradition. Maybe we'll see a movie out, or maybe we won't. Maybe the kids will have something they want to do. It won't matter, as long as we do it together.

We may be broken, but we're rebuilding. And that's all that matters. 

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