Could she make Christmas special for her young sons and find some joy for herself?
- Posted on Oct 17, 2017
Christmas night I stood in the bathroom brushing my teeth at the “hers” sink. I looked over at the “his” sink, unused for months. One less thing to clean, I told myself. Hardly consolation. It was the first Christmas my seven-year-old sons and I had celebrated without their dad, and I was miserable.
I thought I’d arranged it so that everything would be okay, so I wouldn’t dissolve in tears. I’d be strong, even though my husband had left me only six months earlier. This year would be a chance to do things differently. Ever since our twins, Brennan and Breckan, were born, my ex had declared that Christmas Day would be for just the four of us to celebrate together. He didn’t want any interlopers.
Not this year. I’d invited my parents to spend the night on Christmas Eve so they could wake up with us on Christmas morning. They’d see firsthand the boys’ excitement at tumbling out of bed and glimpsing all the presents under the tree.
I’d even gone to the mall to help the boys find presents for their dad. I wasn’t exactly brimming over with the spirit of giving, but I was determined to be a good sport. For their sakes. At the jewelry store, when Brennan picked out a black and silver man’s bracelet, I cringed at the price but said, “Sure.” Brennan thought it would go well with the silver guitar pick-shaped key chain we had ordered online that said, “Couldn’t PICK a Better Dad.”
Naturally I’d bought a slew of Christmas presents for the boys. I wanted everything on the big day to be perfect. I made breakfast burritos, a fruit salad and sweet rolls, the smell of cinnamon floating through the house. There were Batman and Spiderman action figures for Brennan—he was into superheroes—and a new set of Harry Potter DVDs for Breckan, who was convinced that Hogwarts was a real place. He was totally certain that he would be going there some day.
By early afternoon the living room was a mess of crumpled wrapping paper and Legos. Dad had helped assemble a few knights and space warriors, Mom was reading the instructions for playing some new board game. Every gift had been unboxed and played with, tried on or admired.
My mom’s not one for letting a mess go untidied, so she began to collect trash and pile up gifts according to their recipients. Brennan’s stuff by the fireplace, Breckan’s over by the wall, where it wouldn’t be under foot. Only then did I notice: there was no pile for me. Christmas had come and gone without a single gift with my name on it.
I tried to be sensible, telling myself that it was just because we didn’t do gifts for the adults in my family, we focused on the kids. The boys’ aunts and uncles on both sides had remembered them, so had all their grandparents. As for me, it was equally clear that my ex hadn’t seen fit to take his sons to a store so they could pick out presents for their mom.
I managed to keep my happy face on even after Mom and Dad left. I couldn’t very well explain to the boys that Mommy was sad because she got no presents. I didn’t want them to understand that I was feeling sorry for myself.
Now, staring at myself in the bathroom mirror, my eyes welled up with tears. God, I know this should be a time of joy, a day to celebrate the birth of your son, but I’m a mess. All I wanted was just one present, to be remembered, to feel loved. It doesn’t feel like too much to ask.
That’s when Breckan walked in. “Mom,” he asked, “can I sleep in your bed tonight?”
“No,” I said. A knee-jerk reaction. The night my husband moved out, back in June, both boys had climbed into the bed with me. They were sad about their dad being gone and maybe they were also trying to comfort me. But that set-up brought me five months of elbows in the face and stolen covers. I needed my sleep more than ever to help me re-charge emotionally.
I’d finally gotten the boys back in their own room and had the bed to myself. But the truth was, Breckan’s idea sounded good to me now. “Okay,” I told him. “Though it’s just for this one night.”
We climbed into my king-sized bed and lay still for a few minutes. I couldn’t help mulling over my situation. A lot had changed in my life, none of it planned. I was a single mom. And I had two boys who were grieving as much as I was. No amount of Hogwarts magic could cover that up. A present, honestly, wasn’t going to make much difference to them—or to me.
“Mom, can you hold my hand?” Breckan asked me in a small voice.
“Sure,” I said. He stretched his arm across the bed toward me and put his little hand in mine. All at once everything became clear. This was what counted most, the love my son had for me and the love I had for him and his brother. Like the love of God and his son for each of us.
Not everything had turned out the way I expected, but I still had these two sons and they were precious to me. The most precious gift a mother could ask for.
“Merry Christmas,” I whispered to Breckan. But he was already asleep.