Last week, my daughter asked me why we didn’t put lights outside on our house. I told her that her daddy wanted to save money and never really cared to do it and I didn’t really care so we didn’t. And she asked me if someday we could. And I said, “Yeah baby, someday we’ll do it.” And then she said, “Well maybe when Martin is with us?” And I said, “Yeah maybe then.”
My son helped me put up our fake tree the day after Thanksgiving. I had plans to decorate that weekend. But I didn’t. I’ve walked past it for a couple of weeks and finally got inspired on Saturday. It’s eight foot tall and stood on a heavy box to make it seem even taller and to make room for all the presents underneath. I’m usually proud of how pretty the tree looks when it’s all done. In fact, in years past, I strove for perfection. When they were real, I would spend hours upon hours lighting the tree. Weaving the cords carefully around each branch to hide them. I would use as many strands as I could manage to fit onto the tree. But this year I simply wanted to get it done.
Pandora was playing Christmas music, I had my “Fresh Balsam” candle lit, and the first dusty lid I lifted uncovered my tree skirt. It’s a beautiful sage green and white skirt with ribbon embellishments sewn on the edges that look like leaves and holly berries. I love it. But there was a problem. I had forgotten it goes under the stand. I was alone. It’s a heavy tree. I couldn’t imagine how I would accomplish the task without calling in the cavalry, but who?
I went through the short list of people who I would feel comfortable calling at the last-minute for help and realized I really didn’t have anyone I could call. So I thought. Hard. Ingeniously I came up with the solution to feed the skirt under the tree one leg at a time by slowly lifting up on each of the four legs for the stand. A back ache and thirty minutes later I did it! And I stood back and smiled. It was one of those high-five moments but there wasn’t anyone around to celebrate with. I tucked it away in my brain to share with Martin and the kids when I saw them next and set about decorating.
As I pulled the ornaments from their boxes memories slammed me. The little horsie that my daughter used to push sideways instead of front to back is immortalized in ceramic peach and green. I hung it toward the top. The white Angel from the hospice organization from the year my dad passed away I hung in the center. As I sorted through I found many I didn’t want to look at. “1991 Our First Christmas Together” being at the top of that list. I scooted over to the speakers and made the music louder. I popped open the Butter Toffee Coffee I bought and brewed myself a cup. I climbed up and down the chair and ladder that helped me reach the top. And I hung the memories on the tree. Alone.
Yes I missed my kids. But I had wallowed enough in the past few months and I am determined not to let Christmas get the best of me. So I pressed on. I knew I’d be talking to Martin later and I had money enough to buy the gifts I needed to get. I had a full tummy and I counted myself blessed.
If I had to do it alone I would. And I would be company enough for me. And I was.
Then the kids came home Sunday night.
I learned that they spent the weekend days (both of them) at my ex’s girlfriend’s house. Saturday buying her tree and bringing it home for her, and Sunday stringing lights outside her house. When my son told me how much fun he had with his dad hanging the lights I’m almost certain that all the blood drained out of my face and looked as if I’d seen a ghost. Because when I turned back to Martin who I was talking to on Skype he said, “What’s the matter?” He knew something had just hit me. He had heard the conversation and he asked me if it was about the lights. All I could manage was nodding my head. That was the beginning.
My anger welled up to over flowing when I was kissing my daughter good night and she told me that the entire weekend was spent for her reading a book. She had to read 1000 pages for school by semester’s end and had been putting it off. It wasn’t the fact that she was reading that upset me, it’s what she said about reading. She said, “Mom, I decided I like reading when I’m with Dad cause I can be a different person and escape. I don’t have to listen to the conversation, or pay attention to what’s going on. I can just find a corner and leave and be somewhere else.” I held her in my arms as she said this so matter-of-factly. I asked, “Does that make you sad?” And she said, “No I’m glad.” Ugh. It broke my heart.
My kids spend one day a week and two weekend’s a month with their dad and THAT is how he chose to spend his time with them? Both days at her house, doing chores for her. Putting lights up on her house so her kids could come home at night and enjoy them while their mom was trying to figure out how to change a tree skirt with what little muscle she had, alone, at her house. I couldn’t put up the garland cause that’s a two person job.
Suddenly I was back AGAIN…watching him walk out of the house with his clothes with me and my daughter in tears watching her cling to him in the garage pleading with him to please stay. I was back AGAIN….to that feeling of weakness and fear of being alone as a woman, a single mom of two teens. I was back AGAIN…wanting to punch him out or worse.
I kissed her goodnight and told her I loved her. I walked into my bedroom, took my sleeping pill, and prayed for God to help me through the hurt AGAIN.
This morning I woke up after having an awful dream that I tried to kiss my ex-husband. I’m sure it wasn’t set in the present. But it was a reminder of all the years I would try to kiss him and he would pull away. I sat up and decided I needed to run. I’m back to the starting point with my running. I haven’t kept it up this fall. Weird weather and the early sunsets have been my excuse. This morning I ran half my normal route because I was so worn out. But I did it.
And I decided something.
This year would be the year we put up Christmas lights on the house. THIS YEAR would be the year and my daughter and I would do it ourselves. I will teach her that happiness is not something you wait for, and it’s not found in another person. It’s an attitude of making every moment worthwhile with the people you are with or even if you are alone. Christmas doesn’t have to be sad because Daddy isn’t here.
I also decided that on Christmas Eve we will blow up our camping mattresses and put them in the family room for a slumber party. We will dawn our Pj’s, light a fire in the fireplace, break open the fondue pot and melt some chocolate to dip yummy things into as we watch a Christmas movie before bed.
We will make new memories this Christmas. I added three new ornaments on our tree. A replica of Big Ben’s tower for my trips to England, an elephant for the pieces Martin and I are still eating one bite at a time, and a white snow bird that my daughter picked out because she thought it was pretty. New memories.
She texted me today from school with a “YEAH” because she got credit for all 1000 pages even though she waited until the last day. And I texted her back that I bought Christmas lights.
Just as the ornaments became memories to me, this Christmas will be a memory for her. And I am determined that it be a good one.