This time last year, I was a newly single parent. Every day felt like a mechanical struggle to get from beginning to end. My primary concern was waking up on time after being up all night with an infant in order to get bookbags packed, my oldest son on the bus, and getting to my new job on time so that my boss wouldn't perceive me to be the exhausted, scattered mess I was. The majority of my quiet time to myself was spent on the hour commute to work, listening to depressing songs about love and heartbreak and wondering where the hell I went wrong. As the holidays approached, I certainly wasn't feeling the holiday spirit. My mind was flooded with memories of Christmases past -- our first Christmas after getting married, cutting down Christmas trees as a family, staying up late on Christmas Eve night to put toys together. I love Christmas, but Christmas felt so bleak and alone. Knowing my kids wouldn't be with me at the Thanksgiving table killed me. Not spending Christmas Eve with my kids devastated me.
I should have known these feelings were coming. I had several divorced friends give me the "holidays are going to be a little rough this year" speech, while crushing up tranquilizers in my coffee. Ok, well maybe not that extreme, but you know where I'm going with this. In my stubborn head, I thought I would be the exception to the rule. I went overboard buying gifts for the kids to attempt to fill the void in their hearts with crap they didn't need. If I could have crammed a Christmas tree the size of the one the Obamas had in the White House to make our lives more festive, I would have blown out one of the walls in our tiny house to do it. I played holiday music on constant repeat. I ate my weight in Christmas cookies. And none of it brought me the yuletide cheer I so desperately wanted.
I managed to survive a full 12 months of holidays on a shared custody schedule, and for me it has been an enormous test of futility. I've learned that dwelling on my time apart from my kids only fueled my own sadness. And I've learned the most important things to focus on is creating my own new traditions with my kids and to take advantage of our time apart.
I've been reflecting a lot on how I feel going into the holidays this year. I feel like much of my joy and excitement is returning. I'm eager to enjoy Thanksgiving with my extended family. I'm looking forward to cutting down a Christmas tree with my kids (although I can only ever decorate the top 1/3 of it to deter curious toddlers). And my greatest joy comes with watching my children open their gifts from Santa.
I would be lying if I said I wasn't sad about going into another holiday season alone, but I am looking forward to making the best of it. I must admit it's nice having every other weekend to myself to shop for and wrap gifts, a luxury I never had before. I don't miss wrapping gifts at 2am to avoid roaming children. And I'm looking forward to baking on my own. I hope to include my kids someday because I love it so much, but they are too young to enjoy it now. So in the meantime, I will enjoy blaring corny Christmas music and baking cookies with a glass of wine in hand. And I will make sure to keep my social calendar booked beyond that to avoid feeling lonely - spending time with my friends and family is my constant reminder that I have a great life, even when my kids aren't with me.