When you are a kid with divorced parents, the holidays are all about the clock and loyalty. Time must be split and split evenly. What does the paperwork say, the official court documents signed yesterday or eons ago? What are the rules? The who gets who. The when. The how. The pick up, the drop off, the clock going tick tock tick tock tick tock. The who’s late and are they coming and they got the time wrong and I’m not ready to let her go yet because we haven’t finished supper or the presents are still wrapped under the tree.
The enormous difference between who “gets you” for Christmas Eve (the loser) and who “gets you” on Christmas Day (the winner), and when, really, does the Eve end and the Day begin?
There are the big-table-family-meals or just-the-two-of-you and the money spent and the presents wrapped, the built-in competition of who has more and who can do more and who goes into debt trying to keep up. And oh what it feels like to be one very small and powerless little girl with hair that needs combing, in the middle of all that ramped up, grown up energy. Like being trapped under buzzing power-lines.
What do you want for Christmas? You want everything and you want nothing. Either way, you already understand, as little as you are, unable to do your times tables or read chapter books, that enormous prices will be paid.
Do you ask your mother to help you buy your stepmother a gift? Do you spend more on your mom (yes! always!) than on your dad? What if you get more gifts, better gifts, at one place than the other? The confusion of it all.
I am 49 years old. I love the holidays. But only in the last few years. It was a tough transition.
Whether I was 7 or 17 or 27, I dreaded November and December.
I felt guilty leaving my mother, seeing her stand solo in the doorway, waving goodbye, and yet even more guilty because, sometimes, I could not get away from her fast enough to be “at Dad’s house,” the fun house, the house full of kids and my stepmother waking us up at the crack of dawn, banging posts and pans, “Santa was here! Santa was here!”
When I was 7, I went where I was told to go; I figuratively stuck my fingers in my ears and pretended I did not hear Every Single Word Spoken about the unfairness of it all.
When I was 17 and could drive myself to and from, I remember being so obsessively aware of the clock and where I was expected to be and when, that I barely remember being anywhere.
By the time I was 27, I lived far away and could only fly home for a few days. Whose house would I sleep in? Where would I spend the most time? Where would I have coffee? Eat lunch? Sit down for supper? Could I stay late and watch “It’s a Wonderful Life”, or was someone else, someone more important, waiting on me?
Would there ever be a right choice? The lack of a clock?
This holiday season, I’m thinking about all of you kids — even the grown up ones, old now, like me — who still have parents and families in different houses. The division of our loyalty. Our guilt. Here’s to you, to us. Here’s to finding our Happy in Thanksgiving and our Merry in Christmas. Here’s to keeping our eyes off the dreaded clock. It only goes tick tock tick tock tick tock, after all, if we watch it.