I knew we were in for it when I opened the holiday season with a desperate attempt to find my divorce papers and custody agreement.
They were lost, a consequence of my third move in less than a year. Last year, when my ex and I were newly separated, Christmas was a disaster of royal proportions, but this year was supposed to be different. Tensions had cooled. We were all feeling more stable and more generous with one another. I hoped that we could even be the cool parents who could figure out how to open gifts, eat dinner and sing carols as one big, happy, weird-ass family. I had apparently forgotten, however, that the holidays are a mind-warping cluster of oddball dynamics and unattainable expectations — particularly when divorce is involved.
I called my ex on the phone to figure out our game plan. Ultimately, custody arrangements are incredibly important to have, but I prefer to remain flexible as much as possible so we can meet our needs and the needs of our kid as circumstances change. We went back and forth for about five minutes with alternating responses of, “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” That’s as far as we got, for an entire week. Our discussions had all the magic of a failed marriage.
And then the grandparents turned up the heat. I haven’t seen my former in-laws since the divorce, and I think it’s safe to say that they’re not terribly fond of me. The feeling is mutual on my side, too. No one tells you before a divorce, though, that the divorce will make you at least 10 years younger in the minds of your parents. My mother begged me to bring my daughter to their festivities four hours away from my home, complete with an invitation to share a twin bed with my child. These invitations are kind — but they’re a stinging reminder that life will never be the same again. Once my ex and I both endured grandparent pity-invites, we reconvened.
“I don’t know, what do you want to do?” Then it occurred to me. We can do whatever the hell we want to do. The traditions we made before turned into a bust, but we fought for a divorce so we could write a new future. So I said, “Go ahead and bring dinner over. I’m not cooking — anything. Let’s give this kid the kind of Christmas she deserves, one with both of us there, and one where I’m not stressing about how much I’ve effed up this whole parenting thing.”
So we will eat popcorn, open gifts, watch It’s a Wonderful Life and feel thankful for a day off from work. We might get this right someday.