Christmas Mirror

Baking cookies today and writing Christmas cards. A few things I need to buy for the party tomorrow, so shopping on agenda. Also some gift wrapping. I do love a tree full of presents under it. Tonight a simple dinner and tomorrow Anton will help me clean and shine up the house for our friends. Then we will do it again on Christmas Day.

Tomorrow, baking more cookies with Dee and meeting Marsha Tuesday at the bookstore before lunch at Macaroni Grill, our annual Christmas lunch spot. Can pick up the ham while I’m down that way. Christmas Eve, the kids get in late, but I will be on the sofa waiting. Hope the weather is not too bad or that they don’t lose their way. They’ve never been to our new place. I have their room all ready and cozy for the mama-to-be.

Christmas Day I’m lucky; my family is coming here, a long drive down the river and through Detroit for them. Yet, my grandparents lived out this way since the 1960s, and we always came north on Christmas, even before they put a freeway through Detroit, we’d take Southfield and then over to Rochester Road. One of the big buildings would spell out MERRY CHRISTMAS in strategically lit windows.

I’m making my son’s favorite cookies, cherry jam thumbprints…

She shut the Mac, soul-sick at a world that seemed to have the habits of the holidays down so pat. This character seemed to actually feel the cheer and goodwill she only thought about and once in a while wished she could find. Her dinner this Christmas Day: toast with jam. Jam made it festive, a splash of cherry red in the otherwise undecorated apartment.

Why put up a Christmas tree when she was the only one who’d see it? She preferred her walls of books, her comfortable reading chair, the sofa for when she needed deeper rest but wasn’t quite ready for bed. She’d been here twenty years. How was that possible? She’d meant to buy something, stop paying rent and smelling curry and hearing arguments and, less often, laughter through the thin walls.

She bought herself something every year, just because the sales were good. Electronics. A new e-reader, new laptop, new phone. Some years she’d buy herself all three. The newest models were better and faster and made her work less of a hassle. She should work now. She’d eaten her toast without tasting it. Time to get back at it.

She wrote about another world, one unlike her own in every way. In this other world, she had children, grown children, with spouses and children of their own. Her grandchildren. Three of them. Maybe another on the way…she tapped the keyboard, dreaming up a subplot as she typed. Her beloved came into the room and held his face to hers, looking over her shoulder at her words. He kissed her and left her to it. She wanted to call him back. She deleted the line where he left her side and inserted herself turning toward him for a real kiss, one that would lead elsewhere.

Readers liked that.

Her fingers travelled over the keyboard, taking her far away from the apartment, out of the country even, alone on a mission. By the time her fictional Christmas rolled around, the book would be finished and she would have no need to imagine all of the things people kept themselves busy with in this most annoying of seasons where over-sugared minds laughed and drank punch, oblivious as the world burned.

I’m not sure why people bother with such whiny stories this time of year, or why I read them right to the end, or why they follow me into my real life. From where does that chill of recognition come? I might have seen another self in a dream or a distant  mirror, but how is that possible? I pushed my shopping cart, full to the brim, toward the mistletoe. Anton had specifically requested it, and if I hung it between the buffet table and the bar, it could make the party tomorrow even more fun.

Happy Holidays

~ See you in 2015 ~

Single Mom Christmas

boys.xmas.84I left my husband in September of 1983. I was 28 years old, had two small children,  and absolutely no idea what heartache I was in for by the time Christmas rolled around. For their sake, I tried to put a good face on things. I put up a little Christmas tree in our apartment, bought gifts for them, cuddled and watched all the holiday cartoon specials.

This photo is at my parents’ house. They did not approve of my pending divorce and now that I’m older than they were then, I know why. It’s those two little ones off to the side–now that I’m a grandparent, I understand how protective you feel about your family, especially its smallest members, the ones who have no say so at all in what happens to them and to the people they love. All security is shaken and even though they have smiles on their faces, their eyes tell a different story. Yes, they were loved, but they were being pulled apart as surely as my marriage. My parents knew this, but I was in denial, because I needed to leave my husband to save myself.

My boys turned out just fine, but it still hurts to remember that time when we were three. Especially at Christmas. I felt things I was not prepared to feel: loneliness so vast there was no me anymore, just hurt. Just pain. Because all my life I had one dream: to be a mom and a wife. And I had failed. Now I was in a new world, one that left me completely alone on Christmas day, while my children were with their father. Yes, it was a relief to stop pretending everything was fine. But then there was that other wilderness, one I had not experienced in many years.

My main coping mechanism was denial. Fake it til you make it. So, instead of staying in bed with the covers over my head, which is what I would do today, I went to a friend’s for brunch. Had too much champagne. Showed up at my grandparents’ house with quite the glow on. Sure, I’ll have a scotch, I said to my grandfather. One scotch led to two and as I sat amidst my family, all of them matching sets with Mommy, Daddy, and children, I felt that spotlight effect psychologists talk about, the one where you feel like everyone is looking at you and judging you or maybe just pitying you. “Alone” was the title under my spotlight. “Loser” was the word that ran like a loop through my head.

A sweet member of my family warned me gently about a guy who wanted to take me out. “What? Just because he’s rich I’m not good enough for him?” The shock on her face was real. So were the tears her baby suddenly began to cry, as if sensing his mother’s distress.

“No. Not at all.” Her eyes wore that same look of bottomless sadness I’d seen so often in my little boys’ eyes for the past few months, ever since we’d left home. “I just…he’s kind of a player. I didn’t want you to be hurt.” I noticed that lots of family were listening. I’d shouted those words. I was drunk. My granny brought me coffee.

Ashamed, upset, bewildered, all alone in a room full of loved ones–I sipped coffee and tried to sober up. Then I went home and was truly alone. My choice. But it didn’t feel like it; it felt as if I’d done a necessary thing for myself and the worst possible thing for my boys–for my family–and that I would pay the price for the rest of my life.

And that was true. I never got over that one Christmas alone. Despite finding new love and blending my family as best I could, I never again woke up with my children on Christmas morning. I talked it over  with my ex and we decided that new traditions needed to be established. Christmas Eve would be my day with the boys and Christmas Eve night, after spending our holiday with my family, my husband and I dropped the boys off at their dad’s house. He had more money than we did, two more children, a new brother and sister for my boys, and all I had was a husband who hated Christmas.

I see now that I was punishing myself, depriving myself of my children, because I didn’t think I deserved to be their mom on that most special of days. I had not achieved the one thing I had always wanted: to create a happy home. Eventually, after many years of trial and error, I understood that Christmas was not a magic day, that every day I spent with my family was a precious gift, and I had the power to make it so.

If you’re a young single mom this Christmas and feeling sad, I have a true story of Christmas future for you. This year, my younger son is coming home to Michigan for Christmas. He is arriving on Christmas Eve with his wife, who is expecting our grandchild. They will be coming to my house from the airport and yes, waking up with me and my husband (who eventually admitted to the joys of the season) on Christmas morning. I feel blessed by stars set in motion so long ago, when I was young and sad and determined to do better.

Single, married, coupled, alone, widowed, abandoned, sad, with children or without, I am filled with gratitude for your visit here, and wish you the very best this season, and all the seasons of your life, have to offer. Do your best to make your life the one you always dreamed of and, stars willing, it will come true.

The Necklace

This Christmas season has been sensational so far. And I’m not just talking gifts, or food, but fun shared and writing accomplished with a giant dollop of lazy reading thrown in. Add to that the fact that school is out, I have a free winter, and lots of plans. Plus the snow has been lovely.

It wouldn’t be life if there wasn’t some mischief in the mix, and as usual, I whipped up some of my own. We had the brilliant idea this year to do all our shopping online and not bother with stores and post offices. Daily, new packages would arrive. We had to sort out if it was in my name was this because it was my gift from Al? Or was it mine to him? Or was it one from the kids to Al that needed wrapping?

We had a pretty good organizational method for this, but one thing we did not reckon on was that not every e-retailer is as nice as Amazon when it comes to hiding the bill in a big yellow envelope saying to keep the surprise, do not open until after Christmas. One such package was delivered addressed to Al. My gift from Al was already wrapped and under the tree. It looked like the size of a book so I was thinking maybe a new tablet.

Al said the new package was just something for a house project. The receipt wasn’t in the box, but under it. All this on the porch, which is simply shoddy delivery. Hey at least they tucked the receipt under the box so it wouldn’t blow away.

I brought the offensive slip of paper inside and absently peeked. It was house stuff, not a gift. No problem. Except at the bottom of the listed items, it said “amethyst necklace.” Al feigned complete ignorance, pointing out we’d said one gift each, and he’d gotten mine. There it was, under the tree, if I cared to look. My mind flashed to Emma Thompson finding the necklace in her husband’s pocket, thinking it was hers, and getting a book instead. I usually trust Al 100%. He is just not that kind of guy, not a cheater. He’s too shy, for one. Also, he’s loyal. And he loves me.

So he’s getting indignant about me going on and on about it, but finally he makes a joke “You’ll just have to wait to find out.” This was maybe ten days before Christmas. An eternity. The box sat unwrapped, still sealed, on the counter in the laundry room where he likes to let his junk mail and newspapers accumulate until I organize it all (while tossing the one crucial thing he had been specifically saving). I did my sweep of the countertop and put the box on his shelf in the wardrobe closet.

Al remained uninterested in the box and I grew more curious. I looked for the receipt. It had disappeared. Where had I put it after the shock of seeing that necklace on the invoice? This made my imaginary case against Al stronger yet. He wouldn’t? Would he? It’s true he’s hardly ever home. All that work. Or was it work? The package sat there until Christmas morning, where, before he had any coffee, before any gaily wrapped gifts were distributed, I brought it to him and said “open it.”

He shook his head. “Okay.” He opened the box and out spilled a little cheap necklace like thing, tucked among the household hardware items. “Is this it?” I was relieved when I thought I caught a glimpse of a tiny chip of purple. I took it out of the plastic packet. “Yes, this must be it.”

“But I didn’t order that,” Al said. “Musta been a freebie.” Case solved. Or was it? I certainly didn’t want that necklace. And why would a store include that type of freebie with hardware? Perhaps they thought that men who ordered house fixing things for the holidays needed a bit of help in the choosing proper gifts department.

Finally it was time to get down to the real business of Christmas, which was opening presents from the kids, sending texts, having Facetime. Tim had on the Red Wings jersey we got him. I unwrapped the cookbook they’d sent. This goes on for a bit because Facetime is not totally reliable so there’s much flickering out and calling back and finally giving in and just chatting in the old-fashioned phone way.

After the calls, we had coffee and tea and warm steel cut oats laced with sweet cherries and pecans. Okay, we had cookies too. Also Rice Crispy Treats. Finally it was time for me to open my tablet. I hazily warned myself to be pleased even though I’ve got a perfectly good iPad. White box. Inside that a red box. And inside the red box, this