My marriage split open on November 20, 2014, and I made the decision to end it on December 15, 2014.
I don’t think there’s ever really a good time for this sort of thing to happen, but doing it immediately before such a staggering season of events – Christmas, then my 31st birthday, then New Year’s and then Valentine’s Day – felt like a barrage of punches to the face in quick succession. Bam bam bam bam bam.
That first Christmas, I invited Olive’s dad to spend Christmas day with us. I was in shock and I didn’t know quite what else to do. I was still trying to pretend things were normal, desperate for Olive to hold onto the sense that things were fine, even though I knew they would soon be very, very different.
The hardest part of my marriage ending wasn’t separating from my husband or losing my relationship – and I’ve only recently realized how much this says about how I’d been living. Instead, the hardest part was the sinking realization that a handful of Olive’s life had been suddenly lost to me.
I remember crying to my sister, heartbroken, saying “I don’t want to be a part-time mom. I don’t want to miss birthdays and Halloweens and Christmases. I can’t. I can’t.”
Part of it was selfish. I wanted -and still want – to be there for everything, every occasion and milestone and I know I won’t be. But a large part of this heartbreak was for Olive. I still feel like I did that first Christmas, I still want to pretend things are normal.
I understand that all families look different, especially these days. I understand that there’s nothing “less-than” about a child from divorced parents and I wouldn’t ever choose to go back to my marriage if I had the chance – not for anything. Logically, I know all of this.
But the going back and forth? She does that. The missing one parent all the time? She deals with that. The straddling of two homes and two sets of rules and a holiday here and a holiday there, divided up like pieces in a game she has no say in the rules of? That’s what she has to live with.
I don’t think I’ll ever stop feeling shitty about that, guilty about that. Wishing I could have somehow made things turn out different for her.
But here we are. In many ways, I feel that things are far better than they were before. So, we make the best of it, even during holidays.
- Olive Two-Two
Right now, I am duplicating holidays. When Olive had Halloween at her dad’s I made arrangements with a handful of friends to go trick-or-treating at their houses a few days early. For Christmas, I told her that I wrote to Santa and asked him to stop by our house early this year so we can have Christmas together before she leaves. Next year, when I won’t have her for her birthday I’ll still have a party for her and celebrate her turning 5.Right now, I think this is way more for me than for her. I don’t want to miss it. I don’t want to miss anything. The thought of not having a memory of my four-year-old ringing doorbells in a spider costume and being continually shocked that someone answered and gave her candy is impossible to wrap my head around. Miss out on seeing her four-year-old self opening her stocking at some godforsakenly early hour, bleary-eyed and crazy-haired? Not a chance.
So for now, I double up. I’m not sure if we’ll always do this, but for now, this seems to work best.
- It’s Not About The Day
This is important to remember now and will probably become more important in the coming years when she feels silly trick-or-treating three days early or knows when it’s Dec 17 vs. December 25.Holidays aren’t about the specific calendar date, they’re about spooky traditions or togetherness or love or celebrating another year lived. These things can be done any day. I try not to get hung up on the fact that I won’t have Olive with me on December 25 and remember that we will always have Christmas together. Period.
We are creating new traditions and carrying on old ones, and that will always be something totally independent from numbers or dates.
- It’s Hard For Her, Too
Olive is now at the point where she gets it, she understands what’s going on. And it’s sometimes very hard for her.She always has a good time at her dad’s place but leaving me is sometimes tough.
This Christmas she’ll be gone for ten days, which is the longest she’s ever been away. We’ll be having a few Skype calls and she’ll be having a ball with her cousins and grandparents but I know it will be hard sometimes, too.
I try not to dismiss her feelings around this. When she says she doesn’t want to go to her dad’s I don’t jump in with “-but Olive! You’ll have so much fun! You get to see all your toys you left there! It’ll be great!”. Because she knows all of this but what she’s telling me is that feels sad, too. It’s that feeling of being excited to go but sad to leave. We all know that feeling and it shouldn’t be skipped over.I usually respond by saying something like, “I know. It’s hard saying goodbye to people you love” and then telling her that missing someone means that you love them and I’ll miss her, too.
- Transition Objects
Keeping some sense of constancy and connection when she’s away is really important to me, so when she first started doing visits with her dad, my aunt Madeline took Olive to the Build-A-Bear workshop where she picked out a monkey, named it Lady and dressed it up in a bathrobe, underpants, and a motorcycle helmet (as one does).I recorded a goodnight message for her and they embedded it into her paw. She takes the monkey with her when she goes to her dad’s house, and although she doesn’t typically need it to comfort her at night anymore, I still think it’s important for her to have something that always goes with her and always comes back.
This year I’ll also send her a little card to open on Christmas morning to let her know I’m thinking about her.
- Alone Is Okay
I will be with my dad and siblings for Christmas but I know that for many others, both with and without kids, this Christmas will be celebrated alone. Try to remember that alone isn’t a bad thing, lonely can be healing if you let it.I’ve always loved this video and watching it might help you view your solitude in a different way.
Holidays can be hard. And I know this first one without Olive will be, despite all the measures I’ve taken. It might be for many of you, too. That’s okay.
I’m trying to focus on everything I will experience during those ten days – a bed to myself, long baths, silence, tons of time to work and write, uninterrupted meals – instead of everything I’ll miss, even though I’ll miss a lot.
But you know, missing someone just means that you love them. And I do.
If you have any tips on coping with missing your kids during the holiday season,
feel free to leave them in the comments.