So, we had a holiday. There was plenty of child-rearing drama and a grim push to get us all into better shape in terms of our living space and our relationships with one another. Even so, we had a holiday that, by and large, was fairly nice. (We sure can put the FUN in dysFUNction. Laughing is so much nicer than crying or shouting.)
I made the decision this year to turn the phone ringer off on Christmas Day, but it didn’t matter: Only my cell phone rang.
The topic of Ex barely came up. Once, when the boys were discussing the possibility of a correlation between obesity and joviality, thirteen-year-old Zeep said, “Have you ever seen anyone with a big belly who wasn’t jolly?”
“Pop,” said Little Man.
“Pop is jolly,” Zeep protested. “Until he hits you on the head with a hammer,” he added quietly.
“Yeah,” said Little Man, seizing an opportunity to air what is frequently on his mind. It is something he has never discussed with his father, having seen him only for an afternoon—and that only in the company of his siblings—since the day he was hurt. Badly. Little Man continued, “He found a way to blame Mom for that, saying she doesn’t raise us in the real world.” (The real world: you know, where children must be constantly on alert for the recklessness of drunkard fathers.)
“Yeah,” Zeep conceded, “that wasn’t so good.”
The talk turned back to LEGOs.
The children did not ask to call their father on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day and I didn’t suggest it. Perhaps that was cold-hearted, but we were having such a friendly time and I didn’t want him to ruin it by upsetting the children.
The Christmas Eve church service was lovely. (Yes, I am really writing this. My college friends are now laughing heartily.) One of the sweetest couples at church had their one-year-old baby dedicated and the Christmas pageant was as enchanting as it is every year. Little Man was a Wise Man. We sang all the old carols ending with Silent Night and the passing of a flame from one candle to the next. Wiping tears, the mothers shuffled their children to the cookie reception where we shared our Ninja-bread men with our church family, reveling in the magic of the evening.
There was only one awkward question this year. It is always hard to explain an estranged family and I haven’t found a good pat answer.
“Do you have family nearby?” another mom asked.
“No, they are in the Midwest.”
“Will you be seeing them?” she asked.
“No, we are spending the holiday with family of choice,” I said.
Perhaps I should have said, not this year, or they’re dead, but neither answer is true. The situation has the finality of death, although to the best of my knowledge both of my biological parents are in excellent health. “Not this year,” is true but it leaves room for next year and the years after that, and that misconstrues the situation, possibly in a way which might smooth over an awkward TMI moment.
It somehow seems wrong to say what is true, which is that I will never spend a Christmas or any other holiday with the people who brought me into this world and raised me. That bridge has long lain in ruins and I’m okay with that. I don’t have room for people who suck the happiness out of life as though it were the few remaining much-needed nutrients in a dry bone. I hope to God that you don’t have time for such people either. Compassion: yes. Time: no.
As Brené Brown has said: We should save the stories that make us the most vulnerable for those who have earned a right to hear them. It doesn’t feel right to tell every friendly person who asks that my family of origin is estranged or to explain why, which would have most people backing slowly away, running through a ticker of judgements. As Sissy would say, “awk.” Even so, we are who we are, and one thing children most often are is brutally honest.
In spite of the “awk,” there are some perks. For instance, it is a pleasure to spend holidays with people whose company you genuinely enjoy and who have no obligation to pass the time with you. That generally makes for a darned good time.
Zeep is hard to raise. He is so hard to raise that I frequently find myself grumbling, “I know why some species eat their young.” I have read the riot act to him on a number of occasions recently. He has spent many long hours in service to make amends for some outrageous choices. He has a deficit in social thinking and often does not anticipate how his choices will affect others. Once it is explained, he feels bad, but that isn’t enough. Relationships are often fragile and can be irreparably trashed, leaving one party standing alone and looking around wondering exactly what happened. When your sister thinks you’re a “douchebag,” Houston, you’ve got a problem.
“I have come to realize,” I said during yesterday’s lecture,”that I only have five more years to teach you the things you will need to know to make it on your own at college.” I was thinking of things like “how to listen to others”, and “how to say you’re sorry,” but he said, “Like how to shave? …because I really need to know how to shave.”
Oh good Lord. I went for my glasses and peered at his upper lip.
“Like shave,” I conceded.
I took him to the store to buy a razor and some shaving cream. I found a decent “how to shave” video produced by a razor-maker and posted on YouTube, and I watched it with him.
This morning he came downstairs.
“Do I look any different?” he asked his brother. I got my glasses and went to have a look. The mustache was gone, and for the first time since he was probably ten, he had two eyebrows instead of one.
“I used the little trimmer blade,” he explained.
Another milestone, I thought, wondering what the next one would be and if I’d handle it with any grace.
Yes, there is still plenty of smiling happening in our house.
Yesterday, I sent Ex a note apprising him of our plans for the next week. He immediately responded:
Where have they been the last three weeks that they haven’t been able to talk?
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry
I’ll just ask for a little advice here. How do you think I should respond to this, Readers?
Initially I thought of something like this:
Oh, sorry! I forgot to tell you that we left the country with my new lover, handsome German-named guy, who happens to have an ENORMOUS penis. I’m sure you don’t want to hear about his skill in the sack, so I’ll just tell you that we did all the things you always talked about doing, but didn’t. Again, sorry I forgot to properly notify you!
(You wish, Annie.) Or perhaps this:
I thought it would be best to rip the phone out of the wall preemptively. That way the children wouldn’t blame you when you blew them off.
The children have been at home. The phone records every call and you haven’t called since December 22, the first day of break, when we were out. You last spoke with the children on December 20th. They haven’t thought to call you, which made for a very nice holiday.
Or maybe nothing at all?
“There was a note from your father wondering where we’ve been,” I said to my children.
“Nice how when he blows us off for weeks at a time it is no big deal, but when we’re busy he gets all huffy,” Sissy said.
Lastly, I most sincerely hope that each of you had a reasonably friendly holiday (Christmas, Chanukah, Festivus, Kwanzaa, or whatever it is you happen to have celebrated). I hope you shared smiles, good food, and very little drama with the ones you love!