The First Noel…After

I was trying, really trying, to hold it together for Zachary.

Thanksgiving with my father in Maryland had been great.  He was staying in temporary housing while he found a place, and there was plenty of room for Z and I.  We spent the holiday with my father’s family, replete with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins of all shapes and sizes.  I’d never spent a holiday with them, my parents having divorced when I was seven.  The rift between my mother and father’s family had been considerable (likely due to the fact that my father’s family wasn’t entirely sure of the true nature of the problem between them and blamed my mother for their split), not to mention the hundreds of miles that separated me and my family from my father’s.

The best thing about Thanksgiving, 1993, though, was that it was all new.  There were no pesky moments that reminded me of every previous one that I’d spent with my mother, with the glaringly obvious difference this year that She Wasn’t Here.  I could focus on my cousins, my father and the new place he was in instead of what I was missing.

However, as Christmas rolled around, that was no longer the case.  It was time for me to put up the tree my mother and I had always decorated together, alone.  It was up to me this year to decide if I wanted to hang all of the gaudy decorations on every possible nail hook this year as my mother had always done. It was on me to determine where I would spend each moment of the holiday.  I had taken Thanksgiving by the horns, ready to determine my new family traditions for my son and I, and I was determined that Christmas would be no different.

But somehow, spending Christmas Eve with my girlfriend B and her family rang hollow.  I’d never been with her family before for a holiday, and while everyone was exceedingly kind, and gracious, and while they included Zach in their gift giving and their games, I felt lost and confused.   Their family traditions were not my family traditions.  B was my friend, but as I put on Z’s heavy winter coat that night, I knew that she was not my family.

Christmas Day, I took Zach over to my sister’s house.  We spent the morning opening gifts and eating and sipping coffee, but somehow, something wasn’t right.  We’d always spent Christmas morning at my mother’s house doing all of these things.  And even though this was my family and these were our traditions, the absence of my mother made it all somehow seem false and less, even as we plastered on smiles for our little ones.

On Christmas Night, my friend Dawn invited me to her family’s tradition, a big pot luck meal at her sister’s house.  I accepted the invitation because I knew that sitting around my own house alone that night would just mean sadness and tears, plus Zachary would have fun with all of the kids.  But as I sat there looking at the tree with the bubble lights that my mother never would have approved of, and looked for the cranberry sherbet that I knew wouldn’t be on the dinner table, I knew that while this family too had been gracious enough to accept me into their home, they were not my family.  I felt out of place and lost, and cried quietly in the corner as the children played.

How could I admit this to anyone?  I was twenty three, an adult, a teacher in charge of thirty eight students.  But all I wanted that Christmas was my mommy.  I missed her so terribly.  In every effort I made to keep myself busy enough to forget my sorrow, I actually created more for myself.

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One Response

  1. […] After last year’s Christmas and my awkward attempts to fill the empty spaces surrounding the holiday, I’d decided to go for broke and travel to see my father’s family’s holiday this year.  Last year’s Thanksgiving had done the job nicely of distracting me away from what I’d lost in terms of family and tradition and reminded me of all that I still did have.  I’d returned this past summer for ten days, and my visit had been surprisingly easy and fun.  The thought of spending another Christmas alone when I could be in a loud, noisy house with little boys that were Zach’s age was too tempting to resist. […]

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