My kids all had varying reactions to the news of our divorce. My oldest son,
24-years-old at the time, had always been the practical one. He thanked us for a perfect childhood, said he appreciated the sacrifices we had made and then asked if he could come home the following weekend to get his old toys out of the attic before we sold them. My 20-year-old had a similar take. He was living at home at the time and knew my tears had stained every floor in the house and that happiness had been a lean commodity. He wasn’t surprised and just wanted us to be happy. But, my 22-year-old daughter had questions – heartbreaking questions that came from blurred lines and a rapidly fading family photo.
“Will you and dad be able to be at the hospital together when I have my first baby?”
Three-and-a-half-years later, I can still hear the pain in her voice, feel the knot in my stomach. And though she wasn’t pregnant at the time, I would have promised her anything to reassure her of our love and convince her nothing had changed when truthfully, very little would ever be the same. I didn’t hesitate a moment. I told her that her dad and I would always be together when she needed us. We were committed to that.
“Even at Christmas?” she said.
Gulp. Yes, even at Christmas.
I didn’t give much thought to how that would work or what that would look like. But, I moved my wedding ring to my right-hand ring finger shortly after that conversation. Despite the marriage not working, the ring symbolized that our family always would.
When you take something from your children as valuable as their foundation you need to be prepared to replace it with something just as secure to lay their love on.
It was my vow to them. Family first.
Flash forward two years. My ex is dating someone. I’m dating the Fireman.
And, the kids want us all to do Christmas Eve.
For the first time.
At my house.
The house my ex-husband has never seen.
It needed to be PERFECT.
We all know where this is going.
I cleaned. I made lists. I cooked everyone’s favorite foods and I decked every fucking hall with boughs of farmer’s market holly. This was going to be the best damn Christmas Eve gathering in the history of divorces. And it had that potential until about two hours before my ex-husband was to walk through the door. I had a full-on panic attack in the shower. My boyfriend found me on the floor of my bedroom, wrapped in a towel, clothes splayed everywhere, sobbing, gasping for air.
“I can’t do this, I can’t do this, I can’t do this,” I wailed.
“I don’t know what to wear. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to do.”
Remember the movie “Moonstruck?” The Fireman quickly channeled his inner Cher and snapped me the hell out of it. He scraped me up off of the floor and helped dry me off. He chose something for me to wear. He told me that the house, the food, the decorations were all beautiful, that I was beautiful, but that none of that mattered. He said I had nothing to prove, and that the harder I tried to make sure everything was just right the more likely it was to all go wrong. He reminded me of where I’d been just a few years before, and how proud I should be about how far I’d come.
He said everything would be perfect because I was giving my kids the gift of togetherness, not because of the embroidered stockings or the chocolate chess pie.
I’m not going to lie. It wasn’t easy at first. It’s strange to have someone you were married to for 26 years as a guest in your home – to have to tell them where the bathroom is, or where they should hang their coat. The Fireman and my ex both tried to fill my wine glass and help clear the table, unsure of where their place was in this new normal. But, that feeling evaporated quickly until we were just a family, gathering for the holidays, celebrating Christmas and our love for each other. It was just like always, except we just weren’t married anymore.
Since then we’ve had a few other gatherings as a family. And it’s getting less weird. I don’t get nervous anymore and I don’t think about what to wear. I have nothing to prove except my love and dedication to my kids and the family we began 28 years ago. As to that promise I made my daughter years ago, in four months we’ll all be gathering at the hospital to celebrate the birth of our first granddaughter. It wasn’t easy to get to that place, but I’m fortunate that my ex-husband is as motivated as I am to ensure we always land there.