Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sentimental Sunday - Holiday Blues

Here I am with my (ex)husband and daughters on one of our holiday visits to my Aunt Sue, in NC.

I know I've been a bit quiet lately. I've had a lot of my mind, and have conjoured up several potential posts there, but none have made it to the blog because I've realized that I'm not quite ready to divulge the entirety of my holiday-time misery - yet.

All my life I wanted a FAMILY. From the earliest years that I can remember - when I was about 4 or 5 - I used to question my parents about why we didn't have cousins and why I didn't have a sister (lol). As I got older, and noticed other families sharing the holidays with their relatives and having gatherings with tons of people who were all related to them, I began to realize that something was different about my family. Yes, I did know my two grandmothers, and my parents' siblings (each had a brother and a sister), but that was it. But, except for my paternal grandmother, with whom I had a close relationship, there didn't seem to be any ties that bound our little family of six to these other people. I constantly badgered my parents about this, even having full-out tantrums a couple of times because I wanted so much to experience the fun and joy that I noticed others enjoying when they were with their families. Not only that, but it was almost like my neighborhood friends belonged to some kind of secret society or something. I mean, why was it that whenever their cousins were over, they couldn't have company, or they didn't need me to play with anymore?

Anyway, to get to the point, one of my primary goals as a mother was to make sure that my children grew up in an environment rich with family, and steeped with traditions of togetherness and sharing that would stick with them forever. I began this quest before I ever even became a mother by reaching out to my siblings, aunts, and uncles from the time I was a teenager, traveling to visit with them and trying to make them a part of my life. When I did become a mother, I made sure that my children knew them, or knew of them. Their pictures were always displayed in our home, and we made sure to visit with those who lived nearby and make phone calls to those far away, on a regular basis, especially on the holidays. I guess I was trying to at least give my children a "sense" of family, if nothing else.

I got married,and during the years with my husband, it really seemed that we were creating that family-life that I'd longed for. Although we were distanced from his family in many ways, we seemed to become closer to mine, and we also had several friends whom we'd adopted as family, so our kids did have "cousins" and "aunties" and "uncles". We created and sustained a number of holiday traditions. Our children were thriving and happy, and so was I. But, in 1993, my husband decided that this was not what he wanted anymore, and he was gone. However, this did not stop me from continuing with the most of the traditions we'd created together. My famous sweet-potato casserole still was the hit of each Thanksgiving. My girls still snapped the beans and set the table. We still took our holiday light-ride. The girls still got to open one special gift on Christmas Eve (almost always new pajamas that they would sleep in that night) and I still read, "Twas the Night Before Christmas" while we all sipped on hot chocolate. Santa still came, and he (she) still sat up all night putting toys together,while munching on fresh-baked cookies that had been left out for him and his reindeer by my daughters. (Our Santa didn't drink milk, so usually there was some juice or a Coke to go along with the cookies.) And, we still took our holiday-time ride down to my father's birthplace in Louisburg, to visit with my aunt, who still lives there in the family home. Everything went on as it had before, sans the presence of a father/husband. But, for me, the dream had been busted. This wasn't the picture I'd had in my mind, and it never has been again. For a girl who'd grown up with Ward and June Cleaver and Mike and Carol Brady as my role models, my concept of "family" had been deeply disrupted.

Now, my days are spent quietly alone. Even though my daughters come home for the holidays, the preparation and aftermath tends to scream in silence without a spouse, sibling, or parent to share it with. The girls think it's silly that I wait for them to both get here (usually a day or two before Christmas) to put up the tree, but they always did it in the past, and I'm not quite ready for that to change. They put the tree up, I put the lights on, and then we decorated it together, while listening to Christmas music. That's the way it always was, and that's the way I want it to be - at least maybe until they have spouses and/or I have grandchildren.

This is not meant to be a sad story. My girls and I have had a blessed life together. However, the holidays are a challenging time for me, especially in these years since I've had my empty nest. Families are not like light bulbs. You can't just replace them when they "blow out". For whatever the reasons, most of my relatives have disconnected themselves from us since my mother became ill, choosing to go on with their lives, rather than to be a part of her care and support. Unfortunately, the timing of this coincided with the years that my daughters were graduating and leaving home, so it's left me a bit lonely, longing for the good old days, and wondering what might have been if so much hadn't changed.