Holiday World

Thanksgiving 1970

Thanksgiving 1970



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.


15 thoughts on “Holiday World

  1. amyg


    Yesterday, I was working in the coffee shop in my hometown – the one located in the very same place where my father lived as a child – and my therapist’s husband took a table across from me to work. I looked up and saw him, and, w/ Facebook open in front of me, typed:

    “My therapist’s husband just showed up at the coffee shop where I’ve set up office, wonder if he would mind me just talking to him for an hour since he’s already here. We are headed into a holiday week…”

    But then I deleted it because all three lines of familial DNA that makes up so much of my Facebook feed would know my joke wasn’t really a joke.

  2. Angie LaForest

    thats to much stress for a kid! I am thankful mom and pop have been together 50 happy years…but my boys have to go to Dad’s and its a fight on who gets them on Christmas Eve or Christmas!
    I know they are grown boys, but my 26 year old still believes in Santa, and always will. So he still gets excited on Christmas morning!
    Being the bitch I can be… I win, he loses!!! But I have caved a few years to be fair and its hard on me.
    I know its a mommy thing, and just like Robert forever believing in Santa, I will forever be the mom! lol

  3. Averil Dean

    As with so many things, I think a lot of the guilt is gender related. My husband and his sister used to go through the same thing you’ve described, and though it caused my SIL agony as a child, my husband would go off to visit his dad (the fun parent) without a backward glance. Similar to the way men eat the Thanksgiving dinner and go straight back to the couch. A woman would never do such a thing, with a boatload of dishes to be washed.

    1. Teri Post author

      I know that at least one brother was very affected by all of this. It’s hard to buffer all that swirling anger.

      I still remember the first family I met, as an adult, where the parents were divorced but celebrated all big holidays and their kids’ birthdays together. As soon as I got over it seeming weird, just the thought of that kind of generosity of spirit makes me want to cry. Bless them.

  4. koehlerjoni

    This makes me think about my niece, whose parents are divorced. You know, she has always had two sides of the family to buy her things, and I have often thought of how overwhelming this must be for her. There have been many times I would have liked to have her come and visit me, or just take her to the movies, or shopping. Unfortunately, I have often felt that there just wasn’t room in her busy life for another loving relative. I wish things could be different for her.

    1. Teri Post author

      I love that you’re thinking of your niece this way. It’s such a lot of responsibility for one little girl, right?

  5. Jenn Wingerter

    My husband was raised in a situation like this and the struggle of being fair continues today. He and his two sisters feel the pressure to not only be fair but to also somehow be at the same house at the same time. My husband just said to me after a miserable conversation with his mom about Thanksgiving how much he hates the holidays.

    1. Teri Post author

      I so understand this. I’ve only started enjoying holidays these last few years because my mom is dead and I don’t go home. Sad but true.

  6. Lyra

    We have tried so hard to avoid just this. And yet it’s impossible. We take the decision out, we don’t split holidays, and yet, a child knows. She knows that she is always missing something, someone. She knows that she is loved, and yet she is torn. And there are the others. Always waiting for the missing one. Always hungering for our full family. Always, always, missing.
    So we try. And we fail. And our hearts break for things that we know and yet don’t experience ourselves. And yet we do.
    And at the end of the day, I can only take solace that we have done something right because Christmas is her favorite holiday. We can let her know she is missed, but gently, so as not to feel guilt but to feel love. An impossible proposition.
    Because families break. And we recreate in the best way we can. But there is always the missing.

    1. Teri Post author

      It is impossible, the entire situation. And of course it takes so much good will from so many people, all at this high stress part of the year, no wonder there’s so much sadness, regret, anxiety, feeling like you’re never where you should be.

      I wonder what it’s like in non-divorced families — does that even exist?

    1. Star Make Up Artist by Carrie-Ann

      Wow, well written! I like it very much.

      The kids adapt very well, but yes it’s a competition run by the kids saying look what daddy got me, daddy is best. It shouldn’t be a contest of who can by love, it should be I’m loved by both.

      It nearly drowned me fighting for him to see his kids, let alone help contribute towards them. But my kids see him & I can say I’ve financially supported by children alone.

      Splits are never simple when kids are involved, they can get used as toys by one or both. If only they realise it’s the kids that get hurt that way 😕

  7. Teresa Enderle

    Teri – it exists in families that their parent’s have not had a divorce….shall we go to Grandpa’s (meaning my Mom’s Dad’s when we were younger because my Dad had nothing to do with his parents)or home? The daughter is divorced so lets hurry up so that her kids can get to Aunt June’s. How about the Granddaughter who’s daughter needs to get to her other Grandma’s before that Grandma’s dinner at 1PM – when yours is at noon…. divorce always affects a family……..ahh the Holidays….I have to say I enjoy them more now that I’m older. Like Bette Midler says – I’m old enough now I can feel what I WANT. And do what I WANT in certain situations.

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