For my entire life holidays have always been extremely busy days. When almost all of your family is in the same city, there are a lot of people, a lot of dinners, a lot of places to go, people to see and things to do. Now add in what the family tree looks like when your parents and grandparents have all divorced and remarried at certain points in life, and the family size can be crazy. Holidays have always been like a marathon. Up early, game plan ready, schedules coordinated and multiple platters of food wrapped and ready to go. You leave the house early, get home late, and spend most of your time saying hello and then starting good-byes. It has been my only experience of holidays, so it’s my normal.
Until the past few years. Both of my parents have divorced for the second time. Relatives have passed away and others are showing their age in a way that is a painful reminder of how little time we have left. The size of the family has shrunk considerably (sadly more than I like, but unfortunately sometimes in divorce people take sides and it trickles down to impact even the little ones). So for the past year or so, I have scrambled to re-create holidays, replace traditions that my nine year old has grown up with and basically redefine how days like Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas are spent.
It has not been easy. Logistically, it’s been very hard to come up with something to replace things like that special Santa walk our daughter has done every year of her life, on Christmas Eve, with all of her cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and great grandparents, only to end the walk by returning to the great-grandparents house and find that Santa has come and the home is full of toys and gifts. Losing things like that due to divorce is very hard, especially for a child that never knew or cared that not all of her family were blood relatives. It’s not the toys or gifts that are lacking, but the people, the feeling, the experience.
It has actually really REALLY sucked, and as a mom has put me into overdrive trying to compensate and come up with ways to replace and distract. It’s hard to fool a kid though, five people around doesn’t feel anything like 35 people around. Looking for Santa with four people and returning to a house with those four people is not the same as returning to a home that is busting at the seams with people, noise, energy and gifts. Everything is so different. The experience is foreign. It feels like we were cast in a play and told to “act” like it’s Christmas. Those special traditions that were full of people are just hard to re-create on a small scale.
It’s been a challenge to me. Holidays just don’t feel right. They feel strange. They feel quiet. They feel a little empty. Spending the day going to one place, or staying home, is very odd. I think my husband enjoys it, as it’s a bit more what he grew up with, but for me there is an inner turmoil going all day, an edgy discomfort and anxiety because it doesn’t feel right. I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing. What I’ve done my entire life. It’s very unsettling.
But, always trying to find the bright side – not running a marathon on holidays can be good. Reality is that with a two year old, especially one that has special needs, being on the go, with lots of people and different places, is not in her best interest, and thus not in ours. Which brings us to another reason/source/cause of change – finding a way to celebrate the holidays that will not impact our little one in a negative way.
We actually just turned down an invite to visit my brother, who lives 2-3 hours away, for Thanksgiving. I struggle with feeling terrible about turning down an invite, I mean aren’t we obligated to attend? But the reality of strapping two kids into the car, driving for three hours, getting out and then trying to confine the toddler to a chair in a crowded house, then back into the car to head home, has misery written all over it.
As a family we discussed it and my husband and oldest both agree that is not how they want to spend Thanksgiving. The scene would most likely play out with myself and my husband very stressed, snapping at each other and the kids, the toddler tantruming (which for her is very physical and often violent) and our oldest being in the uncomfortable situation of it all. I know 100% that not going is what is best for my family, yet still struggle with the guilt over turning down an invite, and the growing pains of trying to figure out what exactly it is we do DO on holidays now. Plus there is the added family expectation to attend things like this, and not much understanding as to what parenting in our lives is like at this moment in time, and that most days are filled with decisions that are not what we want, but what our family needs in the best interest of our kids. It’s hard to upset, hurt and disappoint people when that is not your intent at all and that in an ideal world, you know your choices would be different.
I have to remind myself that I likely struggle more with these new holiday ways than my daughter does. She’s flexible and resilient. She goes with the flow so much better than I ever have. The little one – it’s all new to her, so we just create tradition, not re-create it. I need to look at the opportunities that change brings. I need to adjust, accept and conquer that feeling of discomfort over not doing things the way we always have. I need to grieve for what is no longer, but find excitement in the future. While I am a creature of habit, one who clings to traditions, maybe there are positive things and new ways of doing things that would be even better. It’s just a process to figure out exactly what those are.